PMM wants clear categories in new Tobacco Act

The company wants regulatory institutions to acknowledge the difference between various product categories

by MARK RAO/ pic by BLOOMBERG

PHILIP Morris (M) Sdn Bhd (PMM) wants a clear demarcation between heat-not-burn devices and e-cigarettes, as the company gradually moves out of the conventional cigarette business.

This is ahead of the new Tobacco Control and Smoking Act which is expected to be tabled next year to regulate all smoking devices and prevent the sale of these products to non-smokers and minors, while providing clear categories between different smoking products.

PMM’s heat-not-burn tobacco device, IQOS, was launched in Malaysia in November last year. To date, over 50,000 adult smokers have switched to the smoke-free device, the company reported.

MD Kang Tae Koo said the company wants an opportunity to submit its views on the impending tobacco act, in view of creating a regulatory landscape that conveys accurate information on products like IQOS to adult smokers in Malaysia.

“I think the key point for us, and we will continue the dialogue on this front, is for the regulator to acknowledge the difference between various product categories,” Kang said during a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur last week.

“So, products like these (heat-not burn devices) cannot be in the same category as cigarettes. Similarly, e-cigarettes cannot be in the same category as well.”

IQOS is currently regulated and commercialised in Malaysia, but the abundance of new e-cigarette products in the market has prompted the government to draft a comprehensive act to control such products.

Regulatory institutions need to work with tobacco players like PMM to make a smoke-free future a reality, Kang said. With so many people continuing to smoke, it makes sense to give them an alternative that is less harmful and has reduced risk compared to conventional cigarettes, he said.

He added that the company is “gradually but surely” moving out of the conventional cigarette business and putting all its efforts into commercialising smoke-free products like IQOS.

“When we actually phase out, it really depends on whether or not the environment is actually ready to allow products like these to be offered to adult smokers,” Kang said.

“If the government decides to ban cigarettes and only allow alternatives like IQOS to be offered to adult smokers, we would support that decision.”

However, there would first need to be in place a regulatory environment that allows products such as IQOS to be offered to adult smokers, he noted.

Under the new act, the smoking ban on all individuals below 18 years of age will cover all e-cigarettes, including vapes, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said in a Twitter posting yesterday.

He said the act, which has been in the works since 2015, was drafted by the Health Ministry and the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry (KPDNHEP), and is being reviewed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

Dr Dzulkefly also told the Dewan Rakyat yesterday that his ministry, together with KPDNHEP, is still studying the possibility of enforcing a blanket ban on e-cigarettes and vapes. PMM is one of three leading tobacco manufacturers in the Malaysian market which continues to struggle against illicit cigarette trade and consumption.

While the proliferation of illegal cigarettes forced British American Tobacco (M) Bhd and JT International Bhd to close their Malaysian factories in 2017, smoke-free and heat-not-burn devices are offering new potential outside of the conventional cigarette business.

PMM’s vision of a smoke-free future is one shared and given impetus to by its holding company, Philip Morris International, which is targeting 30% of its global volume to come from smoke-free products by 2025.

This is from the current 8% to 9% and is estimated to require some 40 million of PMI’s adult smokers switching to the alternative smoking device over the next six years.

Malaysia is one of 48 markets to commercialise the IQOS. Going forward, PMM plans to communicate the product to the estimated five million adult smokers in the country today.

It hopes to double or even triple its current IQOS consumer base in Malaysia over the coming years, Kang said, although this depends on whether adult smokers who choose to continue smoking understand the benefits of smoke-free devices like IQOS.

IQOS is designed to heat, not burn tobacco. It’s said to produce an average reduction of 90% to 95% in the levels of harmful and potentially harmful chemicals inhaled, compared to conventional cigarettes.

These devices are thus not risk-free but are considered reduced-risk. While devices like IQOS use real tobacco, with nicotine a natural by-product of tobacco, e-cigarettes use liquid nicotine.

Tobacco products are currently regulated by the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004, while products containing nicotine such as vaping devices fall under the Poisons Act 1952.