Is Philip Morris Getting Out of the Cigarette Business? The short answer is: yes, eventually. Philip Morris is looking to the development of a possible smoking alternative to lead the way.
Though presently part of parent company Altria’s portfolio, Philip Morris has been in business since 1847, originally established in London, England. Marlboro is the biggest Philip Morris brand, but Altria owns several companies, including makers of wine, cigars, and smokeless tobacco. To help ensure adequate capital, Altria formed Philip Morris Capital Corporation, which holds leases to domestic and international aircraft, power plants, and real estate.
Subsequently, Altria purchased large stakes of three other companies as well, which truly diversifies their group of brands, including the beverage company ABInBev, recently controversial e-cigarette maker Juul Labs, Inc., and possibly most surprising, a globally leading cannabis company - Cronos Group.
Declining Cigarette Sales
As the health risks of smoking cigarettes became more well-known, people began looking for a smoking alternative. Advertising changed, and cigarette manufacturers replaced claims of cigarettes’ health benefits with the Surgeon General’s warning on the packaging.
Today, tobacco companies spend a ton on store discounts to boost cigarette sales. From 2016 to 2017, cigarette sales decreased 3.5 percent. As of May 2018, sales were decreasing even faster, with steady decreases over the previous eighteen months, reducing cigarette companies’ stock values as well.
Smoking alternative products include e-cigarettes and vaping products. However, their sales are somewhat inconsistent. As a result, it is uncertain how much these alternatives contribute to lower cigarette sales, though their own sales increased overall during that time period.
Philip Morris wanted to develop a smoking alternative product that would stand out. Their ultimate goal is a smoke-free future. With that in mind, they developed the tobacco heating system IQOS, which was introduced into overseas markets in 2014. Out of 12 million people who have tried the device internationally, roughly 8.8 million smokers have switched to it entirely from cigarettes.
The device was recently authorized for sale within the U.S. by the FDA as “appropriate for the protection of public health.” Five months later, in early October, the first U.S. store opened in Atlanta, GA. The company plans to sell the devices exclusively at their stores and kiosks. HeatSticks, which contain the tobacco used with the device, will be more widely available.
How it Works
Vaping and e-cigarettes use oil-based liquid cartridges, heated by a battery to produce a vapor. Recently, vaping products have led to thousands of lung injuries, and more than twenty deaths. Those injuries and unfortunate deaths generally link to counterfeit vape cartridges containing vitamin E acetate. As a result of these illnesses and deaths, vaping products are being banned in several locations, with the exception of products that use dry flower vapor.
Unlike current liquid/oil-based vaping products, IQOS instead uses dry flower vaping, which is a process similar to that used with cannabis. As a smoking alternative, a battery heats ground tobacco within a special paper, creating a vapor. With no combustion, smoke, or ash from the tobacco or other cigarette ingredients, consumers inhale fewer chemicals and no smoke is produced, though smokers do receive nicotine from this “heat-not-burn” process.
Is IQOS Really Safer?
Safety seems to be a debated topic. A doctor at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas notes that the FDA allowed the IQOS to be released as a “modified risk” item, as compared to smoking cigarettes. This means there are still risks associated with using these products, but they may be fewer as compared to smoking. As a result, existing U.S. laws that apply to cigarettes also apply to IQOS.
Smoking kills and contributes to 480,000 deaths each year, and smoking cigarettes affects every systemwithin a smoker’s body, not to mention those exposed to secondhand smoke. Reductions in those numbers would be a definite benefit from a smoking alternative.
On the other side of the equation, Philip Morris identified and tested eight biomarkers during a six-month trial of IQOS use versus smoking ten cigarettes per day. Their study found numbers for all eight biomarkers, including inflammation and airway impairment, were less within the group using IQOS.
Medical Applications for Inhalation Technology
Humans have known for thousands of years that inhalation therapy had benefits as a treatment for a number of ailments. Ancient Egyptians placed black henbane onto hot bricks, creating a vapor for a patient to inhale. Though many people are most familiar with inhaled treatments for asthma, technology is preparing to change that. There are currently devices to manage inhalers you already have, which connect with a patient’s smartphone, but the inhaler is still the same.
One company, Syqe medical, in Israel is working with numerous molecules for a variety of therapeutic uses, including pain, central nervous system issues, sleep, anxiety, and leukemia. Their device currently doses medical cannabis without any intoxicating effects. Philip Morris has expressed a desire to find a startup company in China to innovate inhalation devices with medical applications. Some benefits of electronic inhaled dosing are perfectly measured doses, patient dosing compliance, quicker relief via inhaled medication rather than oral medications, which pass through the digestive tract first.
Potential Overall Impact
If safety claims are true, those using tobacco could use an IQOS, or similar device, and consume fewer chemicals and also put fewer into the air. Subsequently, with secondhand smoke reduced or, ideally, removed, there would be a potential for reduced cancer cases. In addition, sensitive populations would not have the severity of allergy or asthma symptoms. Pollution from cigarette smoke would be reduced as well. Overall, a smoking alternative has the potential to improve global health.
This was originally published on RxLeaf and it is republished with permission.
Photo credit: Jim Hedd