Global Tobacco Leader Pours $1 Billion Into Eradicating Smoking

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A global tobacco giant is committing $1 billion over the next 12 years to a new charity committed to eradicating smoking.

Philip Morris International announced the planned donation Wednesday while promoting their new charitable arm, Foundation For A Smoke Free World. The organization, which they say is legally protected from the influence of employees at PMI, is headed by Dr. Derek Yach, who previously spearheaded anti-smoking efforts for the World Health Organization (WHO), reports Better Retailing.

The new public health push from PMI comes on the heels of the success of their heat-not-burn device, the iQOS, which research suggests drastically cuts the adverse health impacts experienced from smoking combustible cigarettes. Critics of big tobacco are generally skeptical of PMI’s motivations and commitment to reducing global smoking rates.

“For decades, despite significant tobacco control initiatives, smoking has remained the world’s number one preventable cause of death,” Yach said in a statement Wednesday. “The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World will bring needed resources, expertise, fresh thinking, and a collaborative spirit to form partnerships, initiate dialogue, conduct research, and take actions to more rapidly rid the world of smoking and its negative health impacts.”

Unlike a traditional e-cigarette, which vaporizes nicotine fluid, the iQOS heats tobacco leaves. Tobacco sticks branded HEETS, which resemble small cigarettes, are inserted into the heating device for use.

The iQOS debuted in Japan last year and is proving a smash hit in the country. Sales are outperforming PMI’s expectations, accounting for more than 7 percent of Japan’s overall tobacco sales as of the first quarter of 2017. At this rate, PMI CEO Andre Calantzopoulos estimates traditional cigarettes could be on the chopping block in Japan within a few years.

PMI announced Aug. 24 approximately 3 million smokers in Singapore have transitioned from cigarettes to the iQOS. The company says more than 232,000 smokers across the world, or roughly 8,000 people a day, ditched cigarettes for the iQOS in July.

Evidence suggests that because the majority of cancer-causing chemicals are inhaled through smoke, e-cigarettes eliminate up to 95 percent of the risk. Recent research evaluating the impact of heat-not-burn devices on overall health are bolstering their image as a harm reduction product that can help move smokers away from traditional cigarettes.

The FDA began reviewing PMI’s product application for the iQOS in January, which will determine if the product can be sold in the U.S. The FDA also started reviewing PMI’s Modified Risk Tobacco Product application May 25, which will determine if the iQOS can be marketed as a safer alternative to smoking.

There is no deadline for the review and PMI expects it could take up to a year.

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