Leaving cigarettes behind can be much faster if everyone plays a role, said a top-ranking Philip Morris International executive.
This was the key message of Tommaso Di Giovanni, PMI’s vice president for global communications, during the 27th National Public Relations Congress held virtually by the Public Relations Society of the Philippines. He said the ambition of PMI, the parent company of PMFTC Inc., is to replace all cigarettes with better alternatives based on science as soon as possible.
Di Giovanni said it is no secret that smoking causes diseases and is addictive. Yet, the vast majority of smokers don’t quit. It is estimated by the World Health Organization that there will be the same number of smokers around the world by 2025.
Di Giovanni said this prompted PMI to explore “creative solutions to the problem. We decided to think, is there anything that we can do to change our business and give all those smokers who would otherwise continue using cigarette a better alternative?”
“We started working at products that do not burn and therefore generate significantly lower levels of harmful compounds. We call them heated tobacco. And that has been our focus since then,” he said.
Di Giovanni said more than 350 studies by PMI on these new products have been peer-reviewed, making PMI the fifth largest holder of patents filed with the European Patent office.
“Today, 99 percent of our R& D expenditures and 76 percent of our commercial expenditures are behind this huge effort to transform an industry into something that is much better, and we hope that it would not only be our company but the whole industry and the whole world that are behind it,” he said.
Having the capacity and the technology to do something different, and to do something that will benefit consumers, Di Giovanni said PMI invested over $8 billion in research and development, scientific substantiation and early manufacturing of alternatives to cigarettes. In 2015, PMI commercialized IQOS, a product that heats tobacco rather than burning it.
“The vast majority of people simply don’t understand what causes disease with cigarettes. The vast majority of people still think it’s nicotine. It’s not the case,” Di Giovanni said.
He said the cause of diseases is found in harmful compounds that are in smoking, and that the vast majority of which are produced by burning tobacco. “So when you eliminate the burning we realize you can do something that’s much better than cigarette,” he said.
Citing the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the United Kingdom, DI Giovanni said nicotine is addictive but it’s not the primary cause of smoking-related diseases.
“Virtually all health authorities around the world say this. And it’s something that the vast majority of smokers don’t know. And if they don’t know it. They simply won’t understand the value of the new proposition,” he said.
Despite the advancement in technology, however, Di Giovanni said major challenges remain, including the need to address the massive misinformation about nicotine, which the communications community can plays a big role.
“The biggest challenge is that the vast majority of people don’t know and don’t understand the value of those alternatives because they haven’t been informed,” he said, adding that many people still believe that it is the nicotine that causes diseases when people smoke.
Di Giovanni also noted the need to update legislation. “Legislation takes time. The fact of the matter is the vast majority of laws around the category were built in the 80s and in the 90s when the technology and the science we have today simply did not exist,” he said.
He acknowledges that many governments are acting, but “it takes time.” He cited the United States as the first country to act and change these laws to ensure there’s a review of any claim made on tobacco products that are better choice for smokers.
Di Giovanni said the US Food and Drug Administration last year authorized IQOS for commercialization with claims of modified exposure, “and they do it because they believe this can, it’s their words, promote public health in the country.”
There are almost 18 million smokers worldwide who have switched to PMI’s heated tobacco products and about 25 percent of PMI’s revenues already come from these better alternatives to cigarettes today.
“Today, our leading heated tobacco product IQOS is sold in 64 countries around the globe. Almost 18 million smokers use [IQOS], and 72 percent of them abandoned cigarette completely. We’re now expanding the portfolio because we also know that smokers have different preferences,” he said.
PMFTC Inc., an affiliate of PMI, opened its IQOS stores in Metro Manila in September 2020 in a bid to reduce the smoking rate in the country.
Di Giovanni said, however, that quitting smoking remains the best option. “If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, quit. And if you don’t quit, change. Because today, there are options that are much better choice for smokers.”