Tobacco giant Philip Morris could be giving up the smokes

Looking to its post-cigarette future...

The writing would appear to be on the cigarette pack for the world's biggest tobacco company, as Philip Morris International (PMI) looks to replace its biggest seller with less harmful alternatives.

PMI chief executive Andrew Calantzopoulos has admitted that the company is seriously thinking about life after cigarettes and personally hopes that the change will "come soon".

In an interview broadcast on BBC Radio 4 yesterday, he said:

"I believe there will come a moment in time where I would say we have sufficient adoption of these alternative products... to start envisaging, together with governments, a phase-out period for cigarettes."

Calantzopoulos was speaking as Philip Morris launched its iQOS smokeless cigarette in the UK. Not to be confused with an e-cigarette, which employs a nicotine-laced liquid, the iQOS is a device fitted with mini cigarettes. Already available in over a dozen markets, including Italy, Japan and Switzerland, the device heats the tobacco just enough to produce vapour without burning it.

Philip Morris believes this makes it a safer option, though it has been careful not to claim iQOS is a healthier choice and sells the product with a warning that avoiding tobacco completely represents the best option for your health.

Amazon

Calantzopoulous told the BBC that, despite the tobacco market shrinking, there will still be more than a billion smokers worldwide by 2025. Regardless, the Marlboro manufacturer – everywhere but in the United States, that is - has pumped more than $2 billion into developing smoking alternatives. This includes an iQOS predecessor, Heatbar, that met with little success a decade ago.

Sales of smoking alternatives only represent roughly 1% of the $863 billion tobacco market, according to researcher Euromonitor International.

The overwhelming majority of Philip Morris profits continue to come from traditional cigarettes, which are responsible for the deaths of over six million people every year. 

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of UK health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), told Reuters:

"If smokers switch to electronic cigarettes or other products that can be shown to cut the risks to their health, this could lead to a big improvement in public health. But we need independent evidence to support any claims made by the tobacco industry."

Until such evidence is secured, ASH recommends that iQOS and similar products still be regulated in the same way as cigarettes. 

Speaking to Bloomberg in March, Cloe Franko, a senior organiser at anti-smoking nonprofit Corporate Accountability International, warned:

"Time and again, Philip Morris International has been caught lying to the public about the health effects of its products."