Big Tobacco to sell 'smokeless cigarettes' over the counter after UAE rule change

iQOS 'heat not burn' devices along with liquid nicotine vapes can be sold legally as of April

The Philip Morris International iQOS device offers tobacco with less health risk than conventional cigarettes, and will be available in supermarkets across the UAE. Courtesy: PMI
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The tobacco giant behind Marlboro cigarettes is to sell 'smokeless cigarettes' over the counter for the first time after a change in the law legalised their sale.

On Monday, Philip Morris International said 11 supermarkets and stores would sell its iQOS devices in addition to an outlet at Dubai Duty Free.

The company claims its 'heat not burn' technology has much less of an impact on health than traditional cigarettes. iQOS are battery-operated devices into which a heat stick containing a tobacco plug is inserted. The heat produces vapour instead of harmful smoke - though medical researchers claim they are not as harmless as some would suggest.

The UAE government will not tax heating devices but the tobacco refills will be subject to a 100 per cent duty under the 2017 'sin tax'.

The move earlier this year to legalise the sale of devices like iQOS and liquid nicotine vapes in the UAE came amid a broader debate between medics and manufacturers about the impact to health of vapes and e-cigarettes.

It is important to emphasise that whether traditional cigarettes, shisha, pipe, or iQOS, all smoking is harmful

“Our aim is to target all smokers who want to continue smoking with the iQOS product,” said Tarkan Demirbas, Middle East vice president for PMI.

“Changing the regulations about smoking alternatives shows governments are becoming aware of the impact on smokers of reduced risk products. This is the industry’s future."

The company hopes the latest version of its iQOS 3 device will overtake black market sales of products in the UAE, currently selling online for more than three times the price of retail value.

Philip Morris will sell iQOS devices over the counter for the first time for Dh250. Online resellers currently offer gadgets for up to Dh800.

Tobacco sticks - marketed in various markets as HeatSticks or Heets by the firm - are priced at Dh20 for a packet of 20.

At present, tobacco sticks that are imported from China and Russia are sold unlicensed online.

Choithrams, Spinneys, Al Maya and Carrefour are some of the outlets to begin selling the refills.

British American Tobacco has announced that it is to launch its latest vaping device, the Vype ePen 3, in the UAE in the near future following the law change.

Last year, researchers from the University of California found smokers speed up their "puff rate" to inhale more nicotine because a heat stick lasts for just six minutes before it shuts off and needs a temporary recharge.

They concluded that the iQOS system "may not be as harm free" as Philip Morris claimed and said more study was needed.

The firm rejected the findings and said it found "different puffing regimes showed no increase" in toxicants and said those who swapped from cigarettes to iQOS drew in far fewer toxicants regardless.

Read More

According to the most recent Tobacco Atlas, the industry-standard study of global smoking rates, more than 1,308,000 men and 34,600 women smoke cigarettes each day in the UAE, making it an ongoing public health threat.

Whilst some medics see vaping and heat-devices as a viable alternative to wean heavy smokers off tar-laden cigarettes, others see any form of tobacco as too dangerous to recommend.

“As iQOS is relatively new, much needs to be understood about the impact of this device to the overall health of the individual," said Dr Harbi Darwish, a thoracic surgeon at Bareen International Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

“It is important to emphasise that whether traditional cigarettes, shisha, pipe, or iQOS, all smoking is harmful. When a person smokes, he or she loses oxygen during inhalation, and their lungs lose elasticity and capacity to breathe. The heart then has to work harder to pump oxygen around the body.

“The general public needs to understand the risks involved and why smoking is so dangerous.”

Dr Sherif Fayed, a pulmonologist at Al Zahra Hospital in Dubai, added: “They are useful to help quit smoking, but as people can use these products indoors the risk is not yet known.

“The best advice is not to inhale anything into your lungs in the long term.”