For all the hype about safer alternatives and smoking cessation, tobacco companies are really only interested in maintaining demand for their profitable tobacco products. The surge in popularity of Philip Morris International’s (PMI) newest product, the iQOS, is due to the fact that it contains real tobacco. The product is not really a cigarette, but it’s not really an e-cigarette either. It’s a hybrid, in such high demand in Japan that the planned national release has been delayed due to supply shortages.
When Philip Morris Chief Executive Officer Andre Calantzopoulos issued the statement “e-cigarettes don’t satisfy consumers”, I think he was reflecting the company’s desire to reintroduce tobacco—under the guise of an innovative electronic cigarette-like product. It is no coincidence that the product is stamped with the Marlboro name—one of the company’s most popular brands.
What he is really saying is that the addictive qualities of tobacco cannot be sufficiently replaced, or experienced, by vaping a liquid containing nicotine – i.e., your “traditional” e-cigarette. Smokers want real tobacco, even in their electronic cigarettes. The iQOS, which is currently being marketed abroad, uses “actual tobacco in the shape of small Marlboro cigarettes that are heated at high temperatures, but not burned. The miniature cigarettes, called “HeatSticks”, are inserted into the IQOS heating device, leaving out the filter, which even has the Marlboro name written on it. Tobacco cigarettes burn at around 800 degrees Celsius, but the IQOS only heats the tobacco to 350 degrees, delivering a mouthful of tobacco-flavored vapor, but no smoke and tar.“
Philip Morris claims that the iQOS reduces risks, as compared to traditional cigarette products, because there is no combustion. At least one other tobacco manufacturer has challenged that assertion. Researchers with Imperial Tobacco Group Plc tested the iQOS. “There’s a lot of black crud in the iQOS device after using it,” said Steve Stotesbury, the U.K. company’s head of scientific regulatory affairs, speaking in an interview at an industry conference in Bologna last week. “It smells like an ashtray.” (www.Bloomberg.com, 9/25/15)
The iQOS, which sells for the equivalent of $89 in Japan, looks like a traditional e-cigarette, pen-shaped and powered by batteries. The difference is in the materials used. E-cigarettes use a nicotine-based liquid, whereas Philip Morris’s new product uses “sticks” which contain tobacco. The Marlboro-brand “heatstick” is inserted in the device and gets pierced, then heated. According to Bloomberg the iQOS is being marketed in Japan as a ‘cleaner and less smelly alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes’.
The demand for traditional cigarettes in the United States has been lessened through legislation and public awareness campaigns. The effects of cigarette smoke on our health as a nations has been profound over the past century. Thankfully for Big Tobacco, however, foreign countries still have looser restrictions so the potential to capture large numbers of consumers (make big money) gives Philip Morris International a wide-open market for testing products and boosting earnings. “Stifel Financial Corp. analyst Christopher Growe has said Philip Morris’s next-generation products could add $1.3 billion in annual operating profit within five years.” (www.Bloomberg.com, 9/25/15). Hopefully, this new, modern, high-tech version of the traditional “cancer stick” does not catch on here in the States. But Big Tobacco is not going to be satisfied with sales and profits on foreign soil only. And health concerns are of no concern to Philip Morris and its brethren peddling tobacco-related death. This is a great example of the old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”