Next Generation Products: Philip Morris International

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Like its competitors, Philip Morris International (PMI) 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 (NGPs), and can include snus, e-cigarettes, and heated tobacco products (HTPs).

NGPs are often publicly linked to tobacco companies’ harm reduction strategies. PMI, for example, has marketed its flagship NGP IQOS (see below) since 2016 under its catchphrase “this changes everything” (trademarked in 2017). 2 3 In conjunction, PMI began making claims of corporate transformation and commitment to social change focussed on a smoke-free future: 4

“Society expects us to act responsibly. And we are doing just that by designing a smoke-free future.” 5

By October 2019, PMI had replaced the word “designing” with “delivering” (a smoke-free future), signposting the central role of the company in the realisation of this future. 6 7 Despite the promising language, PMI’s 2018 annual report revealed that the majority of the company’s earnings still came from conventional cigarettes. 8 At its 2019 Annual General Meeting, PMI CEO André Calantzopoulos further confirmed to shareholders that “Our combustible tobacco portfolio remains the foundation of our business”. 9 Marlboro cigarettes remain key to PMI’s business model. 10

In May 2017, Vaping Post quoted Calantzopoulos (from an interview with Nikkei Asian Review), saying that in five years’ time (i.e. by 2022) “PMI could start talking to governments about phasing out combustible cigarettes entirely”. 11 However, in 2020 PMI’s business is still predominantly focused on the sale of conventional tobacco products. There is evidence of new cigarette brands being launched in low and middle income countries, and traditional tobacco products continue to be vigorously promoted. 12 13 14

Snus

From 2002, a time of increased tobacco regulation and declining cigarettes sales in Europe, the international tobacco companies started investing in a Swedish smokeless tobacco called snus. 15 The product is sold as a paste or in a tiny pouch, and placed between the gum and lip for a period of time.

PMI was the last of the big international tobacco companies to invest in snus, albeit with little apparent enthusiasm. In October 2006, PMI acquired snus manufacturer Rocker Productions, and briefly sold 1847 by Phillip Morris on the Swedish market. 16 Three years later, it sold Rocker Productions to Swedish Match as part of a deal that saw PMI and Swedish Match set up joint venture SMPM International to “globalise snus”. 17 The joint venture never achieved commercial success, and in 2015 the two companies “mutually agreed” to dissolve the company. 18

PMI has not had snus in its portfolio since, despite a revival of interest in snus-type products in 2018. However, at the Q&A session of the December 2019 Morgan Stanley Global Consumer & Retail Conference Webcast, Calantzopoulos conceded that this is “an emerging category….which we are looking at as well”. 19

  • For more information about the tobacco industry’s snus investments, including Altria’s interests in tobacco-free nicotine pouches, and product launches by PMI’s competitors, go to Cigarette Companies Investing in Snus.
Image 1: PMI’s IQOS Duo which was launched in September 2019 (screenshot taken from uk.iqos.com, February 2020)

Heated Tobacco Products

The year before the snus joint venture came to an end, PMI entered the HTP and e-cigarette (see below) markets. At the time, CEO Calantzopoulos told the Wall Street Journal that he believed the future was in HTPs “because they give uses [sic] a stronger and faster kick of nicotine, more akin to a regular cigarette”. 20

PMI’s flagship HTP product, called IQOS, was first trialled in Milan (Italy), and then Nagoya (Japan) in 2014. 21

IQOS uses a battery-operated device that heats tobacco sticks called HEETS, which are available in several flavours and sold under cigarette brand Marlboro. IQOS heats the tobacco up to 350°C, compared to 600 °C for heating cigarettes, and therefore, according to PMI there is no “combustion, fire, ash, or smoke” and “the levels of harmful chemicals are significantly reduced compared to cigarette smoke”. 22 A subsequent peer reviewed study, using PMI’s clinical data, concluded that IQOS was “not detectably different” from cigarettes, in terms of potentially harmful effects. 23

IQOS users

PMI releases frequently updated estimates of the number of smokers who it says have stopped smoking and switched to IQOS.824 However, it is not clear how it arrives at these estimates, as PMI does not release all of its data, and so they can not be independently verified. PMI conducted some user studies (which it submitted to the FDA), 25 but these were run over periods of only 4-6 weeks which limits the ability to generalise the findings as a reflection of sustained behavioural change.

