Tobacco giant Philip Morris may eventually phase out selling conventional cigarettes, and a new cigarette alternative, recently launched in the UK, could play a role in the transition, according to the company’s CEO.
The cigarette, called iQOS, heats the tobacco instead of burning it. As a result, Philip Morris claims that the new cigarette gives smokers the same amount of nicotine hit, but 90 percent less toxins than traditional cigarette smoke.
The tobacco giant says that trials found iQOS had the same impact as quitting smoking. The trials have not yet been externally verified. However, the firm is not pushing those findings, and instead is only saying that the new product is less harmful than conventional cigarettes.
Andre Calantzopoulos, Philip Morris International’s chief executive, told BBC’s Today program he knows that his company’s products are harmful to their consumers and hopes to “find and commercialize” less harmful products.
“There will come a moment in time where I would say we have sufficient adoption of these alternative products…and sufficient awareness to start envisaging together with government a phaseout period for cigarettes,” Calantzopoulos told the BBC.
After decades of research and nearly $3 billion of investment, Philip Morris hopes that iQOS is a big step forward to a future without harmful cigarette smoke.
“We certainly see a future where Philip Morris no longer will be selling cigarettes in the market,” Martin Inkster, managing director of Philip Morris UK and Ireland, told Reuters.
Inkster explained that the phase out would take many years and would require help from different governments and regulators. Currently, Philip Morris produces more than 870 billion cigarettes each year internationally.
iQOS is already on sale in over a dozen markets including Japan, Switzerland and Italy. But its biggest test will be in the UK, since its e-cigarette market is more developed than the other test markets.
E-cigarettes, unlike iQOS, use an electronic system to deliver nicotine through a water vapor.
Calantzopoulos is confident that iQOS is a more viable alternative to e-cigs, which have not been very effect at converting traditional smokers. Only 20 percent of smokers change to e-cigs. Although, trials in Japan found that 70 percent of smokers stick with the substitute once they’ve tried it.
Anti-smoking campaigners still stress the importance of regulating and testing tobaccos products like iQOS. Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), stressed to BBC’s Today that Philip Morris is still a tobacco company that makes most of their profit from selling cigarettes.
“If smokers switch to electronic cigarettes or other products that can be shown to cut the risks to their health, this could lead to a big improvement in public health,” Arnott told the BBC. “But we need independent evidence to support any claims made by the tobacco industry. We still need to be very cautious about what the industry’s up to.”