Tobacco Giant Sees ‘Tipping Point’ Ahead For ‘Phasing Out’ Cigarettes

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A tobacco giant estimates regular cigarettes could begin to vanish from markets in Japan and South Korea within five years, replaced by a new technology that greatly reduces health risks.

Philip Morris International (PMI) is shaking up global tobacco markets with a device that heats tobacco instead of burning it, producing a more powerful buzz than e-cigarettes while eliminating much of the harms of smoking. PMI’s iQOS product is proving a smash hit in Japan, where it debuted nationwide in April 2016, already eating up a large share of the total market in the country, reports Vaping Post.

Sales are outperforming PMI’s expectations, accounting for 7.1 percent of Japan’s overall tobacco sales as of the first quarter of 2017. At this rate, PMI executives estimate traditional cigarettes could be on the chopping block in Japan and South Korea within a few years.

“If you extrapolate the figures, then logically we could reach the tipping point in five years,” Andre Calantzopoulos, CEO of Philip Morris International, told Nikkei Asian Review in a recent interview. “That is when we could start talking to governments about phasing out combustible cigarettes entirely. They are [both] countries which are open to innovation and trying new products, and have a culture of considering people around them.”

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.

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.

“Heating tobacco at lower temperatures than combustible cigarettes allows nicotine to be delivered in ways that retain much of the ritual and experience of smoking,” Dr. Edward Anselm, a senior fellow of the R Street Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Comprehensive scientific programs have demonstrated these products present significantly reduced risk when compared to traditional cigarettes. Collectively, they represent a new set of tools to reduce the harm of combustible tobacco.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration began reviewing PMI’s product application this year for the iQOS, 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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