The iQOS device, is a Heat not Burn (HnB) smokeless alternative to combustible cigarettes and works by heating tobacco leaves known as Heets or HeatSticks. These refills which look like short cigarettes, must be inserted into the device and are heated up once iQOS is turned on. They are sold by Philip Morris under the Marlboro brand (depending on the country) for approximately the same price as their combustible counterparts.
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PMI launched the product in Japan in April 2016, and it was immediately sold out. By March 2017, the tobacco company had already sold over 3 million devices and President of Philip Morris Japan, Paul Riley, had said that they were struggling to keep up with the demand. “But the question is what is the demand? We continue to increase the production but they get sold out as soon as they hit the stores,” he said at the time.
The iQOS MRTP Application
In December 2016 PMI submitted an application to the US FDA to have iQOS certified as a modified risk product. To support the application they assembled more than a million pages of data and analysis based on tests of the product.
However, last month a panel voted against iQOS rejecting the claim that switching to iQOS reduces the risk of tobacco-related disease and that switching to device reduces health risks associated with smoking. Finally the only claim supported by the FDA, was the one claiming that iQOS significantly reduces exposure to harmful chemicals.
Japan has the ideal conditions for HnB products to flourish
Analysts at ECigIntelligence, an independent e-cigarette and tobacco-alternatives market analytical resource, believe that the products “will play an important role in the future of the US tobacco alternatives market no matter what the FDA eventually decides.” However, in spite of whether they are endorsed or not, the analysts do not believe that the products will ever reach the same level of success they have reached in Japan.
ECigIntelligence Editorial Director, Barnaby Page, said: “We expect heated tobacco may well have a strong role to play in the market, but those enthused by its commercial potential should consider all the issues. Undoubtedly it has plenty of positives for both the consumer and the industry, but exactly how it will co-exist with both conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes remains open to question.”
A large number of e-cigarette users still unaware of HnB products
The analysts have based their predictions on a number of variables. Firstly, a vast majority of vapers are still not aware of the products. Secondly, the setting in Japan was ideal for the product to flourish. The vaping market in Japan is very small due to harsh nicotine restrictions, coupled with the country’s general interest in technology and low restrictions on tobacco advertising. “Even without reduced-risk approval, IQOS can succeed in the US – though it may never equal the performance seen in Japan,” concluded Page.
A recently published study by the independent Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) which reviewed two “heat-not-burn” products amongst which iQOS, found the products to be safer than regular cigarettes.