Session 8: Future of next-generation products

The room was getting hot—and it wasn’t just the sheer number of people packed into Session 8. The debate surrounding the future of next-generation products was a heated one. The moderator kept things under control, however, and by the end of the session everyone could agree that new tobacco products such as vapor, snus and low-nicotine cigarettes were indeed the future of the industry. Where opinions differed is what sized role these various innovative products will play.

There are currently numerous types of products on the market that give smokers options when trying to stop smoking cigarettes: snus, vapor and heat-not-burn (HNB), among other products. There is a place in the market for all of these products, but what their individual futures are is debatable. While HNB has taken off in Japan, vapor has been the preferred choice for the U.S. market. That could change if Philip Morris International’s iQOS enters the world’s largest vapor market, but how the public will receive the product is anyone’s guess.

The U.S. food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently talked about lowering nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes as part of its new comprehensive plan, which places nicotine, and the issue of addiction, at the center of the agency’s tobacco regulation efforts. The plan is said to provide a multiyear roadmap to significantly reduce tobacco-related disease and death. A key piece of the approach is demonstrating a greater awareness that nicotine is delivered through products that represent a continuum of risk and is most harmful when delivered through smoke particles in combustible cigarettes.

The FDA says that lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes to nonaddictive levels could decrease the likelihood that future generations become addicted to cigarettes and allow more currently addicted smokers to quit. The FDA plans to begin a public dialogue about lowering nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes to nonaddictive levels through achievable product standards by issuing an advance notice of proposed rule-making (ANPRM) to seek input on the potential public health benefits and any possible adverse effects of lowering nicotine in cigarettes.

Low-nicotine cigarettes taste and smell like normal cigarettes but don’t provide nicotine at an addictive level. One panelist said that his company’s research has shown that these new products can help smokers quit. He added that the research showed that smokers smoked fewer cigarettes when they smoke lower-nicotine cigarettes. The FDA seems to be on board with that belief.

The same panelist said that lower nicotine cigarettes could be a part of the continuum of risk that could help move smokers away from cigarettes. He also spoke about a high-nicotine cigarette that helped smokers smoke less due to getting nicotine in higher levels, which led to less of a need to smoke. While the speaker believes there’s room in the market for both, he conceded the recent FDA announcement means the regulatory agency probably won’t recognize that.

Other panelists questioned the reasoning behind still offering a combustible product when there are noncombustible products that can help smokers switch without the harm combustion causes. Better vapor products are not currently coming to market due to FDA regulations, but there is still a strong belief that the next leg of growth will be centered on hardware. One speaker suggested there would be a move toward a middle ground between an open system, which is daunting to customers, and a cigalike, which isn’t very satisfying to many. Whether this is a smaller closed system, such as Juul, or a larger closed system, such as the CUE, was a topic of discussion.

The cigalikes, everyone seemingly agreed, are necessary as a “gateway” product to more sophisticated vaporizers. Success rates for switchers will become higher as well, as new vapers move toward higher-quality vaporizers. There is also plenty of room for different styles and power levels because consumers have different needs. It will also be vital for e-liquid manufacturers to offer products that are more compatible with the different types of devices in the segment.

The panelists also tackled the topic of flavors during the session. There is a lot of variety in e-liquids, and consumers do not want to be limited to what flavors they can choose from. Having access to a variety of flavors helps keep consumers engaged, one panelist said. Properly developed e-liquids can prolong hardware performance.

At the conclusion of the session, one truth became apparent: The future of next-generation tobacco products remains wide open.