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Heat-Not-Burn E-Cig Products Faces Global Challenges

Heat-Not-Burn E-Cig Products Faces Global Challenges



Philip Morris International (PMI) was recently ordered by the Department of Health in the U.K. to stop advertising their heat-not-burn (HNB) devices as “healthier” tobacco products, according to a report in the Telegraph. This  news comes as PMI struggles to expand the market for IQOS (I-Quit-Ordinary-Smoking) devices after promising that they would offer a compelling alternative to combustible cigarettes.

Quick refresher - heat-not-burn devices involve a heating chamber into which a smoker places a miniature, propylene-glycol soaked cigarette, leaving the filter tip sticking out. Instead of lighting the cigarette on fire, the chamber heats the tobacco to a temperature short of combustion, but high enough to vaporize the tobacco. When a user is finished, they simply discard the cigarette as one would a traditional butt.


At the heart of the discussion around IQOS device ads is whether or not they conform to the label of tobacco products as defined by the U.K. government. While the devices do contain tobacco, PMI insists that they’re healthier than combustible cigarettes because they don’t burn that tobacco, which reduces the presence of many harmful toxins. However, British government officials have adamantly disagreed, declaring that a product containing tobacco should count as a tobacco product.

Public Health Minister Steve Brine told the Telegraph “We have been explicit that the promotion of tobacco products is unlawful - as my letter to Philip Morris International makes abundantly clear. Smoking kills 78,000 people every year and I am personally committed to doing all I can to protect people from the harms of tobacco. We expect PMI to stop this unlawful advertisement of tobacco products and we will not rule out legal action if they continue.”

This showcases the sharp divide in how the U.K. to address HNB devices separately from vapor products. In the last few years, the government agencies have declared that vaping is much safer than combustible cigarettes, and they have gone out of its way to promote vaping as a way for the country to eventually go smoke-free.

In January, PMI took out a full-page ad promoting a similar initiative, and declared that they were going to give up promoting combustible cigarettes, and instead, promote the IQOS devices. The announcement was met with curious ambivalence by the vapor community.

“Philip Morris is known for cigarettes. Every year, many smokers give them up. Now it's our turn," read a portion of the ad. “Our ambition is to stop selling cigarettes in the UK. It won't be easy. But we are determined to turn our vision into reality. There are 7.6 million adults in the UK who smoke. The best action they can take is to quit smoking.”

So far, however, PMI has only put up losses since declaring their end to smoking. In July, the owner of the Marlboro brand said it expected diluted earnings for 2018 fall below its projected forecast three months ago, leading to PMI’s stock to drop six percent, according to a report in the Financial Times. This, comes with news that the Japanese market tapered off from its booming economy, which has begun to worry investors that the HNB devices might not take off as the company has promised it would.

In the United States, Philip Morris filed for FDA approval of the IQOS system in August 2017, although that approval is still pending, due both to FDA sketpcism and to lawsuits filed by investors. The American lawsuit alleges that there are “irregularities in the clinical experiments that underpin Philip Morris’ application to the FDA for approval of its IQOS smoking device” and that they were misleading investors on the probability of it being approved. All in all, heat-not-burn devices have had a difficult time establishing themselves as competitors to the vape market.

Meanwhile, the one promising market for HNB technology has been Japan, where liquid-based nicotine is illegal outside a medical setting. Aspiring vapers denied access to traditional vape gear embraced IQOS early, but Philip Morris was forced to report in recent months that demand has begun to sag as older, more established smokers have been reluctant to give the devices a try, limiting the product's potential growth moving forward.

The knock on vaping has long been that there's not enough science to determine its long-term risks - the same is true, and even more so, for this latest technology. We'll be watching for the first round of HNB studies to be released, likely sometime within the next year or so. And when (if) the devices make their way stateside, we're even willing to give them a shot. But we're also pretty happy with vaping as we know it.