Philip Morris International (PMI), the company that introduced iconic cigarette brands to the world, is building its future on their line of smoke-free products and envision that they would one day replace cigarette smoking, according to its website. Taylan Suer, country manager at PMI, tells Executive’s readers about the company’s line of heated tobacco products, including the IQOS. Suer also addresses the local market, especially given that IQOS was officially launched in Lebanon in February 2020, barely a month before the COVID-19 lockdown measures took ahold of Lebanon and the world.
The heat-not-burn technology completely reimagined tobacco products when it was first developed. Could you tell our readers how this technology works and also about PMI’s line of heated tobacco products?
The idea of heating tobacco, as opposed to burning it, is not new and has in fact been around for more than two decades. PMI has been heavily investing in research and development in order to develop a portfolio of reduced-risk products for adult smokers that have the potential to be less harmful than continued smoking.
In a nutshell, tobacco in cigarettes burns at temperatures exceeding 600°C, generating smoke that contains the majority of harmful chemicals. In contrast, IQOS contains an electronic system that heats tobacco within a precisely controlled temperature range that does not exceed 350°C. Since the tobacco is heated and not burned, the levels of harmful chemicals released are significantly decreased when compared to cigarettes. This is not to say, however, that IQOS is risk free.
At PMI, our reduced-risk portfolio currently comprises four products in different stages of development and commercialization. Our heated tobacco product IQOS, the forefront of these products, is already available in 52 markets across the globe and is continuously expanding. Approximately 15 million adult smokers to date have chosen to stop smoking and switch to our tobacco heating product IQOS.
Apart from reducing the harmful risks associated with burnt tobacco consumption, how does IQOS fit in with PMI’s culture and vision on a global scale?
With IQOS and our other smoke-free products, PMI is transforming into much more than just a cigarette company. We want to change society and deliver a better, smoke-free future. To make our vision a reality, we are transforming and staking our entire future on a line of smoke-free products. This is the biggest shift in the history of Philip Morris, and we are doing it because it’s the right thing to do.
There are an estimated 1 billion-plus adult smokers in the world that should be encouraged to quit. But for those adult smokers who would otherwise continue smoking, we want to provide them with smoke-free alternatives. We have committed to our vision relentlessly and have invested $6 billion in research, development, and production, all to ensure that those who choose to continue smoking have better options of doing so.
Let us talk a little about the local market. How was IQOS first released in Lebanon and how did the market react?
We launched IQOS in Lebanon in February 2020. I must admit that we have been impressed by the positive response and the high level of interest among adult Lebanese smokers. We believe that this interest is driven by the value adult Lebanese smokers place on innovation, which leads them to be open to trying and adopting innovating smoke-free products.
We have introduced IQOS in key branches of Spinneys. These corners are staffed with IQOS experts who are specifically trained to service and guide our adult consumers. We are also providing customer care support through our call center and social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, and IQOS.com.
Where can consumers find IQOS? Are they available for ordering online?
IQOS can be found in four Spinneys branches; Dbayeh, Hazmieh, Jnah, and Souk Beirut. However, due to the lockdown driven by COVID-19, we had to temporarily suspend our retail operations in order to ensure the health and safety of our employees. In the meantime, we activated a great partnership with the Lebanese online delivery service platform Toters, through which consumers are now able to buy IQOS from the comfort of their homes at the official prices.
Before IQOS was officially launched in Lebanon, consumers who wanted to try it were able to do so by purchasing the product from both the grey and black markets. How is PMI currently dealing with the latter?
Unfortunately, illicit products continue to be widely available in Lebanon. A 2019 study conducted by Oxford Economics, entitled Levant Illicit Tobacco, indicates 3.7 billion illicit cigarettes were consumed in 2018, more than one in every four cigarettes consumed that year (this was the peak figure in the three years covered by the study starting from 2016). We fully support and appreciate the efforts of the Regie Libanaise de Tabacs et Tombacs (RLTT) and the security agencies in their fight against illicit products.
With the COVID-19 pandemic holding companies’, employees’, and consumers’ necks tight, how has Philip Morris pushed back and how have you helped your employees in coping with the current situation?
It is a fact that every single person on this planet is feeling the impact of the global pandemic COVID-19. It truly a challenging time for all. We, however, made it our utmost priority to support one another. We have implemented strict policies to ensure the safety of our employees through remote work, hygiene kits, and other preventive measures. We have also ensured employment and financial stability and special recognition awards for the employees who need to be physically present at their work location during this period.
It is additionally important for us to support the local communities. We have worked with Ajialouna, a non-profit organization engaged in charitable, social, educational, and healthcare programs. They have been doing a wonderful job supporting the vulnerable communities during this period. They have been distributing boxes of food staples and other goods and we’ve contributed by supplying the hygienic products such as masks, sanitizers, and gloves to more than 200 families. We’ve also supported other NGOs and initiatives who’ve asked for help in these difficult times.
In conclusion, how have you personally dealt with the lockdown situation and what advice can you give our readers and your employees?
Frankly speaking, I find that establishing a routine has been the best remedy for me during this period. I do my best to separate work time from personal time, which includes working out, reading, and enjoying some Netflix series. I have, as well, done my best to stay in contact with my friends and family back home through video-calls of course. This is especially important in these times of physical isolation and I encourage everyone to reach out to loved ones who are not physically with them in this manner.
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