COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 31, 2020 - 12:00am

NUACHATEL – One impression that got etched in my mind during our familiarization trip here was learning a new word, “UnSmoke.” It is actually another evolution of a word that might soon be added to our modern dictionary. Ironically, the word was coined as the battlecry of Philip Morris Inc. (PMI), one of the world’s leading multinational cigarette manufacturing company.

In fact, the PMI hope looks forward to making “UnSmoke” become the buzzword that would deliver their message in developing and producing their smoke-free, ash-free tobacco heated device product called IQOS as alternative to traditional cigarette stick smoking.

“If you don’t smoke, don’t start. 

If you smoke, quit. 

If you don’t quit, change. 

UnSmoke your world.”

So far, it is the urbandictionary.com that carries a definition of the “UnSmoke” word. According to urbandictionary.com, the word “Unsmoke” was coined on April 8, 2019 and credited to the PMI. It is defined in the urbandictionary.com as follows: “To ‘UnSmoke’ is to rid smoke from your life. The act of unsmoking unites smokers and non-smokers who want to UnSmoke themselves, family and friends. The best way to ‘UnSmoke’ is to quit cigarettes and nicotine and completely. But the next best way is to switch to better alternatives.” 

This definition best captures the message of PMI’s latest innovation to create a smoke-free alternative to convert, if not convince them to quit altogether the habit of traditional smokers of cigarette sticks, Mario Barreto, senior manager of the PMI Global Communications said. Barreto traced the word “UnSmoke” as the brainchild of Marian Salzman, PMI senior vice president for global communications. 

This was after PMI successfully developed at The Cube – the $6 billion research and development facility of PMI in Neuchatel here in Lausanne, Switzerland – the heated tobacco product they now market under the IQOS brand name. “She just invented the word but it has now become a new lexic. It’s a completely new word. We don’t want it to be ours but we want to share it with all people to talk about it, the media, the non-government organizations, and others because this is just a general principle,” Barreto pointed out. 

Because of the successful launch of their smoke-free and ash-free tobacco heated product, Barreto noted, this has even given a meaning to IQOS: I Quit Ordinary Smoking. However, Barreto clarified IQOS is not even an acronym when PMI registered this brand name of their heated tobacco device product. 

As presented to us in a media briefing here at The Cube, IQOS is a sophisticated smokeless, ash-free heated tobacco device that the PMI has developed through science and technology studies over a period of 17 years starting 2002. Serge Maeder, the global head of product research of PMI, recalled the launch of the first IQOS products in Japan and Milan in 2014. 

Over nine million adult consumers around the world, Maeder told us, have already stopped smoking traditional cigarette sticks and switched to less harmful habit using Heets brand of tobacco heated product that goes with IQOS devices. There are currently about 52 countries where IQOS and Heets are being sold and used, Maeder disclosed. They expect to surpass to 12 million users based on their 2019 third quarter report. “We are not recruiting new smokers but we are switching existing smokers to IQOS,” he hastened to add.    

The Philippines is among the new target market expansion for IQOS which is actually being used already by quite a number of Filipino smokers who bought or acquired these tobacco heating devices from abroad. The IQOS is not yet locally marketed in the Philippines except available imported ones being sold at high-end local stores.

Through PMFTC Inc. – the company built from a partnership between American tobacco giant PMI and Lucio Tan’s Fortune Tobacco Inc. – the IQOS and its exclusive heated tobacco brand variants of HEETS are slated to be launched tentatively in the Philippines by the second quarter of this year, Dave Gomez, PMFTC director communications disclosed. As of now, Gomez said the PMFTC has yet to finalize the pricing for IQOS and Heets once launched in the Philippines.

Speaking for PMFTC, Gomez further disclosed the PMFTC’s venturing into IQOS would bolster their market share in the Philippines which currently stood at 70 percent. Cigarette stick production as of last year by PMFTC reached 49.7 billion compared to total industry production at 70.5 billion sticks. Available estimates show there are 16 million Filipino smokers. Quite sizeable portion of the local market is being eaten up by the proliferation lately anew of “fake” and smuggled cigarettes, he rued.  

The PMFTC has embraced the PMI’s “UnSmoke” battlecry long before the tobacco harm reduction debates started taking place in the Philippines. It was the offshoot of various proposed legislations pending before the 18th Congress on regulating the manufacture and sale of electronic cigarettes, vapes and other heated tobacco products like IQOS, or collectively called as electronic nicotine devices system, or ENDS for short. 

A new law was, in fact, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte under Republic Act (RA) 11467 that imposed excise tax on ENDS products along with higher taxes on other “sin” products like wines and similar alcoholic products. However, at least 15 proposed House bills were filed seeking new regulatory provisions on ENDS products despite the passage of this law just one week ago.

At the end of the public hearings conducted last Tuesday by the joint House committees on trade and industry and on health currently deliberating on these bills, the growing consensus emerged that RA 11467 is only temporary. While Congress have yet to come up with a regulatory law on all ENDS products, it was agreed that the regulations under RA 11467 will be applied for now until a new set of regulations on all ENDS products is passed into law.

Among other things, possible amendments of RA 11467 included provisions that will put ENDS under the sole regulatory power of the Food and Drugs Administration, lowering the minimum age for use of ENDS products from 22 years old to 18, and the ban on flavored products while only allowing plain tobacco and menthol.

In the meantime, as far as the mother company of the PMFTC is concerned, Barreto noted, the PMI targets to reach 30 percent of smoke-free products by the year 2025 under government market regulations, he stressed. Currently, the PMI holds 15 percent share of the total world tobacco consumers. 

The PMI official spokesman expressed the hopes the “UnSmoke” message will enlighten government regulators on how to craft laws that will help encourage smokers to discover the ENDS products like IQOS and Heets as better alternative to  traditional cigarette sticks that have more harmful effects to their health and well-being.

“Otherwise, smokers go to the dark markets,” Barreto warned, alluding to producers of “fake” and smuggled cigarettes still flooding Philippine markets. These “fake” and smuggled cigarettes are not only dangerous as they are, but apparently are sources of very deep wells of illicit wealth of those corrupt officials in government who look in the other direction. President Duterte will hopefully soon “Un-Smoke” them out.


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