Smoke without fire: Japan becomes test ground for real tobacco e-cigarette
By Taiga Uranaka and Ritsuko Shimizu
TOKYO (Reuters) - Two tobacco giants are seeing strong demand for their reboots of the e-cigarette in Japan, with Philip Morris International (PM.N: Quote) twice postponing a nationwide rollout and Japan Tobacco (2914.T: Quote) suspending shipments - both due to supply shortages.
Japan has become a key testing ground for the two companies and their new, real tobacco e-smokes as they grapple with shrinking demand for traditional cigarettes in other developed countries.
Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, has postponed the nationwide rollout of its iQOS to April 18.
"We believe that the success of iQOS commercialization in Japan will accelerate its global expansion," Philip Morris Japan president Paul Riley told Reuters.
Japan Tobacco CEO Mitsuomi Koizumi told an earnings briefing in February: "We have very high expectations for growth of the so-called tobacco vapor category in five years or so from now."
The iQOS is a tobacco stick that is heated just enough to produce an aerosol but not combust. The company is betting the presence of real tobacco will make it more satisfying to smokers than existing e-cigarettes.
The new device, priced at 9,980 yen ($89), appears similar to other e-cigarettes in that it is pen-shaped and battery-powered, and is heated to release tobacco vapor.
A key distinction is the refills, sold as Marlboro HeatSticks. Most e-cigarettes sold elsewhere use nicotine-laced liquid, which is heavily regulated in Japan. A pack of 20 HeatSticks sells for 460 yen, the same as regular Marlboro cigarettes. Continued...