Philip Morris could stop making conventional cigarettes
- 30 November 2016
- From the section Business
Philip Morris has launched a new, less harmful cigarette in the UK which it says could mean halting sales of its conventional tobacco products.
The so called Iqos product heats tobacco rather than burning it.
The tobacco giant claims this means smokers get the same nicotine hit, but 90% less of the nasty toxins that come with cigarette smoke.
It says trials - not yet externally verified - found the new cigarette had the same impact as quitting smoking.
The firm is not pushing that finding, saying only that the new product is likely to cause less harm.
Philip Morris International (PMI), the Swiss-headquartered giant created when America's Altria spun off its non-US interests eight years ago, has spent $3bn (£2.4bn) on creating the substitute cigarette.
Andre Calantzopoulos, PMI's chief executive, says he would like to work with governments towards the "phase-out" of conventional cigarettes.
In his first UK broadcast interview, he has told the Today programme that the company knows its products harm their consumers, and that the only correct response is to "to find and commercialise" ones that are less harmful.
"That is clearly our objective," he said.
It is not the first time cigarette makers have experimented with heating rather than burning tobacco to do less less damage to consumers.
In the 1980s, Reynolds, the big American tobacco company, produced the Premier, which heated tobacco but which still involved some combustion.
It lasted a year, with customers complaining of a complicated lighting procedure and a charcoal aftertaste.
PMI's solution is much more Silicon Valley. The Iqos is a £45 battery pack that looks like a small, dumpy mobile phone.
It charges a slim cigarette holder. You buy packets of tobacco sticks - a packet of 20 will cost £8 - that look like someone has taken a pair of scissors to normal cigarettes and chopped them in half.
The stick goes in the holder, and you puff away.
There is much less smoke than a conventional cigarette, and, users say, the smell does not stick to your clothes. Other cigarette companies are not far off producing rival versions.
E-cigarettes, which use an electronic system to deliver nicotine via a water vapour, are a different alternative.
Mr Calantzopoulos, however, points out their basic weakness. They are not very effective in converting traditional smokers.
The conversion rate to e-cigs of smokers is just 20%. Trials in Japan have shown that 70% of smokers stay with the new substitute once they have tried it.
Shareholders, Mr Calantzopoulos says, are enthusiastic about the new product.
He will need their backing, as traditional tobacco has proved an enormous money spinner.
Since PMI was created, it has returned nearly $83bn to investors in dividends and share buybacks - not far off its entire stock market valuation.
There is much riding on his new, low-harm cigarette.
But anti-smoking campaigners said products such as Iqos, like tobacco, need tough regulation. Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), told Today: "We still need to be very cautious about what the industry's up to."
"Philip Morris is a tobacco company. They are still making most of their profits from selling cigarettes," she said: "On current trends, smoking will kill one billion people in the 21st century, most in poor countries.
"If Philip Morris really want to see the end of smoking they have to stop promoting smoking to new young smokers around the world."