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Philip Morris eyes tech gadgets, insurance rebates to promote vaping

February 15, 2019

Workers set an advertising poster for electronic cigarette Iqos on a billboard near the road in Varna, Bulgaria, July 2018. Photo: iStock

Gadgets that monitor health, from wearable step-counters to apps tracking sleep and diet, have exploded in popularity in recent years, and now even the tobacco industry is trying to jump into the fray.

Philip Morris International (PMI) says the technology in its new vaping products could be used to offer users activity-tracking services and even life insurance rebates.

“We have electronics in the new product, so we have an ability to connect with consumers that carry these products 16-17 hours a day,” PMI chief Andre Calantzopoulos told AFP in a recent interview.

The world’s biggest cigarette vendor is trying to promote its new smoke-free products, like electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco devices, as far less harmful alternatives to smoking.

The maker of Marlboro says its science shows that the new products release far fewer dangerous toxins than conventional cigarettes.

PMI is also seeking other avenues to persuade smokers they would be better off switching to its smoke-free line.

The company is planning to partner with life insurance companies to provide reduced-rates to users of their most popular heated tobacco product, IQOS, Calantzopoulos said.

Unlike e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine liquid but not tobacco, IQOS and similar devices heat – but do not burn – small tobacco sticks, releasing tobacco vapour.

Calantzopoulos says users of smoke-free products should pay less for life insurance than regular smokers – who are often charged double the amount for non-smokers.

A number of insurers offer customers discounts if they allow their exercise habits to be monitored with wearable fitness trackers, and can prove they have an active and healthy lifestyle.

While this practice – known as incentive-based health tracking – has raised concerns about privacy, it is also seen as a lucrative business opportunity.

PMI says insurers have voiced interest in offering a similar service to customers who through electronic monitoring can show they have switched to smokeless products.

Derek Yach, the founder and president of the PMI-backed Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, supports this practice to help people move off cigarettes.

“I believe that wearables are the way you want to go,” he told AFP.

Wearable devices are already pushing people to get more exercise, sleep and to eat better, he said. “The thing that is missing is helping people stop smoking.”

Connected bracelets could detect the different hand movements used when smoking cigarettes or using electronic devices, allowing insurance companies to monitor whether a customer has truly switched, he said.

PMI says its research shows users of products like IQOS inhale around 90 percent fewer toxins than smokers.

Today, there are some one billion smokers worldwide, and more than seven million deaths annually linked to tobacco use, according to the WHO.

PMI says its new products are key to bringing down those numbers. (AFP)