Next Generation Products: Japan Tobacco International

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In recent years various consumer tobacco and nicotine products have come onto the market. These have been collectively referred to as new, novel, or alternative tobacco and nicotine products and the range continues to grow. The tobacco control community uses different terms to describe these products. TobaccoTactics focuses on those in which the large transnational tobacco companies have an interest, and currently refers to them as “next generation products” (abbreviated as NGPs). There is ongoing scientific and policy debate about the role of these products in tobacco control, and whether they can help reduce the harms of tobacco.

Like its competitors, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has been investing in tobacco and nicotine products that, unlike cigarettes, have potential for growth in developed markets.1 These products are known as Next Generation Products and are often publicly linked to tobacco companies’ harm reduction strategies and labelled “reduced-risk products” (RRPs). Products that fall into this “RRP” category are snus, nicotine pouches, e-cigarettes, and heated tobacco products.

On its corporate website, in 2019, JTI described the importance of “RRPs” to the company’s future:

“RRPs are core to the sustainability of our business, as we need to meet ever-evolving, increasingly diverse consumer demands with the best and widest variety of smoking experiences. That’s why we have committed to providing the widest range of consumer choice in the RRP category.”2

However by 2021, JTI’s framing had changed. Now its website pointed to the importance of consumer lifestyle choice, noting that some of their customers would continue to choose combustibles.3

Snus

Image 1: JTI’s Nordic Spirit snus-style nicotine pouches (screenshot taken from nordicspirit.co.uk, November 2019)

Snus is a smokeless tobacco product, traditional to Sweden, sold as a paste or in a tiny pouch that is placed between the gum and upper lip for a period of time. Nicotine pouches do not contain tobacco leaf.

  • For more details about this product, see: Snus.

Gallaher, acquired by JTI in 2007, was the first cigarette company to invest in snus when it bought a small Swedish snus manufacturer called Gustavus in 2002.4 Tobacco Control, 2013; 22:266-273 In 2013, JTI’s parent company, Japan Tobacco briefly trialed Zerostyle snus in Osaka, Japan, but with little apparent success. 5

From 2017, JTI has been selling snus in Norway and Sweden through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Nordic Snus.6 It sells two brands, LD and Nordic Spirit, the latter being a nicotine pouch (see image 1).7

The product category only featured as a footnote in the company’s 2018 annual report8. However, this is a fast-growing market, and JTI has been promoting its product Nordic Spirit in the UK and other EU countries, where tobacco snus is banned.9 In 2019, Japan Tobacco reported that Nordic Spirit had been launched in seven European markets “with encouraging results.10

However, the company’s NGP strategy appears to be mainly focussed on HTPs and e-cigarettes.

Heated Tobacco Products

Image 2: JTI Ploom products (Source: @JTI_global, Tweet 18 January 2019, Twitter)

In 2010, JTI’s parent company Japan Tobacco had launched Zerostyle Mint in Japan, which it described as a “smokeless”, snuff-like tobacco product. However, this device required the user to inhale by mouth through a capsule containing tobacco leaf, unlike snuff which is placed directly in the nose.11

Although this was not an HTP, as it did not require lighting or heating, it was a precursor to later devices in terms of its design and the company’s NGP strategy. Zerostyle Mint was not marketed as a reduced-risk product, but nonetheless was a way for JTI to circumvent social problems associated with smoking, as well as smoke-free regulations. JT’s media release stated at the time:

“The new product does not require a flame, and thus is smokeless, allowing consumers to use it in a variety of locations, being considerate to neighbors [sic] at the same time”.12

Partnership with Ploom Inc.

