Policymakers should embrace lower-risk alternatives to traditional cigarettes to promote public health, with hostility to the products akin to campaigns against condoms, according to the world’s largest tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) and reported in the Financial Times. PMI’s CEO André Calantzopoulos said the debate about the devices had parallels with calls for abstinence to prevent the spread of HIV.
“If you argue that these products should not be authorized because they have unintended consequences, then essentially the only option people have is either to quit — and we know many don’t — or to continue smoking cigarettes,” he told the Financial Times. “Sometimes I think we have the same debate we had for HIV. Should people be protected or not? Should we allow condoms or not? Some people are arguing that no, abstinence is the only way to do it. That goes a little bit, in my view, against human nature.”
Mr Calantzopoulos’ comments come at an important time for tobacco companies, whose main offering is in steep decline in the west. Products such as electronic cigarettes promise to safeguard the industry’s longer-term future, but campaigners claim they could get a new generation hooked. Regulatory approval is patchy globally and a primary interest among lobbyists and lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
“Any debate should take the interests of the people who smoke, not ideology, into consideration,” stated Calantzopoulos.
The PMI chief was speaking days before his company announced it was filing a lawsuit against the South Korean government, demanding the disclosure of information on test results of harmful substances found in electronic cigarettes. The country’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said in June that five cancer-causing substances were found in heated tobacco products.
PMI, whose cigarette brands include Marlboro and Parliament, has found success with its “heat-not-burn” product, called IQOS, in some markets, particularly Japan. It wants policymakers elsewhere to give it the green light. Regulators in the US are weighing up whether to do so.
In July PMI posted net revenue of $7.7bn for the second quarter, up 11.7 per cent year on year — but it said it expected to sell 44bn to 45bn heated devices this year, against analysts’ expectations of 51.5bn. PMI’s share price is down by almost a third over the past year as investors have baulked at slowing sales of the devices.
E-cigarettes turn a nicotine-laced liquid into vapor, but IQOS works differently. It contains a small electric heater, which warms a stick of tobacco to a temperature beneath its burning point. PMI says its clinical trials show that users are exposed to at least 90 per cent fewer toxins than traditional smokers, although it acknowledges IQOS is not risk-free.
Mr Calantzopoulos said he expected approval “any day” to be able to sell the products in the US, although it would take longer to get approval to market them as safer than cigarettes.
“In some places you can communicate in a reasonable way with people who smoke; in others it’s much more difficult,” he said. “There’s a difference between Italy and Japan for example.” In the former, he added, the company was “very limited” in what it could say about the products.