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PMFTC undertakes transformation to bring smoke-free products to Filipino smokers

PMFTC Inc., the Philippine affiliate of Philip Morris International, is in the process of transformation to someday replace conventional cigarettes with smoke-free products and help Filipino smokers switch to these better alternatives, according to its top executive.

“We are going smoke-free because it is the right thing to do, and our resources allow for it. With the support of top-in-class scientists, engineers, technicians and a state-of-the-art R&D, our bold vision is to transform our business, to replace cigarettes at the soonest possible time, to take the smoke out of smoking,” PMFTC President Denis Gorkun said during the DigiCon Omni 2020 virtual conference organized by the Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines (IMMAP) on October 5, 2020. 

“We are doing our best to bring smoke-free products within the reach of Filipino adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke and bring us closer to our dream of a Smoke-free Philippines,” Gorkun said.
PMFTC, a joint venture of PMI and Fortune Tobacco Corp. of the Lucio Tan Group, is a major tobacco leaf buyer, taxpayer and a partner to law enforcement whose traditional business supports two million Filipinos who depend on tobacco for their livelihood.

Gorkun said PMFTC’s transformation is in line with PMI’s vision for a smoke-free future. “The reality is that the moment we light anything on fire, we open up a chemical factory. This applies to the tobacco in a cigarette. The fuel in a car. Or the wood in a stove. And this is why there is a movement across sectors to reduce and eliminate combustion or burning,” he said.

“The cold hard reality is that there are still sixteen million smokers in the Philippines. And with a cold turkey quit rate of just 4 percent, it isn’t any wonder that the World Health Organization estimates that there will still be more than one billion smokers worldwide in 2030,” he said.

“For our company, the answer is clear: we need to innovate, and innovate responsibly. By doing something that sounds easy in theory but is much more difficult in practice. And that is to take the smoke out of smoking,” said Gorkun.

He said PMI has developed and continues to develop a range of smoke-free products that do not burn and do not produce smoke but deliver the same tobacco experience that people, who would otherwise continue to smoke, desire. 

He said PMI invested US$7 billion in R&D and hired more than 400 scientific experts as a testament to its commitment to put science at the forefront of its business.

Its flagship product, a heated tobacco product under the brand IQOS, has been recognized by the US Food and Drug Administration as a fundamentally different product than combustible cigarettes. 

IQOS is an electronic tobacco heating system, a new patented technology, whose components include a pocket charger and heating device. The heating device is used only with a tobacco stick called HEETS that is designed to be heated and not burned, thus producing a vapor. IQOS heats real tobacco, and produces no smoke, no fire and no ash. 

Gorkun said that globally, IQOS is now available in 57 countries with 15 million users, 72 percent of whom have converted fully to IQOS.

“We’re excited by the fact that our research tells us 59 percent of Filipino smokers are open to trying smoke-free alternatives as long as they are commercially available and subject to certain product safety standards,” he said.

PFMTC brought IQOS to the Philippines in the second quarter of 2020 to reach out to as many legal-age adult smokers who would otherwise continue using cigarettes as possible and provide them with the right information to make a better choice.

Gorkun said that amid the Covid-19 pandemic, PMFTC became the first affiliate of PMI to have a digital-only IQOS launch when it went live with e-commerce platform, IQOS.com in June this year.

“In a matter of a few months, we have built a major operation both offline by opening the first five IQOS stores in Manila and online. Our pilot area covers Metro Manila only but plans are in place to scale up to major cities all over the archipelago. On the digital platform, we ran different consumer programs we originally intended for the omni-channel launch. Our promotions, programs, customer care and even out guided trials were done virtually,” said Gorkun.

Gorkun clarified that IQOS would not be sold to non-smokers and minors.  “Nicotine, although not the primary cause of smoking related disease, is addictive and minors—those 20 years old and below—should not vape or use smoke-free alternatives,” he said.

“The best way to avoid the harms of smoking is to not even start, or to quit altogether. But for those adult smokers who don’t want to quit smoking, smoke-free alternatives represent a better choice than continued smoking,” he said.

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