Reports show over three million people have already switched to PMI’s new Heat not Burn product, iQOS. Critics worry about implications of big tobacco moving into the e-cigarette market.
Philip Morris International, who are best known for the Marlboro and Parliament brands, introduced a new product in 2014 called the iQOS (I Quit Ordinary Smoking). This technology utilizes short tobacco sticks that are heated, not burned, inside of a holder that resembles many cig-a-likes. They were explicitly designed to replicate the traditional throat feel of smoking in a primarily aerosol form. Since their introduction to Japan and Italy in 2014 they have quickly grown in popularity and availability. By the end of 2016 iQOS was sold in over 20 countries with 10-15 more added over the course of 2017, including the United States.
They have experienced so much success, primarily in Japan and other Asian countries, that they have doubled down on the product. Just last year their CEO, Andre Calantzopoulos, stated in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today show that they would even begin to phase out traditional cigarettes entirely at some point in the future, though many remain skeptical of this claim. Big tobacco companies have not been oblivious to the continued decline of the cigarette industry alongside the explosion of vaping. They’ve begun actively taking advantage of the culture shift toward safer alternatives, in part by getting on board with them earlier than most would deem “necessary.”
Many are understandably skeptical that the CEO of a major tobacco company would come out and say that they might very well someday phase out traditional cigarettes altogether. A research article published in November 2016’s issue of Tobacco Control seems to support this skepticism. Researchers Lauren Dutra, Rachel Grana, and Stanton Glantz found that Philip Morris began development of their own nicotine vapor devices starting in 1990, right around when cigarettes started falling out favor in the general public. Most interestingly, they concluded that PMI had openly developed their e-cigarette technology, not as a replacement, but rather as a complement to traditional cigarette usage. Their research also indicated that Philip Morris planned to use this technology as a means of avoiding tobacco regulations.
What’s important to remember about iQOS, and heat not burn technology as a whole, is that it’s not exactly vaping. While the jury is still out on whether HnB technology has as much harm reduction value as traditional e-cigarettes, the process itself is fairly different. Instead of using e-liquid, sticks resembling tiny cigarettes are heated to around 350 degrees celsius, significantly lower than in their combustible counterparts. This process produces an aerosol that is somewhere between e-cigarette vapor and tobacco smoke. It’s not quite the same as the vapor that’s been widely used and studied, but it more closely resembles the taste and feel of combustible cigarettes without producing any actual smoke. We must wait for more research comparing atomized e-liquid vapor to the HnB vapor, but a recent article out of the conservative think tank, R Street Institute, does suggest significant harm reduction value in Heat not Burn technology compared to traditional cigarettes.
Choices for the Community
For many vapers the idea of big tobacco transitioning toward non smoke alternatives represents a bittersweet victory. It’s proof positive that the vaping movement did what it set out to do by forcing the tobacco industry to adapt, but as a result companies like Philip Morris have already begun making their push for vaping market share. The shift in marketing and product development has not gone unnoticed by anti-smoking advocates. Erika Sward, the assistant vice president of national advocacy for the American Lung Association told Healthline in a recent article, “This is part of an ongoing strategy in the Big Tobacco playbook.” One of the strategies pursued by Philip Morris for their iQOS kit is to seek a reduced risk label in America. If granted, their competitors would be forced to seek similar labels, which could eventually cheapen the entire idea of reduced risk alternatives in the public eye.
All of this represents a choice for the vaping community as a whole. Should we stand up and fight for the integrity of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool? Or must we accept the nature of change, acknowledging that increased awareness will ultimately help push forward the anti smoking narrative that has helped grow vaping as a whole?
What do you think about big tobacco getting involved in the vaping industry? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.