Why a Tobacco Giant CEO Is Cheering the FDA’s War on Nicotine

August 22, 2017, 4:44 PM UTC
Reynolds Said to Aim for July Lorillard Deal as Talks Continue
Reynolds American Inc. brand Pall Mall, bottom left, and Camel cigarettes, bottom right, are displayed for sale at a B & N Food Market convenience store in Bagdad, Kentucky, U.S. on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Reynolds American Inc. is aiming to get a deal done to buy rival Lorillard Inc. by the end of the month, as the two companies pursue what has been an elusive agreement to combine the second- and third-largest tobacco producers in the U.S., people with knowledge of the matter said. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Luke Sharrett — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Last month, public health officials cheered as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled a surprise proposal aimed at making cigarettes as minimally addictive as possible. The crux of the plan? Limit nicotine levels in traditional, combustible cigarettes to a non-addictive amount.

“Because almost 90% of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18 and nearly 2,500 youth smoke their first cigarette every day in the U.S., lowering nicotine levels could decrease the likelihood that future generations become addicted to cigarettes and allow more currently addicted smokers to quit,” the agency wrote in a release.

You might think the specter of such an ambitious overhaul would spook tobacco companies. And, at the time of the announcement, shares of several major cigarette manufacturers tumbled. But the chief executive of at least one massive tobacco outfit is actually hailing the FDA’s stance.

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Philip Morris International CEO Andre Calantzopoulos tells Reuters he believes the FDA’s plan is “one of the best articulated positions in many years.” He also doesn’t believe it’s inevitable that the industry will pursue litigation to fight regulators on the issue.

Why the optimistic take? A changing market. Philip Morris International has been pouring resources into combustible cigarette alternatives like electronic cigarettes that let people vape nicotine and its “iQOS” system—which stands for “I Quit Ordinary Smoking.” The latter is a form of “heat-not-burn” tobacco product that nixes the combustible element of traditional cigarettes (a major source of smoking toxins). According to Calantzopoulos, three million people globally have already switched over to iQOS from cigarettes—and it isn’t even on the market in the U.S. yet.

As states and the federal government continue to crack down on smoking, devices like iQOS and e-cigarettes have been on the rise.

This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.

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