RICHMOND, Va. — Philip Morris International Inc. is hoping to capitalize on the growing appetite for alternatives — such as e-cigarettes — to traditional smokes with a new Marlboro-branded product that heats tobacco rather than burning it.
The world's second-biggest tobacco company detailed its plans Thursday to release the Marlboro HeatStick in cities in Japan and Italy later this year, with further expansion plans in 2015.
The products represent another run at improving heating technologies that failed when introduced in the 1990s.
The short, cigarette-like sticks are heated to a maximum of 660 degrees Fahrenheit (350 degrees Celsius) in a hollow penlike device called iQOS (pronounced EYE-cohs) to create a tobacco-flavored nicotine vapor. Unlike popular e-cigarettes that use liquid nicotine, the HeatStick contains real tobacco, a point the company believes will make them more attractive to cigarette smokers.
It's one of several so-called "reduced-risk" products Philip Morris International plans to test as the industry diversifies beyond traditional cigarettes amid declining demand.
Products like the HeatStick "represent a potential paradigm shift for the industry, public health and adult smokers," CEO André Calantzopoulos said during an investor day presentation Thursday.
The company, based in New York and Switzerland, has spent about $2 billion over more than a decade on development of the products and expects that iQOS would boost its profit by $700 million when sales reach 30 billion units.
The overseas Marlboro maker announced plans in January to invest up to $680 million for two plants in Italy to make the products.
On Tuesday, the company said that in addition to its own cigarette alternatives, it purchased U.K.-based e-cigarette maker Nicocigs Ltd. Financial terms were not disclosed.
In the 1990s, contraptions that heat tobacco rather than burning it didn't pass muster with smokers. Even though the products left no lingering odor and didn't produce ashes, they tasted different than cigarettes and were more difficult to use.
Now, a surging e-cigarette industry has tobacco companies hoping for a resurgence of the technologies that some argue are less harmful than lighting up.
Calantzopoulos said e-cigarettes don't deliver the taste and ritual that is as close as possible to regular tobacco smokes.