Philip Morris CEO aims for a ‘smoke-free future’

January 30, 2020, 7:42 PM UTC

The Marlboro Man and those iconic Marlboro cigarettes could be a thing of the past if the CEO of Philip Morris succeeds in creating what he calls a “smoke free future”.

“I will be extremely happy if we don’t sell cigarettes one day,” says Andre Calantzpoulos. “That’s what we’re trying to do. So I think success for us is, the faster the better to get there.”

You may be surprised to hear that from the CEO who runs the one of largest tobacco companies in the world. But Calantzpoulos, a former smoker, wants to convince adult smokers to switch to alternative smoke-free products because he believes there are fewer health risks versus conventional cigarettes. Reaching that goal will take time. As of September of 2019, smoke-free products accounted for only 18 percent of Philip Morris’s revenues. Cigarette sales still make up for the bulk of the company’s revenues of $29 billion.

Calantzpoulos is betting that PMI’s electronic cigarette device that is now on sale in the United States will pave the way to a future without cigarettes. It’s called IQOS (pronounced Eye-kose). The battery-operated, pen-like device isn’t a vaping e-cigarette. It heats tobacco rather than burns it and releases a vapor with the taste of tobacco. Calantzopoulos claims that IQOS has significantly lower levels of harmful chemicals compared to vaping products. He says the device is aimed for adults and he insists it is not for teen use. “There is a very big increase in youth use of nicotine products,” he acknowledges, “and that has to be stopped.”

PMI made IQOS available in the U.S. last October under a licensing agreement with Altria, its former parent company. Currently, the e-cigarette is available for purchase only in Atlanta, Georgia and Richmond, Virginia. Since its launch in 2014, IQOS has been sold in more than 50 markets outside of the U.S. Calantzpoulos says there are more than 12 million IQOS users worldwide.

The marketing pitch from PMI is that IQOS helps smokers quit. But until the Food and Drug Administration makes an official ruling on the health dangers of e-cigarettes, including IQOS, Calantzpoulos is cautious.

“The product is neither risk free and it is addictive,” he says. “It’s much better than cigarettes. But it’s not risk free.”

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