Philip Morris International Inc. is planning to launch its iQOS e-cigarette in India, which has the second-largest smoker population in the world.
India has implemented laws to deter smoking, which the government says kills nearly 1 million people per year. Despite these efforts, the country has 106 million adult smokers, second only to China. The high population of smokers makes the country an obvious target market for Philip Morris.
The iQOS is similar to Yocan, a wax pen, with a sleek, pen-like design. The device heats tobacco, rather than burning it, to produce a nicotine-rich vapor. Vaporizers are purported to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes and are considered a smoking cessation tool by some.
Philp Morris says it hopes to one day stop selling cigarettes.
A government source told Reuters that the country may consider Philip Morris’ e-cigarette if the device helps people quit smoking. However, the source stressed that such devices could be banned if they are found to be harmful.
The company is planning to start strategizing a launch in India, starting with branding and pricing. Philip Morris will also reach out to the media and regulators.
A spokesperson for the company said they do not comment on launch plans. However, R. Venktatesh, the company’s top corporate affairs executive in India, has started interviewing for a senior executive to focus on iQOS. Venkatesh also wrote a column on World No Tobacco Day in India’s Economic Times which called for regulations on alternative smoking devices.
The company’s iQOS device is used by nearly 5 million people in over 30 countries.
Philip Morris’ “reduced risk” products, which include the iQOS device, helped the company generate $3.8 billion in net revenue last year. The previous year, the company only generated $739 million.
Sources say that Philip Morris plans to reach out to influencers who might vocalize support for iQOS ahead of its launch.
But if the company hopes to succeed with its launch, it will need to convince the government of its safety.
“They point out some of the toxicants may be less than cigarettes, but that doesn’t establish the safety of the product,” says Healis Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health director Prakesh C. Gupta. “It will be used by affluent youth, which will be harmful for public health.”
For years, India’s health industry has stated that it wants to regulate e-cigarettes. Thus far, there are still no federal regulations in place.