In 2011, JTI entered into a partnership with San Francisco-based entrepreneurial company Ploom Inc. (which was later renamed Pax Labs: for more information see JUUL Labs.13 The aim was to commercialise Ploom Inc.’s HTP product, called Ploom, outside the US.14 It is likely that when JTI gained access to the Ploom product, it ceased sales of its own Zerostyle product. The last time Zerostyle featured in JT corporate external communications was October 2013.15

The partnership between JTI and Ploom Inc. came to an end in 2015, and JTI acquired a number of patents and trademarks relating to the product.16 Since then, JTI has continued to develop, and bring to market, variants of Ploom, under its “T-Vapour” product category.10

Ploom HTP hybrids

JTI’s HTP, Ploom TECH (and Ploom TECH+) uses a hybrid technology which heats a liquid to create a vapour (similar to an e-cigarette), and then passes the vapour through a tobacco-containing capsule.2 Launched formally in April 2019, JTI describes these products as “tobacco infused”.10 What sets the Ploom TECH products apart from other HTPs on the market is that they heat tobacco at “low temperature”: 30°C and 40°C, respectively.1718 In comparison, a conventional cigarette heats to around 600°C;19 Philip Morris International’s IQOS to 350°C;20 and British American Tobacco’s glo to 280°C.21 PloomTech has been marketed as Logic Vapeleaf in the US since 2017.2223 24 However it appears that this is without Pre-Market Authorisation, which is a legal requirement in the US. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wrote to JTI in September 2019 demanding further information from the company.25 It is unclear what JTI’s response was, and as of late 2020, Vapeleaf remained on sale in the US.

Ploom S, developed by JTI after Ploom TECH and launched in August 2019, only uses tobacco sticks, which are heated to 200°C.1018 In November 2020, JTI launched Ploom S and Evo tobacco sticks in the UK.26 The products were on sale online, and in London via independent retailers, in “pop-up shops” and “Ploom Lounges”.26 This launch took place during Covid-19 pandemic, just after the announcement that non-essential commercial premises would be closed again, including e-cigarette stores.

JTI also sells  tobacco sticks for use with Ploom devices under its Mevius tobacco brand. 27 In December 2019, Japan Tobacco announced that it was introducing new sticks under the Camel brand, for sale in Japan from 2020.28

Market pressure from HTP competitors

In 2019, JTI’s HTPs were also sold in Japan, Switzerland, Italy, the United States (US), Canada, and Russia.1029

Despite HTPs appearing to be the main focus of JTI’s NGP strategy, the company has struggled to gain market share, especially in its domestic market. JTI has been criticised for not being able to keep up with market leader Philip Morris International (PMI), which according to Reuters held nearly 72% of Japan’s HTP market in 2018 with its IQOS HTP.30 Euromonitor International put PMI’s share slightly higher at 75%, with British American Tobacco (BAT) having nearly 18% with glo, and JTI at just over 7%.29 JTI initially attributed this to repeated production delays which resulted in the company having to suspend sales and being unable to meet consumer demand.31

The picture remained very similar in 2019 (although PMI appeared to lose some sales to BAT).29 In its 2019 Q3 Results presentation to investors, the company admitted that it was facing “increasing competition in the high-temperature heating category” and that its products were not adequately meeting consumer needs.32 On its Ploom S product, which was launched in August 2019 (and which falls in the ‘high-temperature heating category’), the company reported that “Trials and retention [were] below our expectation”. A company press release followed in November 2019, announcing that JT was permanently reducing the retail price of Ploom S in Japan from 7,980 yen to 3,480 yen (USD equivalent: $72 to $31).33

PMI launched KT&G’s lil HYBRID HTP in Japan in October 2020, in direct competition to JT’s products.34 (For more information see Next Generation Products: Philip Morris International.) Perhaps in response to commercial pressure, in July 2020, JT announced the development of Ploom X, its “next-generation heated-tobacco device” to be launched in Japan on 17 August.353637 Developed by JT and JTI (now in the process of consolidating into one business) the company said that it would have a “authentic tobacco taste and cigarette-like experience”,36 and “new connectivity possibilities and several options to personalize the device to everyday needs”.37 JTI said that it had “focused management and resources behind heated tobacco sticks in order to compete more successfully in this fast-moving segment.”3736

Reduced Risk Statements

JTI appears more cautious in its reduced risk claims than its main competitors, PMI and BAT. In 2019, the company website stated: “We cannot say today that Ploom TECH is safer than smoking regular cigarettes but tests have shown that Ploom TECH has a 99% reduction in the constituents recommended by WHO for reduction in cigarette smoke.”2 However, elsewhere on the website JTI wrote: “Many consumers also choose vaping products for their reduced-risk potential. Increasingly convincing new evidence is emerging that justifies these choices.38 The company did not indicate what “convincing new evidence” it was referring to.

