iqos electronic cigarette

Philip Morris UK clearly likes a sense of occasion. Last year, on 20 May, it marked the date on which major tobacco manufacturers could no longer produce branded packs for their products by breaking ranks with its rivals on the legal challenge against plain packaging.

At the time it said it was doing so as the money would be better invested into the development of what it calls Reduced Risk Products – such as its IQOS heated tobacco system.

Retailers were given exactly one year to sell through any branded packs as well as any smaller packs that did not comply with the revised EU Tobacco Products Directive, which outlaws cigarette packets containing fewer than 20 sticks and packs of rolling tobacco weighing less than 30g.

And so, on 20 May this year, the final day for retailers to shift any non-compliant stock, Philip Morris again looked to use the challenges facing the sector to highlight its attempts to kick the smoking habit.

It announced a national UK rollout of Iqos and laid down a challenge to help 100,000 UK smokers fully switch from traditional smoking to its new system, which heats rather than burns tobacco and therefore, according to Philip Morris, yields on average 90%-95% fewer harmful constituents.

When Philip Morris International first confirmed it was bringing Iqos to the UK last October, CEO André Calantzopoulos painted a picture of a world without traditional cigarettes, should there be sufficient adoption of these next generation products, and even promised to do all he could to make this future a reality.

Until now, Iqos has only been available in the UK through one dedicated store in London’s Soho. Philip Morris has now launched a transactional UK website for the brand and confirmed it will open a network of stores across the country and work in partnership with other retailers. However, it is still keeping details of these close to its chest.

A technology-led revolution

As an ex-smoker who tried many, many times to quit before finally kicking the habit four years ago, I applaud any attempt to get people to stop smoking. But I can’t help feeling that Philip Morris could still look to do more if it really wants to be seen as the poacher turned gamekeeper at the vanguard of a technology-led revolution.

These new products, as well as nicotine-based vaping products, have gained traction in markets such as the UK, Europe, the US and Japan, where awareness of the harm caused by smoking is greatest and where sales of traditional tobacco products are already falling.

More needs to be done in less developed countries in which laws around smoking and marketing are much more lax, and thus smoking remains a booming business. Even back in the UK, Philip Morris could behave more responsibly. In the last few days, just as it looks to drive its own narrative of doing the right thing, it has been castigated over the distribution of hard-wearing Marlboro-branded 10-pack tins to convenience stores across the country.

There was nothing illegal about this move, but it is hard to see it as anything other than a cynical bid to keep its branding visible in the new plain packaging era.

It would be incredible if the big tobacco manufacturers could genuinely play a significant part in moving to a smoke-free future. But they still need to do much more to prove that really is what they want.