PMI also estimates the number of users in the process of “conversion” to using IQOS.824. However, PMI defines an IQOS user as an adult who has only used IQOS for a minimum of 5% of their daily tobacco consumption in the previous seven days. It is likely that the actual number of people who use IQOS exclusively, or for most of the time, is lower than PMI’s estimates. In addition, its statements on smoking cessation are based on the assumption that current dual users of tobacco and IQOS (of which there are significant numbers, even according to PMI’s own research)25 will all give up smoking cigarettes, and not restart later, and that very few non-tobacco users will take up IQOS.26 In 2020, PMI claimed that over 10 million smokers had switched to IQOS, with another 4 million “in conversion”.2427 It states that its “aspiration” is for the number of smokers switching to IQOS to exceed 40 million by 2025.28

For more details on PMI’s user estimates, the evidence on dual use, and its attempts to promote IQOS as a cessation tool, see PMI’s IQOS: Use, “Quitting” and “Switching”


Image 2: IQOS launches by year (Source: STOP report February 2020)26

Markets and launches

By 2016, IQOS accounted for 99% of the global HTP market, according to Euromonitor data. 29 Although competition increased over the next two years, in 2018 IQOS still had by far the largest share (nearly 80%). 262930 By the end of 2019 IQOS was available in at least 47 markets, including lower and middle-income countries (see Image 2), including the United States (US). 26 This followed approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to launch the product on the US market (albeit without the desired “Modified Risk” status). 31 32 33 On 7 July 2020, the FDA partially approved PMI’s Modified Risk Tobacco Product application. While it concluded that the data PMI submitted showed that IQOS may reduce exposure to harmful substances, it did not agree that IQOS reduces the risk of disease and death, compared to smoking cigarettes, and so had failed to meet the higher standard of “risk modification”.

PMI has mainly sold IQOS in high income countries. However, it is also marketing its products in middle income countries (see Figure 1). Although not officially launched, there is evidence that IQOS was available in 2018 in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, described by PMI as “key markets”. 263435 PMI indicated that it intended to formally launch IQOS in the Philippines in the second quarter of 2020, subject to meeting “some regulatory and legal requirements”.35 On 6 February 2020, PMI reported that IQOS was available in 52 markets.24 On 17 February, PMI launched the product in Lebanon. 36 IQOS had been sold previously in airport duty free stores in both Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.37 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, PMI’s IQOS launches continued. In July 2020, it launched in Georgia.38 In the Philippines, the product first went on sale online and in some independent retail outlets in April 2020, with IQOS stores opening in Manila in September and October.394041 In October, PMI also announced that it had launched in Jordan, although the precise timing and nature of the launch was unclear.3942 In 2020, Jordan had the world’s highest smoking rates, and experienced a large amount of tobacco industry interference, including by PMI.43 For more information see the Eastern Mediterranean Region page.

PMI formally launched IQOS in Costa Rica in October.44 PMI said that this took their total number of IQOS markets to 61, “of which half are outside the OECD”.39 IQOS was already available in Mexico, although, after considerable lobbying, the company failed to get the Mexican government to approve its import or promotion there.4546 The Australian government also continued to reject the product. For more information see Heated Tobacco Products

As of October 2020, IQOS is not yet on sale in Indonesia, PMI’s largest market for cigarettes.3739

Product innovation

In 2019, PMI launched brand extensions IQOS Multi and IQOS Duo (see image 1).

PMI has a second HTP product under development, called TEEPS, which uses a carbon heat source to heat the tobacco sticks. 47 The company has alleged that this product is closer to the look and feel of a conventional cigarette than IQOS. 48

Promoting IQOS and “Smoke-Free”

Although it does not disclose its marketing spend, PMI has allocated a large amount to advertising and promoting IQOS.826 As well as retail websites and distribution deals, it has established dedicated ‘concept’ stores around the world to promote its products direct to its customers, with multiple stores in some cities (see below). It has developed sophisticated, multi-platform advertising campaigns, using traditional and social media.(For examples see images from Stanford University’s research into the impact of tobacco advertising and work by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids). It has also promoted its products at music festivals and cultural events in glamourous locations around the world.263749 PMI has been accused of marketing IQOS and other NGPs to youth, including through the use of paid social media influencers. 2637495051

PMI’s promotion of IQOS is inextricably linked to its “Smoke-Free” public relations strategy, and campaigns such as “Hold My Light” and “UnSmoke Your World”. Research published in February 2020 by Stanford University shows how PMI’s promotional activities not only replicate advertising strategies used in the past to promote cigarettes, but also help to “normalize” the company and its heated tobacco products in the eyes of the consumer. 264952 This normalization increases pressure on policy makers to regulate these products in ways that benefit the industry, particularly in lower income countries.

In 2020, PMI used the US-specific MRTP order granted by the FDA to further promote IQOS and push for its approval, or deregulation, in multiple countries around the world. For details see Heated Tobacco Products.

E-Cigarettes

Image 3: The IQOS Mesh (screenshot taken from pmi.com, December 2019)

As with snus, PMI was the last of the international tobacco companies to move into the e-cigarette market. In November 2013, PMI announced that it was going to produce its own e-cigarette. 53 By 2019 the company had three e-cigarette brands in its product portfolio, two of which were sold only in the United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland, and the other only in Spain and Israel.