E-Cigarettes

Image 3: JTI’s Logic e-cigarette (screenshot taken from jti.com, November 2019)

E-cigarettes, also known as electronic cigarettes or Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), do not contain tobacco. The product consists of a battery, a cartridge with nicotine liquid, and a heating mechanism that heats up the liquid to create a vapour.

In 2014, JTI entered the e-cigarette market by acquiring small e-cigarette companies. First it bought UK-based Zandera, followed one year later by US company Logic. JTI initially sold two brands, E-Lites and Logic, but since 2016 all its e-cigarettes have been sold under the Logic brand (see image 3). In its 2019 annual report, it stated that its “E-Vapor” category efforts were focussed on expanding Logic Compact.10At that point, the company stated that Logic was sold in 19 countries, including recent launches of the Logic Compact device in the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel and New Zealand.33

Collaboration with Entrepreneurs

To complement its internal NGP Research & Development program, JTI collaborates with tech start-ups to help it grow its NGP business.

As detailed above, the company partnered with entrepreneurial company Ploom Inc in 2011 to develop HTPs. More recently, JTI enlisted the services of tech broker Plug and Play to run a program called “Vapetech”, which allows start-ups to pitch ideas to JTI to help it “explore and develop consumer relevant features for the next generation of products and services”.39 According to the JTI press release, up to 20 start-ups a year will be able to take part in a 3 month program “to develop their product or services and have access to investment and corporate partnerships”.39

Lobbying Decision Makers

JTI, like other tobacco companies, regularly lobbies decisions makers to create a more supportive commercial environment for its products. For examples see Japan Tobacco International.  

It also uses the some of the same tactics to lobbying on its NGPs. In Scotland, numerous documented meetings between JTI and Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) since November 2018 relate, at least partly, to NGPs.40

