Philip Morris International is hoping to capitalise on the growing appetite for alternatives to traditional smokes like e-cigarettes with a new Marlboro-branded product that heats tobacco rather than burning it.
The world's second-biggest tobacco company on Thursday detailed its plans to release the Marlboro HeatSticks in cities in Japan and Italy later this year, with further expansion plans in 2015.
The products represent another attempt at improving heating technologies that failed when originally introduced in the 1990s.
The short, cigarette-like sticks are heated to a maximum of 350 degrees Celsius in a hollow pen-like device called iQOS (pronounced EYE-cohs) to create a tobacco-flavoured nicotine vapour. Unlike popular e-cigarettes that use liquid nicotine, HeatSticks contain real tobacco, a point the company believes will make them more attractive to cigarette smokers.
It's one of several so-called "reduced-risk" products Philip Morris International plans to test as the industry diversifies beyond traditional cigarettes amid declining demand.
Products like the HeatSticks "represent a potential paradigm shift for the industry, public health and adult smokers", CEO Andre Calantzopoulos said during an investor day presentation on Thursday.
The company, based in New York and Switzerland, has spent about US$2 billion over more than a decade on development of the products and expects that iQOS would boost its profit by US$700 million when sales reach 30 billion units.
The overseas Marlboro maker announced plans in January to invest some US$680 million for two plants in Italy to make the products.
On Tuesday, the company said that in addition to its own cigarette alternatives, it purchased British e-cigarette maker Nicocigs Ltd. Financial terms were not disclosed.
In the 1990s, the contraptions that heat tobacco rather than burning it didn't pass muster with smokers. Even though the products left no lingering odour and didn't produce ash, they tasted different to cigarettes and were more difficult to use.
Now, a surging e-cigarette industry has tobacco companies hoping for a resurgence of the technologies that some argue are less harmful than lighting up.
With the health risks associated with traditional cigarettes and changes in societal expectations, it's no wonder many of the world's one billion smokers want to quit or try tobacco alternatives.
In recent years, much of the attention to quitting has steered away from nicotine gum and patches to electronic cigarettes, which many smokers credit with helping them kick the habit.