George Margonis, Philip Morris Bulgaria: The Future of the Tobacco Industry Is Smoke-free

Regulators need to create favourable conditions for the current smokers who cannot quit to switch to reduced risk alternatives, says George Margonis.

Why has Philip Morris International been developing alternative tobacco products for some years now given that its cigarette business is quite successful?

For decades the global strategic objectives for tobacco control and for preventing smoking-related diseases have been putting the focus on two courses of action – smoking cessation and prevention of smoking initiation.  These two approaches are undoubtedly a priority and should remain so in terms of the tobacco control measures. And even though smoking prevalence is indeed decreasing worldwide, according to WHO the rate of the decrease in the past 5-10 years has in fact been insignificant. The Eurobarometer data for Bulgaria shows that smoking prevalence has actually remained unchanged (36% in 2007 and 36% in 2017). According to WHO estimates there were 1.1 bio smokers in the world in 2015 and the forecast is that this number will remain the same until 2025. This is why a growing number of health experts and governments implementing strict tobacco control regulations such as the UK, US, New Zeeland, recognize the need for new working tobacco harm reduction mechanisms which to complement the established smoking cessation and prevention measures.

Let me add that the survey of public attitudes regarding smoke-free alternatives and public health conducted in 2018 by IPSOS in 30 countries revealed that 86% of the respondents agree that the consumer product companies, including the tobacco industry, have an obligation to invest in research and development of new and better products to the benefit of health. 91% believe that technologies and innovation have an important role to play in resolving public health issues and 77% want their governments to do their best to encourage the smokers who cannot or would not stop using tobacco to fully switch to better options as compared to continued smoking.

I think that with its scientifically substantiated innovative new products Philip Morris can meet the expectations of the consumers and society as a whole and contribute to attaining the governments’ tobacco harm reduction objectives in a reasonable and modern way.

 

Are the new products quickly taken up and do you expect them to replace the cigarettes as we know them?

For more than 10 years now Philip Morris International has invested more than 4.5 bio in research and development for products without combustion. This is because it has been proven that the main cause of smoking-related diseases are the harmful and potentially harmful substances generated when tobacco is burnt. Therefore, the main breakthrough allowing for reducing the risk for the smokers in the world that was the starting point of the industry’s transformation was the development of new products whereby combustion and smoke are absent – smoke-free heated tobacco products – and hence the levels of harmful substances are significantly lower.

We are working on a portfolio of 4 platforms – two that heat tobacco and two electronic vaporizers. The first and most advanced platform is the Tobacco Heating System IQOS that has already been launched on the Bulgarian market.

All our studies so far show categorically that the tobacco heating devices are a better alternative compared to conventional cigarettes. They have a potential to reduce the risk for the smokers compared to continued smoking and we are glad to see the growing understanding and support for the harm reduction policies in many countries such as the US, UK and New Zeeland. Philip Morris is fully committed to its mission to convert the smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke into users of the best smoke-free alternatives. How fast that process will be, time will show. At present almost 6 million people in the world have become former smokers by switching to the heated products and the percentage of former smokers who switched to smoke-free tobacco products in Japan alone is 20%.

 

How are your smoke-free products accepted by the Bulgarian society?

We are happy that only 4 years after the first launch on the Japanese market of the tobacco heating system IQOS, the product is now available in 46 countries, one of which is Bulgaria. Tens of thousands of Bulgarians are among the 6 million former smokers in the world who stopped smoking, switched to a potentially less harmful alternative and chose the tobacco heating system – IQOS. The trend is encouraging, and we believe that very soon conventional cigarettes will become a thing of the past and the industry will continue to develop in a brand-new direction towards designing a smoke-free future through providing reduced risk and satisfactory alternatives to the millions of adult smokers. For this reason and in addition to our tobacco heating system being well accepted in Bulgaria we welcome further steps in that direction both by the industry and by the government aimed at introducing regulatory measures that promote traditional smoking cessation and reducing the harm for the current smokers, the people around them and society as whole.

The public opinion poll conducted by the IPSOS agency that I mentioned shows that 45% of the adult Bulgarians believe that governments should encourage the people who would otherwise continue to smoke to switch to reduced risk alternatives.

We are open and publish our scientific data – our studies are of a complex nature and are based on the methods used by the pharmaceutical industry. Our products are subjected to strict testing, including clinical studies, which show that there is potential for the new ways to use heated tobacco to serve as a harm reduction tool in addition to the other tobacco control measures.

But to achieve this, support is needed by the regulators which to create favourable conditions for the current smokers who cannot quit to switch to reduced risk alternatives.

 

Some of the passive smokers are concerned about the effect of the vapor generated by IQOS. What is the impact of the IQOS use on the bystanders?

In the past few years comprehensive studies have been conducted of the indoor air quality on the usage of the tobacco heating system IQOS.  The results to date show that in a simulated environment and real-life conditions the use of the IQOS system does not have a negative impact on the overall indoor air quality.

 

You recently launched the next generation IQOS 3. What are its key characteristics?

As any new technological product, the IQOS device is not perfect and will probably never be. Like the leading tech companies, we in Philip Morris take into account the consumers’ feedback from all the markets and based on it we improve the devices by enhancing their design and characteristics. The global launch of the new generation heating devices IQOS 3 took place at the end of October in Japan –   the country where the smoke-free platform was first released. Only a month later the new devices were launched in Bulgaria. The new version of the devices has an improved design and functionalities which meet the consumer needs for convenience, robustness and speed. What is not changed though is the fact that this is an innovative tobacco heating technology and the research data behind it. It is important for us to offer scientifically substantiated products while at the same time ensuring a variety of products which the smokers can chose from and thus providing them with an incentive to quit smoking and switch to the better alternatives.

 

How do you see the future of the tobacco industry?

It will not be a surprise for anybody if I reiterate that the future of the tobacco industry is definitely smoke-free and we are happy to see other companies developing and providing better smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes. The adult smokers should be well informed and have a wide choice of scientifically substantiated alternatives to smoking. The regulators and health authorities are key actors in this change by encouraging innovation and research for the development of reduced harm alternatives which present less risk compared to smoking. The governments today have an opportunity to endorse the introduction of policies and measures which will make it possible for the adult smokers who would not quit using tobacco to stop smoking and chose the better smoke-free alternatives to conventional cigarettes.

 


 

Who is George Margonis

George Margonis is a general manager of Philip Morris Bulgaria since 2016. He has almost 17 years of experience in Philip Morris International. His career in the company starts at the Sales Department of Papastratos – the Greek affiliate of PMI. During this time he held various positions in Sales, Consumer Engagement and Brand Management. In 2009 he moved to the company’s headquarter in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he took the position of EU Regional Manager for Sales Strategies. In May 2014 he was appointed as a Sales & Distribution Director for Greece, Cyprus and Malta. Mr Margonis graduated in marketing and management at the Athens Technological Educational Institute and has a master’s degree in business administration from Kingston University in the UK.