Philip Morris Takes a Step Backwards from E-cigs
Tobacco giant Philip Morris has joined rival RJ Reynolds in putting an electronic smoking alternative device on the market, but what Philip Morris has created has one huge difference between the RJR device and most e-cigarettes: It contains tobacco.
The device called Iqos was launched in the United Kingdom on November 30, 2016. Unlike most e-cigarettes, including the RJ Reynolds Vuse that came out a few years ago, Iqos works by heating tobacco rather than using tobacco-free liquid. The tobacco in Iqos is heated to 350 degrees Celsius (662 F) to produce vapor, not smoke. Burning a cigarette involves a temperature of about 900 degrees Celsius (1652 F). Philip Morris claims that all of this means that using the Iqos does not produce nearly the amount of toxic chemicals as smoking cigarettes does; in fact, using the Iqos is “90-95 percent less harmful” than smoking. The figure 95 percent happens to match the recent UK health officials’ claim that e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than smoking. The claim about the Iqos, however, has not been verified outside of Philip Morris’s own testing.
So where does Iqos fit into the world of smoking and e-cigarettes? Though it is electronic and a “vaporizer,” it is not an e-cigarette in the traditional sense, though similar devices that heat dry substances do exist. RJ Reynolds actually created such a device back in the 1980s, but the product failed spectacularly and was pulled from the market within a year.
Though the attempt to provide a “safer alternative” to burning tobacco cigarettes may be commendable, Philip Morris seems to be aiming their new product at smokers who are resistant to switching to e-cigarettes, and the Iqos is therefore competing with not only the RJR Vuse but with all traditional e-cigarettes. The company claims that it eventually wants to replace all traditional tobacco cigarettes with “non-combustible alternatives.”
For proponents of e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking, the Iqos is likely to only complicate matters. Currently, the United States government considers all e-cigarettes to be tobacco products despite the fact that they do not contain tobacco. If Iqos eventually comes to America, it will literally add tobacco to the realm of vaporizers, which could make it harder to convince e-cigarette skeptics as well as giving them even more ammunition for their fight against all types of vaping.
Another way to look at it, though, is that the very fact that Iqos contains tobacco could be used as a way to highlight the difference between it and e-cigarettes, and most importantly, the difference between e-cigarettes and all products that actually contain tobacco.
The Iqos is actually slowly making its way around Europe, after having initially been launched in Asia in 2014. The United Kingdom has slightly more smokers than the United States, so if the device does well there, it is likely to wind up on the other side of the Atlantic soon.