Philip Morris Wants to Stop Making Cigarettes and Move to E-Cigs

The maker of Marlboro just launched a "less harmful" e-cigarette that may spur them to stop producing traditional cigarettes.

Philip Morris International just launched a new e-cigarette in the UK, and its CEO says the company wants to transition away from traditional tobacco products.

Chief Executive Andre Calantzopoulos, told BBC Radio 4 that the company would like to eventually work with local governments to "phase-out" conventional cigarettes altogether.

Called IQOS, the e-cig's vapor tastes like tobacco and contains nicotine, but has less than 10 percent of the dangerous chemical levels in traditional cigarettes. Philip Morris said that in (externally unverified) trials, using the IQOS had the same effect as quitting smoking entirely. However, the company isn't using this finding to market the product, instead focusing on the broad claim that it will cause less harm than cigarettes overall.

RELATED: Burns from Exploding E-Cigarettes on the Rise

The popularity of electronic cigarettes has greatly increased within the past several years, especially among adolescents. The percentage of U.S. high school students that use e-cigarettes rose from 4.5 percent in 2013, to 13.4 percent in 2014, despite growing concerns over the potential health risks.

A recent study published in the Journal of Cellular Physiology found that a large number of mouth cells exposed to e-cigarette vapor in the lab died off within several days.

The study, led by Dr. Mahmoud Rouabhia at Université Laval's Department of Dental Medicine, placed gingival epithelial cells from the mouth in a small chamber with a saliva-like liquid. E-cigarette vapor was then pumped into the chamber at intervals of two five-second "inhalations" per minute for 15 minutes a day, for several days.

Researchers observed a rise in the percentage of dead or dying cells as the length of exposure to e-cigarette vapor increased. After 1 day of exposure, 18 percent of the cells were dead or dying, after 2 days it increased to 40 percent and after 3 days it was at 53 percent.

"Contrary to what one might think, e-cigarette vapor isn't just water," Dr. Rouabhia explained in a press release. "Although it doesn't contain tar compounds like regular cigarette smoke, it exposes mouth tissues and the respiratory tract to compounds produced by heating the vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, and nicotine aromas in e-cigarette liquid."

RELATED: E-Cig Benefits Outweigh Risks: Study

Electronic cigarettes are still a fairly new product, which means not enough time has passed for researchers to draw concise conclusions on their long-term health effects. However, Dr. Rouabhia said his findings do raise legitimate concerns.

"Damage to the defensive barrier in the mouth can increase the risk of infection, inflammation, and gum disease," he said. "Over the longer term, it may also increase the risk of cancer. This is what we will be investigating in the future."

While the Philip Morris IQOS product does not produce the exact same vapor as most traditional e-cigarettes that use liquid containing nicotine, the lack of externally verified trials means we don't yet know the potential health risks of the product.

Tobacco persists as a leading modifiable cause of cancer in the U.S. and around the world. Compared to those who have never smoked, current smokers are more likely to die, and a person's history of smoking cigarettes in their lifetime is a primary determinant of mortality after 70 years of age.

In August 2016, the FDA began to enforce provisions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act for the marketing and manufacturing of e-cigarettes. The American Lung Association defines e-cigarettes as a tobacco product and continues to be concerned about their effect on public health.

WATCH: Why People Who Smoke Look Old

Photo Credit: Philip Morris