Alternative Technology Is Wrecking The Global Cigarette Market

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

Cigarette sales are continuing to plummet at a historic rate in global tobacco markets thanks to the popularity of heat-not-burn products, which research shows drastically cut the health risks from smoking.

Japan Tobacco Inc. released a preliminary report Friday on cigarette sales in October, showing a nearly 13 percent drop from sales in October of 2016. The unprecedented success of heat-not-burn products developed by Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT) are helping drive down smoking rates in the region.

Japan Tobacco’s cigarette volumes fell 20 percent year-over-year, far exceeding the historical 1 to 2 percent average annual declines of tobacco companies. PMI and to a lesser extent BAT, the main rivals to Japan Tobacco, experienced a stunning 30 percent decline in overall annual cigarette volumes, according to a report from Piper Jaffray released Friday.

“This continues to be the most rapid sustained decline in cigarette sales ever achieved in a developed market,” David Sweanor of the Center for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This is a truly extraordinary rate of decline in cigarette sales. Something unprecedented.”

Public health experts say this is further proof that smokers will opt for alternatives that can help them quit combustible tobacco when given the choice. They also not that the drop in cigarette sales appear to be sustainable, as declines in smoking rates continue to accelerate.

PMI’s iQOS debuted in Japan last year before being introduced in additional countries, and has taken over a substantial share of the Japanese tobacco market in a relatively short amount of time. BAT is also competing in the country with a similar heat-not-burn device called the “glo.” Japan Tobacco on the other hand did not bring a reduced-risk product to their market until July of this year, and their sales are suffering as a result.

The iQOS is also being introduced in cities throughout Europe. Data from the Piper Jaffray report suggests the public transition from cigarettes to heat-not-burn products is happening at the same rapid pace as the declines in Japan.

“This is something that warrants far more attention in the face of ongoing (and often successful) efforts to ban or greatly stymie the market for such alternatives,” Sweanor told TheDCNF. “A far more rational public health approach would be to work with market forces, as has been done historically in transforming other product categories in ways that dramatically improved health.”

Despite the promising news on alternative smoking technologies and their potential to reduce smoking-related illnesses and save millions of lives, health care bodies remain vehemently opposed to the products. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently helped derail efforts to expand access to reduced-risk products in Turkey.

Efforts to spread misinformation on alternative smoking options that minimize their benefits simply deny smokers less harmful options while tacitly encouraging them to keep using a more dangerous product, public health advocates say.

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