‘Demand For Safer Tobacco’ Promises To Propel Sales Of New E-Cigarette Technology

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A new tobacco technology currently under review in the U.S. is proving “insanely popular” in overseas markets with former smokers, according to an October study.

Research published Oct. 11 in the journal PLOS ONE argues that the unprecedented demand for heat-not-burn tobacco devices in countries like Japan and Singapore shows the huge potential for the products in American markets. The San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health researchers found that heat-not-burn devices like Philip Morris International’s (PMI) iQOS are gaining traction with consumers faster than electronic cigarettes did when they initially appeared on shelves, suggesting they might be a better fit for smokers trying to transition off combustible cigarettes, reports Scope.

The study analyzed Google search query data to determine the growth potential for heat-not-burn products. Dr. John Ayers, an adjunct associate professor at San Diego State University and lead researcher on the study, argues that products like iQOS are gaining ground because they more closely mimic the “throat hit” associated with cigarettes than vaping products.

“Heat-not-burn products have quickly become insanely popular,” Mark Dredze, professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of the study, said in a statement Oct. 11. “Two years ago, there were essentially no queries in Japan for heat-not-burn tobacco, but now there are between 5.9 and 7.5 million each month.”

The iQOS debuted in Japan last year before being introduced in additional countries, and is proving to be a smash hit in the region. PMI announced Aug. 24 that 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.

Thanks to the popularity of iQOS, the company’s “reduced risk products” went from generating 1.8 percent of worldwide revenue in 2016 to 9 percent by the second quarter of this year, according to the Financial Times.

Evidence suggests that because the majority of cancer-causing chemicals are inhaled through smoke, e-cigarettes eliminate up to 95 percent of the risk. There is substantially less data available on the health impacts of iQOS and other heat-not-burn products, but research from the free-market think tank R Street Institute suggests they cut risks to the user on a similar scale.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration began reviewing PMI’s product application for the iQOS earlier this year, which will determine if the product can be sold in the U.S. The FDA is also reviewing a Modified Risk Tobacco Product application, which will determine if the iQOS can be marketed as a safer alternative to smoking.

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