The most recent addition was developed in-house: IQOS Mesh (see image 3), the only PMI e-cigarette labelled under the IQOS brand. CEO Calantzopoulos informed investors in December 2019 that Mesh was ready for further commercialisation, but that a global roll-out had been postponed due to the backlash against e-cigarettes following the sudden deaths of a number of vapers in the US.19 In January 2020, the roll-out appeared to be going ahead, with Calantzopoulo announcing “a launch in the coming months”.54 However it was delayed further by the Covid-19 pandemic and finally launched under the Veev brand name in September 2020.3955

For more detailed information on PMI’s e-cigarettes business and products see: 

Market Expansion and Consolidation

At the beginning of 2020 PMI stated that its “Reduced Risk Products” (RRPs) account for nearly 20% of its net revenue, although it does not disclose publicly the profits from IQOS or other NGPs.24 It continues to expand the sales of its products through independent retailers and IQOS stores. In January 2020, the company reported that it had opened 26 new IQOS stores in South Africa since launching there in 2017. 56

Collaboration with KT&G on HTPs and Hybrids

In January 2020, PMI announced a new “collaboration” with South Korean tobacco company KT&G (which dominates the South Korean market), to commercialize KT&G’s range of “smoke-free” products globally, alongside IQOS.54 The deal covered KT&G’s e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and hybrid (vapour and tobacco) products. Although KT&G has a US subsidiary, PMI stated at the time, that there were “no current plans to commercialize KT&G products in the U.S.”5457 

In August 2020, KT&G’s lil SOLID HTP devices and Fiit heated tobacco sticks were launched in Russia, followed by Ukraine three weeks later.3958  It appears that lil SOLID is a rebranded Lil Plus device.59

When announcing its financial results in October 2020, PMI made clear the importance of having KT&G’s products in its product portfolio:

“This means that in both these markets [Russia and Ukraine] we now have HTU brands at three price points within the heat-notburn category: super-premium HEETS Creations/Dimensions, premium HEETS and mid-priced Fiit, all of which present attractive margins.”39

PMI launched KT&G’s lil HYBRID device in Japan in October 2020.60 This device uses as form of tobacco leaf and an e-liquid. While the tobacco contains nicotine, PMI referred to these as “Miix consumables and nicotine-free liquid cartridge”.39 This is likely to be because E-cigarette liquids containing nicotine are banned in Japan.  KT&G stated that its lil Hybrid was a “distinctive platform”. However Japan Tobacco International (JTI) markets a range of hybrid HTPs (for details see Next Generation Products: Japan Tobacco International).  It appears that PMI aims to gain further market share in JTI’s home market, which is already dominated by IQOS.

Undermining Tobacco Control Legislation

Although PMI has been promoting a “smoke-free” narrative, including funding the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World and its “Unsmoke” marketing campaign, it has also been working to undermine smoking bans and enable the use of IQOS in smoke-free areas.37

Just two months after the public smoking ban was introduced in the Czechia (then the Czech Republic) in 2017, PMI promoted IQOS on Radio Praha to Czech smokers, which according to the radio station “might allow them [smokers] to ‘smoke’ in public places once again”. 61

PMI has also been courting the hospitality industry to relax smoking bans by allowing the use of IQOS where smoking is banned.37 Allegedly more than 1,000 hotels around the world were offering “IQOS friendly rooms” in 2018, and “…in some cases, allow the use of smoke-free products in common areas”. 62 The UK IQOS website published a list of the “15 Best IQOS Friendly Locations in London”, venues that are “happy to accommodate users of heated tobacco technology”. 63

In January 2020, Calantzopoulos argued that advertising regulations should be relaxed, saying that in the UK it was “difficult to talk to a consumer about a tobacco product” if the product could not be easily seen, which would make it “very difficult to switch”. 64 However, although PMI has opened multiple IQOS stores in London, Bristol, Cardiff and Manchester, as an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalist pointed out, as of February 2020 there were none in the UK towns and cities with the highest smoking rates.37

In February 2020, an investigation by The Guardian newspaper revealed that, in the UK, PMI lobbied for lighter regulation of IQOS, as a “considerably less harmful novel smokeless tobacco product” (CLHTP). PMI also proposed setting up a UK£1 billion fund for cessation services in exchange for the relaxation of advertising regulations for e-cigarettes and HTPs. 65 It also tried to get IQOS adopted as a cessation product in New Zealand.

PMI has also taken advantage of tobacco control measures being implemented in the UK in order to promote its HTPs. In January 2019, PMI announced that it would be selling IQOS and menthol HEETS sticks in the UK, ahead of the deferred EU Tobacco Products Directive ban on menthol cigarettes (due to come into effect in May 2020).66676869 An “IQOS Menthol starter kit” aimed at convenience stores was available to retailers via a website called “menthol-ban-retail.co.uk”.6670 Run by Philip Morris Ltd (PML), the website stated that “From 20th May 2020, the only menthol tobacco you can sell is HEETS” (noting that specialist cigars and cigarillos were exempted from the ban). It also contained a claim that “51% of menthol smokers would replace menthol cigarettes with IQOS after the ban”.70

PMI has lobbied to overturn HTP and e-cigarette bans and create a market for its products in Australia.267172  For more details see Heated Tobacco Products.

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant links

TCRG Research

References

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