Philip Morris International Inc (PM.N) is planning to launch its iQOS smoking device in India, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, as the tobacco giant seeks a foothold in a country with the world’s second-biggest smoker population.
Philip Morris says the sleek, penlike iQOS heats but does not burn tobacco, producing a nicotine-containing vapour rather than smoke and making it less harmful than conventional cigarettes. The company says it wants to one day stop selling cigarettes altogether.
India has stringent laws to deter tobacco use, which the government says kills more than 900,000 people every year. But the country still has 106 million adult smokers, second only to China according to the World Health Organization (WHO), making it a lucrative market for Philip Morris to target.
A government source said New Delhi would keep an “open mind” if Philip Morris approached it to discuss a device that helped people quit smoking, but added such devices, including e-cigarettes, could be banned if found to be harmful.
The health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Philip Morris plans to start strategising an iQOS launch in India, which would include work on branding and pricing, as well as reaching out to media and regulators, sources aware of the plan said. The company’s top corporate affairs executive in India, R. Venkatesh, has been interviewing candidates for a senior executive who would focus on iQOS, the sources said.
The company wants “to put together a strategy to achieve its acceptability as a reduced risk product”, said one of the sources, adding that Philip Morris wanted to have a public relations strategy in place before moving ahead.
But the company appears to have already started building a public case for iQOS in India.
On “World No Tobacco Day” last week, Venkatesh wrote a column for India’s Economic Times newspaper, calling for “effective regulations” for alternative smoking devices.
“With alternatives to cigarettes available and countries already delivering on their smoke-free ambitions, the incentive is there for lawmakers to support Indian smokers – who deserve a better option,” Venkatesh said.
Prakash C. Gupta, director at the Healis Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health near Mumbai, criticized Philip Morris’ plans, saying iQOS would be used by affluent young people in India “which will be harmful for public health”.