iQos Expands in Japan

Philip Morris Japan president discusses PMI’s heat-not-burn cigarette

By 
Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

Laurent Boissart

Laurent Boissart

TOKYO --After test markets in Japanese, Italian and Swiss cities, Philip Morris International’s iQos cigarette expanded into 12 cities in Japan on Tuesday, reported the Nikkei Asian Review. The iQos (pronounced "eye-cos") is a heat-not-burn cigarette that warns up real tobacco with an electrical heating element.

“Am I optimistic?” Laurent Boissart, president of Philip Morris Japan, said during a press conference. “No, I am confident in our $2-billion investment.”

A team of 400 Philip Morris International engineers, scientists and technicians in Switzerland began developing the iQOS approximately 10 years ago. Tomoko Iida, manager of scientific regulatory affairs at Philip Morris Japan, said that "90% of the toxicity is eliminated with the iQOS, compared with traditional cigarettes"—though the company cannot officially say the iQos is healthier than cigarettes because research has not yet been finalized. Findings from the Swiss research team should be ready for publication by the end of 2015.

Philip Morris International promises the iQos delivers an experience akin to combustible cigarettes.

Mariko Tai, a writer for the Nikkei Asian Review, had a slightly different reaction.

“The first thing one notices about the iQOS is that it is heavier than a regular cigarette,” she said. “It feels almost like holding a fountain pen. The product is not for people who want to puff away while typing at the computer.”

The iQOS is made up of a tobacco stick about half the length of a cigarette (called a Heatstick) that’s heated by a blade inside a holding device. It takes about 20 seconds for the device to warm up.

“The iQOS might be a bit strong for people who smoke light cigarettes because the nicotine content is fixed,” said Tai. “Chain smokers might be put off by the limited battery life. After six minutes or 14 drags, the battery dies. It takes another six minutes to recharge and light up again.”

Boissart said Philip Morris International chose to launch the iQos in Japan for a combination of reasons.

Besides being one of the world’s largest tobacco markets (with 20 million smokers), Japanese consumers are also more willing to embrace new technologies.

"Japanese consumers are quite interested in new products and innovation," Boissart said. "They are also extremely demanding not only when it comes to quality of products, but also [in terms of] customer service."

The iQos comes in four flavors: regular, balanced regular, menthol and mint. A pack of 20 goes for 460 yen ($3.80).

Although there are currently no plans to bring iQos to the United States, Altria Group Inc., Richmond, Va., entered into a strategic partnership with Philip Morris International to exclusively market vapor products like iQos stateside.

Click here for the full Nikkei Asian Review report.