Insider Q&A: Philip Morris pitches “smoke-free” cigarette

Tobacco giant Philip Morris International is pitching a new vision of its future—one without its signature Marlboro cigarettes.

At the center of company’s “smoke-free future” rebranding effort is IQOS, a hand-held device that heats tobacco without burning it. The Food and Drug Administration cleared the product, which is sold in more than 50 countries around the world, in April.

The company argues that heating tobacco — rather than burning it — results in fewer toxic byproducts for users. U.S. regulators agreed and are now considering the company’s request to advertise IQOS as a “reduced-harm” tobacco product.

Philip Morris Chief Operating Officer Jacek Olczak spoke with the AP about the development of IQOS and the company’s pledge to move away from cigarettes. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Tobacco companies have a history of misleading the public about the harms of smoking. Why should they trust what Philip Morris says about IQOS?

It’s not about trusting Philip Morris. It’s about trusting the science and evidence that is coming with this product. As you know, it took us a lot of time to run the battery of scientific tests which were submitted to the FDA and resulted in the first-in-its-history pre-market authorization for a heated tobacco product. If you go through the transcripts of the advisory meetings there was very diligent scrutiny by a number of specialists, toxicologists, experts from many domains and the FDA staff themselves.

So yes, we can go back to the history and say the tobacco industry did whatever in the past. It is very difficult for me to change whatever happened then. But I can take responsibility for what I am doing today and how I want to solve the problem of smoking going forward.

Q: Tobacco companies have experimented with cigarettes that don't burn in the past. How does IQOS differ from those attempts?

When the first products were developed 10 or 15 years ago the technology was different. Battery sizes were different. All these things have to be taken into consideration.

Q: If Philip Morris is truly committed to a “smoke-free future,” why not simply stop selling cigarettes today? Or at least set a deadline?

I have no problem with stopping sales of cigarettes. But me, myself, in any given market, if I stop selling cigarettes nothing is going to change. Because there are all the other competitors and also illicit sources of cigarettes. And there are markets where I have only 2% or 3% of the market. So what sort of solution is that?

I think these questions about stopping selling cigarettes have value for headlines, but nothing is seriously getting solved.

But frankly speaking, I have already started the process of stopping sales of cigarettes because, for the last four years, I am selling fewer cigarettes and selling more the alternative products, such as IQOS. So I’m gradually moving in this direction.

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