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April 23rd, 2016:

Philip Morris, health company?

TOBACCO companies specialise in contradiction. They herald the decline of smoking among youngsters, for example, then flaunt their sales to callow puffers. The most skilled contortionist in the industry may be Philip Morris

International, the world’s biggest tobacco firm. To date, any good news for shareholders has been bad news for lungs. But the firm now says it wants to improve profits and health alike.

It may seem an odd goal for a company that last year sold 850 billion cigarettes. But it boss, André Calantzoupolos, insists Philip Morris is on the verge of a revolution. He touts “reduced-risk products”: on April 19th the firm said its top offering in this category, iQOS, accounted for one in 30 cigarette sales in Tokyo, a test market.

The new product resembles a pen. A user inserts a cigarette-lookalike called a HeatStick; iQOS then warms the stick’s tobacco, but doesn’t burn it. That produces an aerosol that carries a traditional cigarette’s taste but, the company hopes, eliminates much of the nasty stuff that comes with combustion. “For the first time in history,” Mr Calantzoupolos declared recently, “we have products with the real potential to both accelerate harm reduction and grow our business.”

This is hardly the first time tobacco firms have peddled healthier-seeming goods. Some have dubious benefits. Consumers have long bought “light” cigarettes to lower their risk of disease, despite evidence they do nothing of the kind.
E-cigarettes are less risky than traditional ones, but bring their own challenges. Some fear they will reduce the stigma around smoking. Debate rages over whether e-cigarettes help smokers quit. What is more, many smokers simply don’t like them. Complaints range from faulty batteries to poor taste—e-cigarettes deliver vapour with nicotine, but no tobacco. Their share of the cigarette market remains tiny: 0.4% last year, estimates Euromonitor, a research firm.

Philip Morris’s new products might have broader appeal. Its research staff now includes some 300 scientists, many poached from pharmaceutical and medical-device companies. The company has several alternatives to combustible cigarettes, but iQOS is its most prominent. Bonnie Herzog of Wells Fargo estimates that by 2025 the product could displace 30% of cigarette sales in rich markets.

Philip Morris says that early evidence is promising. It reports that the vapour created by iQOS contains just one-tenth as much “harmful or potentially harmful” chemicals as a standard cigarette.

So far iQOS has been launched in only a few places, including parts of Japan and Italy. There are plans to expand quickly. That will eat into Philip Morris’s cigarette sales, but evidence from Japan suggests consumers might switch not just from the firm’s own brands, but from cigarettes made by rivals too. All in all, iQOS could be a boon: Wells Fargo expects combined profits for iQOS and traditional cigarettes in 2025 to be nearly 50% higher than they would have been for traditional cigarettes alone.

Sales could rise even further if Philip Morris can sway health officials. The company will soon ask American regulators to designate iQOS as a “modified risk tobacco product”. Such a title would let the firm’s partner in America, Altria, hawk iQOS’s claimed lower risks. But regulatory approval is by no means assured. Katie McMahon, a policy expert at the American Cancer Society’s advocacy arm, is sceptical of tobacco firms as allies, given their history of misleading the public. After decades of distrust, it can be hard to know when a tobacco company is advancing health and when it is blowing smoke.

Baker supports ban on tobacco sales to those under 21

Days before the state Senate is scheduled to debate a bill that would raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco, Gov. Charlie Baker says he supports banning the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to people under 21.

Baker said Friday that he supports the idea of raising the age from 18 to 21, but would need to see the bill’s final language before deciding whether to sign it.

Supporters of the bill hope to discourage more young people from taking up smoking. Dozens of cities and towns, including Boston, have already approved such bans.

The bill would allow anyone who turns 18 before Jan. 1, 2017, to continue buying tobacco. The bill would include new regulations for e-cigarettes and ban tobacco sales at health care institutions.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said earlier this week that the “next big matter before the Senate will be raising the legal age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21.”

Based on eight separate tobacco bills filed by House and Senate lawmakers this session, the Joint Committee on Public Health put together a bill dubbed “An Act to protect youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction” that is now before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and is slated to hit the Senate floor in formal session on April 28.


Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat who co-chairs the Public Health Committee, described the bill’s three main provisions — a three-year increase in the age for tobacco sales, a ban on sales in pharmacies, and the addition of e-cigarettes to the state’s anti-smoking laws — as “proven strategies for reducing nicotine addiction among young people.”

In 2005, Needham became the first municipality in the country to ban tobacco sales to people under 21. Nearly 100 Massachusetts communities have since followed suit, with most lifting the sale age from 18 to 21 and some raising it to 19, Lewis said.

In 2014, Westminster’s failed tobacco ban began when members of the town’s Board of Health proposed restrictions based on authority granted under Massachusetts General Laws to “make reasonable health regulations.” Many in town began debating over just what the word “reasonable” meant, while local business owners, who rely heavily on tobacco sales, began taking sides against town officials.

A subsequent Board of Health meeting saw the proposed ban stopped by a 2-1 vote.

Hawaii is the only state in the country where people must be 21 to purchase tobacco products. A bill that would set the age to 21 in California has cleared both chambers of the state Legislature there, but has not yet been signed into law. The legal age is 19 in Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah.

In addition to raising the tobacco purchase age, the bill the Senate plans to take up next week would ban the use of e-cigarettes in places like schools, restaurants and workplaces where cigarettes are already prohibited; require child-resistant packaging on e-cigarettes; ban tobacco vending machines; and require the Center for Health Information and Analysis to study the tobacco-cessation benefits offered by commercial insurers, MassHealth and the Group Insurance Commission.

Leominster doesn’t have a proposal like Westminster’s from 2014, but the city is exploring whether it should restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products.

The proposed restriction would allow the sale of flavored tobacco products at businesses designated as tobacco retail stores, but restrict sales at other businesses, such as gas stations and convenience stores.

Potentially restricting flavored tobacco had originally been discussed by the board in 2014, but was put on hold after the negative reception of a proposed ban on all tobacco products in Westminster.

As of Wednesday, Joan Hamlett, Leominster’s tobacco agent, said similar flavored-tobacco regulations are being considered by 15 communities in central Massachusetts, eight of which have already set dates for public hearings to discuss the regulation with residents.

As of last month, 48 communities throughout the state had adopted the regulation currently being reviewed in Leominster.

Information from the Associated Press and State House News Service was used in this report

Philip Morris visit stirs controversy

An anti-smoking campaigner is fuming about a council-owned facility hosting a conference for a global tobacco giant in Queenstown.

The Queenstown Events Centre this week hosted about 250 delegates from the Asian division of Philip Morris, known for cigarette brands such as Marlboro and Virginia Slims.

It is believed attendees included regional presidents from around Asia.

Leading anti-smoking campaigner Trish Fraser, of Glenorchy, said: “I’m certainly not that keen about the tobacco industry having conferences in Queenstown, full stop.

“If Philip Morris was prepared to stop selling cigarettes and only sell e-cigarettes, I think they’d be very welcome in Queenstown, but they continue to sell cigarettes, which are, of course, very harmful.”

Ms Fraser believed the Queenstown Lakes District Council should discuss whether it should open its venues to cigarette companies.

“It would be good to see the council take a stand.

“What would the rest of the ratepayers think? Maybe they should be asked.”

Asked her view, councillor Alexa Forbes said: “Personally, it’s not a good look”, but she would only take the issue further if she had strong community feedback.