2019 Tobacco Alternatives Smoke-free puffing in the PHL soon?

Smoke-free puffing in the PHL soon?: Phillip Morris to sell heat-not-burn tobacco product

HONGKONG- Leading mutinational tobacco company Phillip Morris International is not losing its sight on penetrating the smoking population in the Philippines albeit hoping for less stringent regulations at it continues to lean towards a smoke-free puffing world.

With the goal of a “smoke-free future”, the maker of Marlboro and other major cigarette brands, is targeting to commercialize its “heat-not-burn” iQOS devices sooner rather than later, depending on government regulations which it hopes to be less strict than the conventional cigarettes.

“We know that they are ready in the Philippines but I also know that currently, legislators are trying to figure out what to do with this category. When that gets a bit more settled, we will know better how and when,” said James Arnold, PMI director for Regulatory Strategy and Engagement in South and Southeast Asia, in a briefing here.

“There are lot of things that we are currently evaluating, consumer awareness is one of them, looking at the current regulatory framework and hopefully all those we can make a decision soon when to commercialize,” he added.

Latest international data showed that there are close to 16 million Filipino smokers or about 23.8 percent of the adult population.

Another study conducted by PMI also showed that 60 percent of Filipino adult smokers are wiling to try alternatives if these are legal, met quality and safety standards and are conveniently available in the market.

PMI’s iQOS devices use battery power to heat tobacco at a very precise temperature, hot enough to generate aerosol to inhale and release nicotine but never gets to the point that the tobacco burns, which is said to be the major problem, not tobacco nor nicotine.

“Governments should recognize that the world is not binary anymore and there are products that can be part of the solution. We are now across the Asian region, selling in Japan, Korea, and Malaysia, and all of them, we have seen consistently that smokers are ready for something better,” Arnold said.

iQOS has yet to be commercialized in the Philippines and while there are a quite a number of other “smoke-free devices” in the country, these are oftentimes purchased in the black market.

Currently, PMI has a couple of manufacturing facilities in the Philippines which produce the conventional cigarettes but moving toward its goal may also pave the way for a possible additional facility in the future.

“There is good potential for Philippine tobacco in this smoke-free category. We cannot say that it will be a major source but there is a role to play,” Arnold said.

Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp. (PMFTC), the Philippine affiliate of PMI, manufactures seven out of the top 10 brands available in the market, led by Marlboro, the world’s number one cigarette brand, and Fortune, the best-selling local brand in the country.

And while several countries, including the Philippines, are focusing on regulation and taxation to bring down cigarette consumption, the World Health Organization already said there will still be around a billion smokers globally by 2025.

“People want to see better alternatives, our ambition is to give consumers what they want, to give smokers better alternatives. We see where consumers are going, what they want, we know that through technology, we can invest in products that can help consumers and transform public health,” Arnold said.

“If you make these products less easily accessible, less palatable to consumers, more expensive, less consumer friendly, what you’re doing is perpetuating the harm caused by smoking and you’re making it really easy for smokers to keep smoking,” he added.

Generally, Arnold said that introducing a new product into an unregulated space, like the Philippines and even in the US, is not ideal but it raises real concern among tobacco regulators that no nicotine product should be unregulated.

“Smokers should be able to know about different products so they can make right choices. This is a totally different category and it should not be regulated similarly to cigarettes. There should be some absolute bars, if the science shows that this product is in a different category of risk and is a better option, then smokers should know that,” Arnold said.

In Japan, for one, the government allowed forms of communication across the whole tobacco category, resulting to million of Japanese switching to heated tobacco products.

“We should look at what consumers want and if they want better choices and science shows that it is possible, the world will get there,” Arnold said.

Scientifically-speaking, Arnold said tobacco harm reduction is a simple proposition but a challenging concept to execute as nicotine is the major factor why people smoke and why they are having a hard time quitting.

“But it is not the primary cause of smoking-related disease, combustion is. So if burning is the problem and nicotine is part of what’s making people continue to smoke, it indicates ideas that can actually solve the problem,” he said.

It was in United Kingdom in 2007 when e-cigarettes were first introduced. Ten years later, studies concluded that it is 95 percent safer than smoking normal cigarettes, with cigarette smoking rate dropping fastest to the lowest levels ever been observed.

“We know that the way people consume tobacco did not change much, tobacco is going to continue but the way people will use it is going to be dramatically transformed,” Arnold said.

“We know the future is not going to involve lighters anymore and rather than sitting back, we are taking a leadership position on that to make sure that smokers have access to better products as quickly as they can and ensure that governments can get policy frameworks in place,” he added.    ##