As tobacco giant Philip Morris is just a few steps away from launching its first e-cigarette product in the United States, evidence appears to support the theory that the Federal Drug Administration is doing all it can to help big tobacco crush the e-cigarette competition.
The Philip Morris product is called iQOS. It has been tested in international markets but the company has only recently requested FDA approval for U.S. sales. Approval is necessary due to the FDA’s deeming rules, which consider e-cigarettes to be tobacco products even though they do not contain tobacco. Furthermore, the iQOS differs from other e-cigarettes because it actually does contain tobacco.
The FDA deeming rules actually help tobacco companies by making it harder for e-cigarette manufacturers to get their products on the market. Proponents of e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking point to the illogic of deeming e-cigarettes tobacco products and suggest the FDA’s deeming rule was actually designed to protect tobacco companies from competition.
But now the iQOS enters the mix with its hybrid design that makes it closer to a tobacco cigarette than any other e-cigarette or vaping product currently on the market. The iQOS works by heating sticks that look like cigarettes to produce vapor. The sticks contain tobacco, but like e-cigarettes, the device creates only vapor, not smoke. Philip-Morris touts the iQOS as tasting much more like real cigarettes than e-cigarettes without the chemical taste that e-cigarette liquid is said to have.
The iQOS has shot to the top of the e-cigarette market in Japan and was recently released in Great Britain. In addition to applying for approval for U.S. marketing, Philip Morris also wants the FDA to allow it to claim that the iQOS is safer than smoking. This will be an expensive process, as literally millions of pages of scientific statements will be submitted to the FDA.
If Philip Morris is awarded the right to claim that their iQOS is safer than cigarettes, that will put the iQOS in a position to completely dominate the e-cigarette market. Nearly all other e-cigarettes are produced by small companies that cannot afford to comply with the FDA regulations. The FDA rules allow the tobacco giants like Philip Morris to basically buy the “safer than smoking” label – and this despite the fact that iQOS is actually a tobacco product and other e-cigarettes are not, and some of them don’t even contain nicotine.
The iQOS is not completely unique. British American Tobacco, maker of Kent cigarettes, is producing devices similar to the iQOS. RJ Reynolds marketed a device of the same type back in the 1980s, but its sales were dismal and it was quickly discontinued. As of now, RJ Reynolds’ only entry into the vaping market is the Vuse, a normal e-cigarette that uses liquid.
For its part, Philip Morris does seem to be genuinely trying to get out of the cigarette market and give its customers a safer alternative. The problem for smokers is that big money could wind up telling them that a device that heats tobacco sticks is safer than any device that uses liquid, and that might not be the reality at all.