After tobacco giant Philip Morris International made a bold commitment to push for a "smoke-free world" earlier this year, City A.M. sat down with Peter Nixon, PMI's managing director for the UK and Ireland.
Q. As a tobacco company, why have you been so vocal about trying to eliminate smoking?
A. It’s the right thing to do for society but it’s also good from a business perspective. Technology’s moved on to the point where alternative products which can reduce the harm caused by smoking are also very acceptable to the consumer. It's like if you’re a car company and you’re not working on alternative [energy solutions], people would say you’re a bit crazy. I think we’re the first ones to announce such a radical all-in strategy.
Q. What role do e-cigarettes have to play in helping people quit?
A. My personal feeling is that e-cigarettes alone are not enough. They’ve been on the market 10-12 years and we still have 7.5m smokers in the UK. They’re not a full solution. That’s because they don’t quite deliver the satisfaction of cigarettes. They work for many people. Having iQos helps because the satisfaction you get is very close to cigarettes.
Q. What is iQos?
A. IQOS differs from vaping because it uses real tobacco instead of liquid. This is the first and only type of this product currently available on the UK market. Whilst not risk free, the fact that it heats tobacco rather than burns it, means that the vast majority of harmful chemicals are significantly reduced compared to cigarette smoke.
Q. Tobacco heating is a fast-growing part of the market, with other companies like BAT also investing in its Glo device. How are regulators responding at the moment?
A. The reason iQOS isn’t in plain packaging is because the EU recognises it as a novel tobacco product and that’s regulated separately. But this is a new product, so some of it falls under tobacco, and some of it’s in a grey zone. We want a new regulatory framework.
Q. Are there any opportunities for the UK government to rethink regulation of smoking alternatives after Brexit?
A. The big opportunities are communication for alternative products, because the EU bans things like internet advertising for electronic cigarettes. It doesn’t make any sense when you can advertise in the UK for vaping products on a billboard but you cannot do a targeted advert to a smoker online.
Q. Do you find politicians receptive to discussing regulation?
A. As tobacco companies, we’re generally not on their Christmas card list. Going forward, there’s no reason we can’t work together on it. But the UK has been very progressive when it comes to electronic cigarettes, probably the most progressive in the world. So there’s a fairly open dialogue between the government and the vaping associations.
Q. Should we be encouraging people to stop smoking with restrictions or with incentives?
A. It’s a balance. The balance at the moment is more on the stick and not on the carrot, we could do more on that. Government could do more, healthcare can do more, and manufacturers can do more. It’s a coordinated effort to make sure people have the information.
Q. How soon do you think the UK could be smoke-free if everyone worked together?
A. If the current climate goes on, when will we get smoke-free? We’re talking another 40 years. But you could really accelerate it. 10 years, no problem. It’s one of those things where I think if we all sat down – and I mean the government, the industry, everyone – and said: how do we get rid of cigarettes in 10 years in the UK? We could do it.