HILIP MORRIS-FORTUNE Tobacco Corp. (PMFTC) is gearing up for the Philippine launch of its smoke-free product, IQOS, in the first half of 2020.
This was announced by PMFTC President Denis Gorkun during a press conference at the sidelines of the 13th Bright Leaf Agricultural Journalism Awards held in Makati City on Friday, November 15. He said they were confident that IQOS will offer Filipino smokers “a much, much better alternative” to unsmoke.
Initially, the target market in the Philippines are cigarette smokers who buy cigarettes in packs. These account only about 14 percent of the estimated number of cigarette smokers in the country. Majority of cigarette smokers buy per stick in retail stores. In the future, however, he said the company will find a way to make IQOS accessible to those who buy per stick.
“We are hopeful to launch it sooner than later. I would like to see it in the first half of the year,” Gorkun said. IQOS, a tobacco heating system, will sooner or later replace PMFTC’s cigarette products in the Philippines, as the company embarks on the path to a smoke-free future.
Big challenge: tax
A bigger challenge faced by IQOS at the moment is the Philippine government’s plan to tax the electronic or e-cigarette industry.
Still, Gorkun is hopeful the tax increase will be gradual so as not to discourage people from making the shift from smoking cigarettes to using smoke-free products.
“Taxation is nothing new. Taxation has to be taken with a gradual approach. The key is to make sure that the tax increases are in line with GDP goals and inflation,” he said.
“The problem with cigarettes is combustion. The tobacco is burned at a very high temperature which releases an enormous amount of chemicals,” he added. IQOS, on the other hand, uses an electronically controlled heater. Like most e-cigarette devices, IQOS has a button that turns on the heater, giving the user a real taste of heated tobacco.
According to Gorkun, research and development of the product succeeded in allowing heated tobacco to minimize the release of chemicals, while insisting that the best thing for nonsmokers is not to start smoking; and for those who want to stop, the best option is still to quit smoking.
IQOS is billed as the most successful smoke-free product, with more than 12 million users around the world. Around 9 million IQOS users have completely stopped smoking.
Philip Morris has 50 markets around the world, and it claims 13 million users have successfully stopped smoking.
Farmers won’t be dislodged
Meanwhile, Gorkun said the transition to a smoke-free Philippines will not adversely affect Filipino farmers, as Philip Morris’s smoke-free product works “very, very well with Filipino farmers.”
Real tobacco leaves will still be in demand with IQOS, he said.
“It is the same tobacco leaves used in cigarettes,” he said.
According to Gorkun, taxation on e-cigarettes, or smoke-free products like IQOS, must be proportionate to the risks, citing studies by the US Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Health of the United Kingdom declaring IQOS safe.
Filipino smokers, he added, should be encouraged to switch to a much, much better alternative. This means, he said, the taxation must be risk-proportionate so as not to make the alternative to cigarettes expensive.
“The taxation must be lower than cigarettes,” he reiterated.
Gorkun supports the idea of regulating e-cigarettes, like all other tobacco and nicotine products, so as to ensure the safety of the products and its use by Filipino consumers.
“The key for all nicotine and tobacco products is to be regulated. A good example is the United Kingdom. There are millions of people who use this product. They need to be regulated appropriately. But if we want to make the Philippines smoke-free, we need to make sure that the regulation allows us to talk to smokers and explain the product to them. That is the key,” he said.