Tobacco giant Philip Morris may quit making cigarettes ‘soon’
Claims by tobacco giant Philip Morris, the US company behind brands including Marlboro, that conventional cigarettes could become a thing of the past have been met with scepticism.
Speaking as he launched a new product that the firm claims is less harmful than traditional smoking, chief executive André Calantzopoulos predicted a “phase-out period” for cigarettes.
He said the company’s new iQos product, which heats tobacco but does not burn it, releases fewer toxins and is capable of replacing regular cigarettes in the long term.
“I believe that there will come a moment in time where we have sufficient adoption of this alternative product and sufficient awareness to start envisaging – together with governments – a phase-out period for cigarettes,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “I hope this time will come soon.”
Philip Morris, the largest tobacco firm outside China, has invested US$3 billion in the iQos, which differs from vaporisers or e-cigarettes that heat a liquid containing nicotine.
The firm’s prediction of a future without cigarettes came as the UK court of appeal ruled that plans to remove distinctive branding from packs will go ahead.
But campaigners and industry analysts cast doubt on the chances of cigarettes being banished, either by e-cigarettes or other replacement products such as the iQos.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking group Ash, said: “Philip Morris claims to be moving towards a post-smoking future but, like other tobacco companies, it is still actively promoting smoking around the world, using methods that would be illegal in the UK.”
Rae Maile, tobacco industry analyst with City of London firm Cenkos Securities, pointed out that Calantzopoulos was vague about how long it might take for cigarettes to disappear.
“He didn’t say when ... so it’s any time in the next century,” he said. “There are 1 billion people quite happy with smoking. Cigarettes are easy to use, convenient and don’t need recharging. People know the health risks and are willing to accept them.
“There’s plenty of demand from current smokers so it might change, but it’ll be a very slow process.”
Despite the growing publicity surrounding vaporisers and e-cigarettes, they form only a tiny part of tobacco firms’ income.
Philip Morris, which has its headquarters in New York and runs its international operation from Switzerland, sold 847 billion cigarettes in 2015 and had group revenues of US$26.8 billion.
Although Calantzopoulos claimed Philip Morris was shifting away from cigarettes, he also defended the company’s role in smoking-related health problems: “I don’t think Philip Morris invented cigarettes. For us, it’s to offer our consumers the best product we can in a category that we all know is addictive and causes harm.”
Arnott said independent evidence was needed to support industry claims that new products were safer.