iQOS is a cleaner e-cigarette, but is it clean enough?
Type “smoking” and healthy blender brand “nutribullet” into Google Images and you’ll be hit by a barrage of quitting advice. Society just doesn’t believe a cigarette can go hand in hand with a kale smoothie.
We’ve entered the age of “clean living”. With food and fitness bloggers constantly in our eye-line, we’re feeling the pressure and brands are seeing the knock-on effects. Eighty per cent of adults are making an effort to drink less alcohol and the number of nightclubs in the UK has almost halved in a decade. Doubtless it's a new challenge for alcohol manufacturers.
Smoking, too, is everything clean living is not. It’s dirty, smelly, addictive and leaves you coughing after that saintly morning run. It’s also dated. Associated with classic images of Monroe and Hepburn, pictures of celebrities smoking today rarely show off their glamorous side.
Or do they? It depends what kind of cigarette they're smoking. At the Golden Globes, a photo of Leonardo DiCaprio smoking an e-cigarette that looked like the real deal went viral because it showed the star flouting the smoking ban and puffing away indoors.
It’s a sure sign that the cigarette category is evolving, and those who stand still will inevitably be left behind. Cue the arrival of Philip Morris’ iQOS, a new kind of e-cigarette that heats tobacco without burning it, claiming to offer a safer, cleaner, (and of course, pricier) alternative to regular smoking. iQOS comes with a sleek cigarette holder which fits into a smartphone-like charging device. Is it a desperate attempt to live out another Audrey Hepburn moment in the 21st Century?
Originally launched in Japan and Switzerland, where the dirt and smell of a regular cigarette is particularly at odds with cultural emphasis on cleanliness and social respect, the product has seen considerable uptake. Of course, the holder requires its ownkind of cigarette (£8 per pack) and the device will set you back £45 (a bargain, compared to the 80CHF, priced £63 on its launch in Switzerland). Like Apple, iQOS could have a monopoly: once you’ve bought the device, going back means money down the drain.
Press releases excitedly regale health benefits and risk reduction compared to classic smoking, but warn that it remains nicotine-based. E-cigarettes grew the smoking market, bringing in people who had been non-smokers. Should we make room for yet another sexy-looking, unregulated device that will encourage young people to smoke?
And will existing smokers trade off the intensity of classic smoking in favour of sleek technology and reduced risk? If so, this is another red flag for brands across categories: whatever your business, health needs to be part of the game plan. Diageo has already mentioned they’ve got ideas in the soft drinks space and are ready to change their approach, but the challenge will be to lead consumers on a journey to new highs that protect the liver and lungs without piling on the pounds.
Times are changing, and all this kale and smashed avocado is really forcing brands to think outside the box.
Health through the Culture Lens is a weekly series exploring important cultural currents in health and pharma
- Article by Emily Sheen