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant links

TCRG Research

References

  1. Euromonitor International, Global Tobacco Key Findings Part 2: Vapour Products. August 2016 (behind paywall)
  2. abcJapan Tobacco International, Reduced-risk products- our vaping products, JTI website, undated, accessed November 2019
  3. Japan Tobacco International, Reduced-Risk Products – Our Vaping Products, website, undated, accessed August 2021
  4. S. Peeters, A.B. Gilmore, How online sales and promotion of snus contravenes current European Union legislation,
  5. Japan Tobacco, Zerostyle Snus regular and Zerostyle Snus Mint to be added to the Zerostyle smokeless tobacco line, Media Release, JT website, 13 June 2013, accessed November 2019
  6. Nordic Snus, LinkedIn Profile, www.linkedin.com, undated, accessed November 2019
  7. Nordic Snus, LD Nordic Spirit, undated, accessed November 2019
  8. Japan Tobacco Inc., Annual Report 2018, JT website, accessed November 2019
  9. Nick Geens/Japan Tobacco International, Vaping trends 2021 with JTI, Better Retailing, 10 December 2020, accessed August 2021
  10. abcdefJapan Tobacco inc, Integrated Report 2019, 2019, accessed August 2021
  11. N. Miura et al, Pharmacokinetic analysis of nicotine when using non-combustion inhaler type of tobacco product in Japanese adult male smokers, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 2013, 67:2
  12. Japan Tobacco, JT to Launch New Style of Smokeless Tobacco Product “Zerostyle Mint”, Media Release, JT website, 17 March 2010, accessed November 2019
  13. Japan Tobacco International, Innovative partnership for Ploom and Japan Tobacco International . JTI to take minority share in Ploom, Press Release, JTI website, 8 December 2011, accessed November 2019
  14. B. Stone, Ploom’s E-Cigarettes and Vaporizers Use Real Tobacco, Bloomberg News, 21 November 2013, accessed November 2019
  15. Japan Tobacco, Four flavors and aromas to select from in the popular Zerostyle brand line of smokeless tobacco, Media Release, JT website, 3 October 2013, accessed November 2019
  16. Japan Tobacco International, JTI acquires ‘ploom’ intellectual property rights from Ploom, Inc, Press Release, JTI website, 16 February 2015, accessed November 2019
  17. N. Minami, Japan Tobacco, JT Group 2018 Third Quarter Investor Conference Presentation, JT Group website, 31 October 2018, accessed November 2019
  18. abJapan Tobacco, JT launches Two New Tobacco Vapor products under its Ploom brand, Press Release, JTI website, 17 January 2019, accessed November 2019
  19. World Health Organization, Heat-Not-Burn tobacco products information sheet, WHO website, 2019, accessed November 2019
  20. Philip Morris International, Our tobacco heating system IQOS, PMI website, undated, accessed November 2019
  21. British American Tobacco, Tobacco heating products, BAT website, undated, accessed November 2019
  22. Japan Tobacco, JT Group Sustainability Report, 2017, available from JTI.com, accessed November 2020
  23. FAQs: What is Logic Vapeleaf, logicvapes.us, website, undated, accessed August 2020
  24. Public Health Law Centre, Heated Cigarettes: How States Can Avoid Getting Burned, product regulation brief, August 2018
  25. Center for Tobacco Product, Food and Drug Administration, Letter to Japan Tobacco International, 30 September 2019, accessed November 2020
  26. abJTI launches Ploom S heated tobacco range, Convenience Store, 2 November 2020, accessed November 2020
  27. Japan Tobacco, JT launches a new flavor of tobacco sticks for Ploom S: “MEVIUS Menthol Purple for Ploom S”, JT press release, 6 December 2019, accessed February 2020
  28. Japan Tobacco, JT launches two new tobacco stick products for Ploom S: Camel Regular and Camel Menthol, Press Wire, 6 December 2019, accessed February 2020
  29. abcEuromonitor International, Japan Tobacco Inc in Tobacco (World), 2019, accessed November 2020 (behind paywall)
  30. T. Uranaka, Japan Tobacco ratchets up smokeless war with new product, Reuters, 17 January 2019, accessed November 2019
  31. D. Hedley, Battle of the Heat-Not-Burn Giants – PMI and JT Face Up in Japan, Euromonitor International, Opinion, 8 April 2016 (behind paywall)
  32. N. Minami, JT Group 2019 Third-Quarter Results, Japan Tobacco Group, 2019, accessed November 2019
  33. abJapan Tobacco, JT’s Ploom S to be affordably priced at 3,480 yen from December 1, 2019, Media Release, 12 November 2019, accessed November 2019
  34. K. Min-jee, KT&G, Philip Morris to launch sales of e-cigarette ‘lil Hybrid 2.0’ in Japan, 22 October 2020, accessed November 2020
  35. Japan Tobacco International, JT Group launches Ploom X, press release, July 15 2021, accessed August 2021
  36. abcJapan Tobacco International, The Next Generation of Heated Tobacco, website, undated, accessed August 2021
  37. abcJapan Tobacco Launches Ploom X, Tobacco Reporter, 15 July 2021, accessed August 2021
  38. ”Japan Tobacco International, Our views: Building a brighter future, JTI website, undated, accessed November 2019
  39. abJapan Tobacco International, JTI partners with Plug and Play to launch Vapetech incubator, Media Release, JTI website, 7 March 2019, accessed November 2019
  40. Scottish Parliament Lobbying Register, Japan Tobacco International: Search results, accessed June 2021
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