Philip Morris could stop making conventional cigarettes” is what the BBC wrote yesterday, based on an interview of Andre Calantzopoulos, CEO and Director of the Big Tobacco company Philip Morris International Inc. (PMI).

However, it is not exactly what Calantzopoulos said in the interview. The director was talking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to launch PMI’s new harm reduction weapon, their heat-not-burn cigarette, iQOS, in the UK.

“Philip Morris has launched a new, less harmful cigarette in the UK which it says could mean halting sales of its conventional tobacco products”Dominic O'Connell, Today business presenter - BBC

Andre Calantzopoulos, PMI’s chief executive, most exactly said he would like “to work with governments towards the “phase-out” of conventional cigarettes” which, between you and I, is very different from stopping the lucrative market of the combustible cigarette.

Announcement effect?

PMI’s CEO acknowledged that his company has been producing harmful products for a while but was also working at the same time on safer alternatives, among which the iQOS that is supposed to replace in smokers’ heart (and pocket!) the traditional combustible cigarette. He believes that time has come to release the product because their R&D has given scientific ground about harm-reduction efficiency.

A recent publication in the scientific journal Tobacco Control [1] reveals, based on careful search into PMI’s database, that alternative solutions to smoking have been explored for more than 35 years, making the Big Tobacco company a precursor in tobacco harm reduction, according to Stanton Glantz, leading author of this publication. The article concludes that “PM [Philip Morris] developed e-cigarette technology to complement, not compete with, conventional cigarettes” and the authors surmise that it is to “evade tobacco control regulations”.

A neat solution to the problem of communicating on new tobacco products

On this last point, it is clear that most of regulatory framework in Europe or in the USA addressed e-cigarette products and that heated tobacco cigarettes were even not envisioned and left in a regulatory vacuum, at that time. An empty space that will be hard to fill since a sort of confusion is maintained in smokers’ mind between electronic and heated tobacco (and also embarking electronic boards and batteries) cigarettes.

If the announcement of the possible cessation of PMI’s combustible cigarette production and the concomitant release of Stan Glantz’ study were just coincidence, I would probably recommend you to start gambling at horse races. But in the case of a robust and experienced company like PMI, I would say that this announcement is of course fake and a form of advertisement at a time when the TPD prevents State Members from promoting tobacco products.

Good job PMI, it makes people speak and write about it!

[1] Dutra, LM., Grana, R., & Glantz, SA. (2016). Philip Morris research on precursors to the modern e-cigarette since 1990. Tobacco Control, tobaccocontrol-2016. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-053406

More reading about iQOS and heated tobacco cigarettes:

What you need to know about Heat-not-Burn (HNB) cigarettes

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PhD in science and journalist for the Vaping Post. Specialised in scientific topics.