Philip Morris International said it is committed to giving the estimated 16 million Filipino adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke better smoke-free product alternatives.
“We are encouraged by the global success of IQOS, which today is available in 57 countries. In just five years, there are now 15 million IQOS users globally, with 72 percent converting fully to IQOS. And we’re excited by the fact that our research tells us 59 percent of Filipino smokers are open to trying smoke-free alternatives as long as they are commercially available and subject to certain product safety standards,” said Denis Gorkun, president of PMFTC Inc., the Philippine affiliate of PMI.
Gorkun spoke on “A Pivot To The Future” on day 1 of the 2020 DigiCon OMNI, which is being held virtually from Oct. 5 to 9, 2020. Organized annually by the Internet & Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines, this year’s Digicon OMNI is themed “Navigating the Post-Digital Age”.
It is combustion or the burning of tobacco that generates harmful chemicals in cigarettes, according to Gorkun. “The reality is that the moment we light anything on fire, we open up a chemical factory. This applies to the tobacco in a cigarette. The fuel in a car. Or the wood in a stove. And this is why there is a movement across sectors to reduce and eliminate combustion or burning.”
PMI is leading a transformation in the tobacco industry to create a smoke-free future and someday replace cigarettes with smoke-free products to benefit adults who would otherwise continue to smoke.
Among the smoke-free products developed by PMI and already available in many markets around the world is IQOS, an electronic device that heats tobacco-filled sticks wrapped in paper, called HEETS or HeatSticks, to generate a nicotine-containing aerosol. IQOS heats specially designed tobacco units just enough to release a flavorful nicotine-containing tobacco vapor but without burning the tobacco. Around 11 million adult smokers around the world have already stopped smoking and switched to IQOS.
PMI announced in 2019 its plan to bring IQOS to the Philippines in the second quarter of 2020. The company developed an omni-channel launch plan to ensure they connect with their consumers at all touchpoints in pilot areas.
“We wanted to reach out to as many legal-age adult smokers [in the country] who would otherwise continue using cigarettes as possible and provide them with the right information to make a better choice…as soon as possible. But then COVID happened,” Gorkun said.
Community quarantine restrictions meant the opening of IQOS stores with in-person sales was out of the question. So was the guided trial, a key component of the IQOS consumer journey where smokers who wish to switch are given product demonstration and education. “We are on a mission, and these events…of course [did] not deter us,” said Gorkun.
PMFTC became the first local PMI affiliate to have a digital-only IQOS launch, with their e-commerce platform IQOS.com going live in June 2020. Within a few months, PMFTC was able to build a major operation both online and offline with the opening of the first five IQOS stores in Metro Manila.
Different consumer programs originally intended for the omni-channel launch were run on the digital platform. The IQOS consumer experience has one unique characteristic in its design: it covers all stages of the consumer journey from learning to advocacy.
“Our pilot area covers Metro Manila [initially] but plans are in place to scale up to major cities all over the archipelago,” Gorkun said. “The challenge that COVID brought turned out to be a huge learning experience for us. We were able to draw insights and improve the overall consumer experience when we finally opened our brick and mortar stores [in September 2020].
“Our vision is not a marketing or public relations campaign. It is a vision based on science,” said Gorkun.
Since 2008, PMI has invested more than $7.2 billion into the science and research of developing smoke-free products, employing more than 400 world-class scientists, engineers and technicians. The company has been granted 5,800 patents as of 2019, and has produced hundreds of studies that have been peer-reviewed or are in the process of being peer-reviewed.
“This is a testament to our commitment to put science at the forefront as we continue on our quest. It also is a manifestation of our company’s conviction that responsible innovation through science and data overcomes problems and results in solutions that work for our consumers,” Gorkun said.