Many on the Planet of the Vapes forum have expressed concern regarding the listing of PMI’s IQOS heat-not-burn (HNB) product in vape shops. While some support the notion of offering all reduced harm products to smokers, others warn that tobacco companies could use a foothold in the industry to attack the independent vape sector.
In April, PMI began to encourage stockists to display posters in store or up in windows. The gist was that the company claimed HNB devices were akin to vape products and should therefore be allowed more leniency than the outright ban placed on cigarette advertising.
ASH’s Deborah Arnott commented: “The legislation is very clear that advertising which has the effect of promoting tobacco products is illegal. That includes iQOS, just as it includes pipes used for smoking tobacco. It’s a barefaced cheek for Philip Morris to argue otherwise.”
The action accompanied disastrous financial news and PMI’s share price receiving and massive knock back in trading markets – and it prompted investigations by Trading Standards officers in Hackney, Lambeth and Glasgow. All in all, it is a far cry from the announcement in the New Year that the company was attempting to turn over a new leaf.
Public health minister Steve Brine MP announced this week that the Department of Health has issued a “formal order” to PMI, instructing it to remove all posters claiming that IQOS is a "healthier" product.
Brine informed the media that the department was fully prepared to resort to the law, and repeated the fact that (if found guilty) PMI’s UK managing director Peter Nixon faces up to six months in prison if found guilty.
“We have been explicit that the promotion of tobacco products is unlawful - as my letter to Phillip Morris International makes abundantly clear,” said the minister. “Smoking kills 78,000 people every year and I am personally committed to doing all I can to protect people from the harms of tobacco. We expect PMI to stop this unlawful advertisement of tobacco products and we will not rule out legal action if they continue.”
Nixon responded: “We have already replied to the Department’s letter asking for an urgent meeting to clarify the concerns. We believe that all of our activities are within the law. Our business is committed to helping smokers switch from cigarettes to better alternatives as fast as possible.”
While latest research confirms that HNB products do reduce the risk of tobacco-related harm for smokers, devices like the IQOS still remain tobacco products. PMI’s attempts to link HNB with vaping, and distance it from tobacco cigarettes, threatens vape companies with stricter regulation in the future.