Uche Usim, Abuja

The management of Philip Morris International (PMI), the maker of I Quit Original Smoking (IQOS) electronic tobacco heated system that produces a vapour, rather than harmful smoke, has given reasons why it would not stop selling cigarettes despite global health concerns.

The Managing Director of PMI, Sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Bahman Safakish in an interview on Thursday said that ending cigarette sales would automatically create a niche market for competitors and illicit traders who do not appreciate the need to replace the combustible hazardous smoking with the electronic vapour-producing device that is much safer health wise.

According to him, PMI remains totallyc committed to doing everything possible to ensure that smoke-free products replace the current cigarettes in vogue as soon as possible.

He said: “It is important to note that the World Health Organization estimates that there will be over a billion smokers by 2025 and the goal is to reduce the prevalence of smoking by 30% then.

“Our ambition is that 30% of our volumes be represented by smoke-free products by 2025, which is equivalent to approximately 40 million smokers that adopt them.

“However, replacing cigarettes with smoke-free products will take time and does not depend only on our efforts. For example, scientists and experts should help by providing accurate information to the public about the relative risks of these products versus continued smoking, governments can work with manufacturers to encourage innovation in this space. Governments have an important role to play by defining regulations that encourage smokers to switch and smokers ultimately will have to decide to quit cigarettes and, or switch to less harmful products.

“One of the quickest and most effective solutions to reach the overall goal of reducing noncommunicable diseases would be to switch from conventional tobacco products to less harmful products like smoke-free products. The number one cause of smoking-related illnesses is all of the toxic substances in cigarette smoke, most of which are formed during the burning of tobacco.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued decisions on Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) applications for IQOS and three HeatSticks variants (the IQOS tobacco heating system) submitted by Philip Morris International (PMI) since 2016.

“It took more than three years for the agency to issue an authorization to commercialize IQOS with a reduced exposure claim because it takes some time to review the million plus pages of scientific evidence and independent studies and be able to confirm that switching completely from conventional cigarettes to the IQOS system significantly reduces the body’s exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals.

The decision of the FDA is a historic one as it marks the first time that FDA has granted Modified-Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) marketing orders for a heated tobacco product.

“We are making tremendous progress toward our ambitions of a smoke-free future. IQOS is already commercialized in 53 markets, and we have already encouraged over 10 million smokers to switch to IQOS and abandon cigarettes, and four more million are currently adopting the product and we expect them to abandon cigarettes soon.

“However, the reality is that the vast majority of smokers simply do not quit. Even WHO’s own predictions forecast that there will continue to be more than 1 billion smokers by the year 2025, roughly the same number as today. Providing these smokers with science-based less harmful alternatives is therefore a commonsense solution to improve public health”, Safakish explained.

On the affordability of the new product, especially for smokers in developing countries like Nigeria, Safakashi noted that consumers around the world have the same needs and concerns.

“Increasingly, consumers are looking for alternatives to cigarettes. Our goal to replace cigarettes with smoke-free products extends to all adult smokers of all income levels and to all countries worldwide. Unlike cigarettes, adult smokers who would like to switch to IQOS HEETS need to first purchase the IQOS device. “Still, supplying a reliable and scientifically substantiated quality device is costly in this relatively new category, although we have different programs in most countries where we commercialize IQOS to make it easier for smokers to purchase the device. On the other hand, the price of IQOS HEETS is in the same range as cigarettes, and in most cases, lower than the premium priced cigarettes.

“We believe the cost of both device and heated tobacco consumable will continue to drop over time and governments will continue to provide tax differential and other regulatory measures to accelerate adult smokers’ switching. IQOS was launched in South Africa in 2017. We hope to launch in other African countries as soon as possible”, he added.