Cigarette smoking has been on a historic decline in the US. This leaves slightly less profitable tobacco conglomerates with another opportunity to prove yet again that they’re evil and stupid in equal measure. “What’s something all smokers—the people we are slowly making sick and then eventually dead—need” you can practically imagine a suit in the Philip Morris boardroom wondering aloud. Health insurance!
As with the sales pitch of any good huckster though—wait, there’s more. Reviti, the name of this dubious insurance venture, specifically and disproportionally rewards policy-holders who drop cigarettes for Philip Morris International’s (PMI) bizarre “heated tobacco” iQOS system. It’ll be full price for smokers and half-off for quitters, but in the middle ground, those who stick with iQOS for three months or more will have their premiums reduced by 25-percent, compared to a 2.5-percent reduction for any other e-cigarette system, including the ones PMI itself sells.
“Reviti was launched because we believe that there is currently a gap in the market for life insurance policies for people who smoke and wish to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether or switch to scientifically substantiate reduced risk alternatives to smoking,” a PMI spokesperson said to Gizmodo.
Beyond the pretty bald profiteering embedded in that structure, the hitch is that iQOS is perhaps one of the worst-designed products since Juicero. It’s truly baffling that something this bad exists. Instead of a nicotine-containing liquid, as in e-cigarettes, iQOS pods (called, I kid you not, “Heets”) are... half a cigarette.
The future is now.
Instead of combusting what is very clearly a paper tube stuffed with chopped up tobacco leaves, iQOS heats miniature cigs to a vapor-producing temperature. “Because the tobacco is heated and not burned,” PMI claims on its website, “the levels of harmful chemicals are significantly reduced compared to cigarette smoke.” A PMI spokesperson told Gizmodo that “many government bodies have conducted literature reviews or performed research on heated tobacco products, finding that they expose users to significantly lower levels of harmful chemicals”
According to one study that attempted to fact-check PMI’s safety assertions, 56 harmful or potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs) tested higher in iQOS than traditional cigarettes, some astronomically so. Dr. Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Research and Control, has also written that iQOS is “likely as bad as cigarettes” and “generates significant pulmonary harm.”
iQOS has not yet received FDA approval for sale in the US.
Does it make sense to peg product discounts to use of an expensive, over-designed cigarette robot whose health impacts are far from well understood? “Obviously that makes sense for public health and the people who smoke themselves, but it also makes sense for our shareholders because financially, as these products are not cigarettes,” PMI CEO Andre Calantzopoulos told CNBC, “they benefit from lower excise taxes and better margins, so it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Updated with comment from PMI