Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro and other major cigarette brands, drew attention a few months ago when they announced they wanted combustible cigarettes banned by 2030 in the UK. This announcement wasn’t about getting people to quit tobacco. Instead it was more about switching smokers to other addictive forms of nicotine, like their iQOS systems that heats tobacco rather than burns it.
“Our objective is a world without cigarettes; a world where cigarettes are replaced by smoke-free alternatives that are a better choice than continued smoking,” said Jacek Olczak, the chief executive officer of PMI, in a press statement.
By heating tobacco without burning it, iQOS gives users vapor and flavor without the hazards of smoke and tar from cigarettes, cigars and pipes, the company says. It’s different from e-cigarettes, another popular “reduced risk” product, which don’t contain tobacco but instead vaporize a liquid usually containing nicotine.
Philip Morris says research it has funded shows health risks are reduced with iQOS, while they are not zero. The device’s lower temperatures release less cancer-causing substances than when tobacco is burned in regular smoking, while still providing nicotine to the user.
PMI press statements says wider use of the device would help people’s health. Critics accuse the company of glossing over the hazards in its effort to lure new generations of tobacco users, an allegation it denies.
A study by tobacco researchers at Stanford University says such promotions are part of the company’s “normalization” strategy. That strategy, it says, aims to scrub the company’s image as a maker of cigarettes that cause cancer … and market its smoking alternatives as youthful, upscale lifestyle products. The Stanford professor who led the study says Philip Morris is trying to resurrect the glory era of smoking by associating IQOS with a glamorous and stylish lifestyle.
Already, PMI generates a quarter of its $28 billion in sales from smoke-free products, and aims to boost that share to more than half by 2025.
The smoke-free revolution is also one of necessity: Cigarette sales in the developed world have been declining, and government regulation is getting tougher. The U.S. is considering a total ban on menthol cigarettes, while Brookline, a suburb of Boston, is going to prohibit tobacco sales to anyone born this century.
Earlier this year, Ruth Malone, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco and editor in chief of the Tobacco Control journal, wrote an op-ed in the British Medical Journal criticizing the tobacco industry’s embrace of “harm reduction” as a way to weaken tobacco control and take over the narrative about their products.
Given how hard some smokers find it to quit, some authorities, like Public Health England, are taking a more relaxed stance on new products, saying they can be a tool to help people. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized IQOS to be marketed as a modified risk tobacco product, meaning switching can reduce a person’s exposure to harmful chemicals.
A whopping 68% of adult US tobacco users want to quit tobacco, and 55% make a quit attempt every year, according to CDC. Unfortunately, just 7.5% of smokers who try to quit succeed initially, and many return to tobacco use within one year of quitting.
Philip Morris IQOS Imports Barred From U.S.
Philip Morris International Inc. and partner Altria Group Inc. have to stop importing their IQOS heated-tobacco sticks into the U.S. after a deadline passed this Monday without any action by the Biden administration to stop it.
Philip Morris and Reynolds America Inc. had each been talking with administration officials since September, when the International Trade Commission ordered the import ban in September after finding that IQOS infringed two Reynolds patents for electrically-powered devices with a heater to generate an aerosol. The order entered a sixty-day presidential review period.
The order entered a sixty-day presidential review period. In an email Monday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative confirmed no action was taken, which means the ban automatically took effect. The next step for Philip Morris and Altria is to seek a delay with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, the nation’s top patent court, which will hear any appeal of the underlying patent case.
Quitting Smoking Can be Hard
Most adult cigarette smokers want to quit.
- In 2015, 68.0% of adult smokers (22.7 million) said that they wanted to quit smoking.
More than half of adult cigarette smokers report having made a quit attempt in the past year.
- In 2018, 55.1% of adult smokers (21.5 million) said that they had made a quit attempt in the past year.
Fewer than one in ten adult cigarette smokers succeed in quitting each year.
- In 2018, 7.5% of adult smokers (2.9 million) successfully quit smoking in the past year.
Four out of every nine adult cigarette smokers who saw a health professional during the past year did not receive advice to quit.
- In 2015, 57.2% of adult smokers (18.8 million) who had seen a health professional in the past year reported receiving advice to quit.
- Even brief advice to quit (<3 minutes) from a physician improves cessation rates and is highly cost-effective.