Philip Morris Device Criticized by Imperial Researcher

  • `There's a lot of black crud' after using it, says Imperial
  • PMI `disappointed' rival disparages heated tobacco device

The tobacco industry’s united front is being tested as Imperial Tobacco Group Plc takes a swipe at Philip Morris International Inc.’s new cigarette alternative.

The Marlboro maker claims its “iQOS” product -- a black pen-shaped device that heats sticks containing tobacco -- could potentially reduce risks compared with smoking because combustion isn’t involved. Imperial researchers tested the so-called “heat-not-burn” gadget and found evidence that some of the processes within a burning cigarette are still occurring.

“There’s a lot of black crud in the iQOS device after using it,” said Steve Stotesbury, the U.K. company’s head of scientific regulatory affairs, speaking in an interview at an industry conference in Bologna last week. “It smells like an ashtray.”

The war of words is unusual, as tobacco companies normally stand together to ward off attacks from anti-smoking activists and public-health authorities who seek to place more restrictions on smoking. The fracas also comes as the world’s largest cigarette makers pursue different paths to develop healthier alternatives to smoking as sales of conventional cigarettes dwindle. Imperial is the only big industry player to turn its back on heat-not-burn technology, focusing on e-cigarettes instead.

Next-Generation Products

Philip Morris is betting that its device will become more popular than e-cigarettes sold by Imperial and others because using iQOS tastes and feels more similar to smoking, it says.

“While we are pleased that Imperial now recognizes the harm-reduction potential of heat-not-burn products such as iQOS, it is disappointing that they try to disparage a very promising technology for tobacco harm-reduction they do not have in their portfolio,” Philip Morris said.

Stifel Financial Corp. analyst Christopher Growe has said Philip Morris’s next-generation products could add $1.3 billion in annual operating profit within five years. PMI’s new products will have plenty of company, such as Ploom, a product by Japan Tobacco Inc., and a device from British American Tobacco Plc scheduled for later this year.

Smoking Substitute

“While iQOS is capable of reducing harmful compounds associated with cigarette smoke by a factor of ten, an e-cigarette is capable of eliminating most of them completely,” said Stotesbury of Imperial, which sells e-cigs under the Puritane brand in the U.K. as well as Davidoff cigarettes.

Philip Morris’s $80 iQOS smoking substitute has gone on sale in Switzerland after trial runs in Italy and Japan, and for now it’s being marketed as a cleaner and less smelly alternative to smoking. Users insert a Marlboro-brand “heatstick” into the device that gets pierced and heated by a metal blade.

E-cigarettes don’t satisfy consumers, Philip Morris Chief Executive Officer Andre Calantzopoulos said in May. Available evidence shows that both types of products have “significant” potential for harm reduction, the company said.

Clinical Studies

The tobacco maker completed eight clinical studies on heat-not-burn and has longer-term tests underway, planning to submit findings to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016.

Trials on almost 350 smokers showed iQOS resulted in “a rapid and substantial reduction” in their exposure to harmful chemicals, Moira Gilchrist, a scientific director at Philip Morris, said in an interview at the Bologna conference.

“There are very different views on heat-not-burn within the industry,” James Bushnell, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, wrote. “The holy grail is having a consumer acceptable reduced-risk product.”

(Corrects description of technology in second paragraph.)
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