May 3, 2017 / 10:10 AM / 2 years ago

Imperial Brands could launch heated tobacco product in months if needed

View of a sign outside the Imperial Tobacco Seita cigarette plant in Carquefou, near Nantes, April 15, 2014. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Imperial Brands, the fourth-largest international tobacco company, remains committed to its pursuit of e-cigarettes as the best alternative to smoking, but could pivot quickly with a heated tobacco product within months if proved wrong, a senior executive said on Wednesday.

“Our belief is that the opportunity in e-vapour remains bigger than the opportunity in heated tobacco,” said Matthew Phillips, Imperial’s chief development officer. He said Imperial was looking at heated tobacco even though it wasn’t testing a product like Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International.

So far Japan is the most developed market for heated tobacco products, as it has stricter rules around the nicotine-laced liquids used in e-cigarettes.

“I’m yet to see the kind of traction outside Japan that would make me change that view and start following a heated tobacco strategy more proactively,” Phillips said on a conference call with analysts following the company’s half-year results.

“If we have to change our mind because it did start getting traction, we would be able to follow with an offering within a number of months.”

Phillips said recent innovations in “vaping” and marijuana technology in the United States means that heated tobacco products do not need to be in the format in which they are currently sold.

Phillips said different consumers were using different products, noting that younger “millennial” consumers tended to use e-cigarettes, while the tobacco-based products appealed to older people.

Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Susan Fenton

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