CEO of Philip Morris, world's largest tobacco company, says he may phase out cigarettes


Sick of hearing about how cool vaping is? Better get used to it, because the CEO of Philip Morris International recently mused that vapes will one day replace cigarettes — ideally, one day soon. The company has launched its IQOS "smokeless cigarette" in the United Kingdom, Reuters reported Wednesday, a step toward its potentially smokeless future. 

"I believe there will come a moment in time where I would say we have sufficient adoption of these alternative products ... to start envisaging, together with governments, a phase-out period for cigarettes," André Calantzopoulos told BBC Radio 4. He added that he hoped that moment would arrive "soon."

Calantzopoulos heads the world's largest international tobacco company, its 53 production centers in 33 countries making upwards of 870 billion cigarettes annually. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco kills some 6 million people globally each year. During his interview with BBC, Calantzopoulos acknowledged the danger. 

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The CEO believes the IQOS — which is already available in Japan, Switzerland, Italy and a handful of other countries — is a safer alternative to cigarettes because it heats tobacco rather than burning it.

"We produce a product that causes disease and I think the primary responsibility that we have once the technology is available — and today the technology is available — is to develop products like these and to commercialize them as soon as possible," he said.  

Asked if Philip Morris wasn't motivated by "concern for future business," rather than concern for consumers, Calantzopoulos noted that PMI didn't invent cigarettes and that, by 2025, the world will still be home to more than 1 billion smokers. 

"I think, for us, [the responsibility] is to offer consumers the best product we can in a category that we all know is addictive and causes harm," he said.

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The IQOS isn't a typical electronic cigarette running on nicotine juice. Rather, it's an electronic holder in which consumers can insert mini-cigarettes. According to BBC, a pack of 20 will cost roughly $9.99. The device itself, which comes with a charger, resembles "a small, dumpy mobile phone," to borrow BBC's phrasing, and will run consumers around $56. 

PMI hopes the IQOS will appeal more to cigarette smokers than e-cigs have. And while such alternatives appear to be far safer than traditional cigarettes, as Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, told BBC Radio 4, "We still need to be very cautious about what the industry's up to." Tobacco companies' foremost interest is in selling tobacco. 

"If Philip Morris really wants to see the end of smoking, then they have to stop promoting smoking to new young smokers around the world," she said. "If these products can help adult smokers quit, then all well and good, but they still need regulating as tobacco products."

For his part, Calantzopoulos vowed that Philip Morris will do "everything we can to convince them [smokers] to switch to this product."