Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

With consumer trends leaning heavily towards health and wellness, it’s no surprise that smoking rates worldwide are dropping. But that’s not to say tobacco companies have given up on their futures. Many are diversifying their product ranges to include “healthier” alternatives to cigarettes – a clever shift which should help them remain relevant in the lives of their consumers.

In line with this trend, Philip Morris International – the maker of Marlboro cigarettes – recently launched a flagship store in Sandton City in a bid to grow demand for its alternative heated tobacco product, IQOS.

IQOS was launched in Japan and Italy in 2014 and has since become available in 40 markets across the world. In 2017, the company launched a pilot store in Cape Town to test the SA market’s response. It has since reported that 70% of SA adults who tried the product have converted to smoking it full-time as opposed to cigarettes.  There are plans to reopen the Cape Town store at a later date.

The decision to open the flagship IQOS store in Sandton City was a strategic one. The brand sees the Sandton area as the business hub of SA – an ideal location to access affluent tourists and consumers and a springboard into Africa. SA is the first African market where IQOS is available.  

As smokers search for a less damaging way to continue the habit, there are a number of cigarette alternatives on the market. IQOS differs from e-cigarettes, which provide vapourised nicotine in a liquid format, by heating the tobacco instead if burning it.

The big take-out

As smoking rates drop, tobacco companies are diversifying their product ranges with healthier alternatives to traditional cigarettes in a bid to stay relevant to consumers.

The product was cleared for sale by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, though it is still reviewing an application made by Philip Morris to market IQOS as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes. That said, the fact that it cleared the product for sale is a win for Philip Morris at a time when smoking rates in the US have dropped to an all-time low.

The FDA also reported that data suggests children and nonsmokers are unlikely to be attracted the product, and that IQOS contains fewer toxic chemicals than regular cigarettes – more factors in favour of the product.

However, there remain stringent conditions around marketing of IQOS, as would apply to any traditional cigarettes – no radio, television or print advertising, and strict rules around online and social media marketing – which makes it all the more challenging to grow the brand. Despite this, Philip Morris believes that IQOS has the potential to appeal to adult smokers as a less harmful alternative, and has big plans for Africa, starting with the launch of its Sandton City store.