Philip Morris' New E-Cigarette Gets FDA Go-Ahead ー With Caveats

FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images
May 1, 2019

By Michael Teich

The FDA is giving the green light for a new kind of e-cigarette from Philip Morris International, as long as the tobacco giant plays by the rules.

"FDA marketing guidelines are no surprise," said Philip Morris International ($PMI) COO Jacek Olczak in an interview with Cheddar Wednesday. "I am very glad, very happy the FDA took such a very prescriptive approach. It makes a lot of things clear to us."

Regulators say they will permit the sale of the IQOS device, a vape pen that heats tobacco rather than liquid nicotine, which is how devices like the Juul work. The FDA didn’t say the device was safer than traditional cigarettes, but said it could help people quit smoking. Altria, which runs Philip Morris International in the U.S., said it would begin sales of the IQOS in Atlanta.

Critics of vaporizers have pointed to the uptick in teen e-cigarette use, arguing appealing flavors and flamboyant marketing campaigns were roping in first-time users and exposing them to cigarettes. In 2018, e-cigarette use among high school students surged 78 percent compared with 2017, to more than 3 million students. Olczak contends Philip Morris is not targeting underage users with its new heated tobacco device.

"There's a component of the product design, but there's a very important component of our marketing practices. From the very beginning when we commercialized IQOS, you know in all markets outside the U.S., we had a very clear objective this is not the product for, first, people who never smoked before, and this is definitely not a product for underage people."

The FDA will require Philip Morris International to submit its plans for labeling, marketing, and promotions, and said it will continue to monitor the company's roll out.

“We’ll be keeping a close watch on the marketplace,” said the FDA tobacco control director Mitch Zeller.

While the IQOS has already been introduced in more than 40 markets around the world, the vaping device will face stiff competition in the U.S., where Juul has a hold on 70 percent of the e-cigarette market. Olczak believes the market is big enough for multiple players to succeed.

"40 million people here that are smoking, and I think there's a time they start trying an alternative to a combustible product."