Imperial Brands enters heated-tobacco market

TOKYO • Imperial Brands plc is the latest to roll out its heat-not-burn product in Japan, as it plays catch-up with rival cigarette makers in the world’s most developed market for alternative smoking devices.

The British cigarette maker will start selling its Pulze device from May 6 in Fukuoka in western Japan, according to a company statement, making it the fourth player in the crowded Japanese market. Imperial, which is entering nearly five years after Philip Morris International Inc first launched its IQOS device in Japan, is looking to lure customers dissatisfied with current offerings.

Imperial is testing waters in a segment it believes can add as much as US$2 billion (RM8.28 billion) in revenue by the 2020 fiscal year.

Japan’s heated-tobacco market, in which British American Tobacco plc and Japan Tobacco Inc also sell their variants, is a test case for the devices’ prospects elsewhere in the world.

Big Tobacco has been increasingly pressured by tighter restrictions on smoking around the globe and consumers’ shift toward relatively healthier options. Although the segment saw initial rapid growth in Japan, the momentum has slowed.

Newer devices may change that as Euromonitor forecast the share of heated-tobacco segment in Japan will rise from 17% in 2018 to 26% by 2022. Imperial is relying on a high and low temperature mode in Pulze. It also allows users to smoke as many as 20 tobacco sticks in one charge, the firm said. — Bloomberg