Philip Morris Wants to Quit Cigarettes, but Not Tobacco

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May 29, 2019

By Rebecca Heilweil

Philip Morris, the tobacco giant most famous for the Marlboro brand, wants to leave the cigarette business for a new "smokeless" system that still — technically— meets the FDA's definition of a cigarette.

In anticipation of World No Tobacco Day on Friday, the company ran an ad in the New York Times calling to evolve the day into "World No Smoking Day." The move is part of Philip Morris' broader strategy for repositioning itself as a brand that caters to those who can't quit tobacco, rather than actively promoting cigarettes and tobacco to non-users.

"This campaign is to trigger this conversation of what we can do today for the smokers who don't quit," Philip Morris Chief Operating Office Jacek Olczak told Cheddar. "Obviously, our message is very clear. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you smoke, quit. But we have to realize, there are many people — many men and women — in every country, who despite several attempts to quit smoking, for whatever reasons, they don't."

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved Philip Morris' new product IQOS, an electronic heating device that carries nicotine-filled sticks, which are wrapped in paper. Applying heat helps produce an aerosol filled with nicotine. Philip Morris says the primary benefit of the product is that the tobacco isn't burnt, so it doesn't generate smoke filled with harmful chemicals.

Nicotine is the addictive chemical that draws people back to tobacco products, according to the federal agency.

In a statement, the FDA cautioned that "while today's action permits the tobacco products to be sold in the U.S., it does not mean these products are safe or 'FDA approved.'" The FDA has not yet released an evaluation regarding Philip Morris' claim that these reduce risks compared to cigarettes.

The FDA also says IQOS still meets the definition of a cigarette.

Electronic devices that enable nicotine and tobacco consumption have fallen under particular scrutiny because they tend to attract underage users. "The FDA is putting in place postmarket requirements aimed at, among other things, monitoring market dynamics such as potential youth uptake," said the director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco products, Mitch Zellner.