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Has the traditional cigarette burned out?

The chief executive of Philip Morris told CNBC he wants their lines of e-cigarettes eventually to outsell traditional smokes.

Speaking on the sidelines of the European House-Ambrosetti Forum in Italy, CEO Andre Calantzopoulos told CNBC that he was very optimistic about the take-up of iQOS — a Marlboro-branded device that electronically heats, rather than burns, tobacco and differs from the broader range of "e-cigarette" that use nicotine and water vapor to simulate the smoking experience.


Cigarette
Jim R. Bounds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"Our objective and my personal ambition is that these reduced-risk products will overtake combustible cigarettes as soon as possible. And that's clearly what we're pursuing," Calantzopoulos told CNBC.

He hopes cigarette alternatives will account for at least 15 percent of the company's portfolio in five to 10 years, adding that was his conservative estimate.

But reaching those levels will require regulatory help, Calantzopoulos explained.

"These products have to be regulated — in their way of being developed, risk assessed and marketed — because we need to provide consumers with very clear, and not misleading, information about the benefits of the product, but also [to communicate] that they're not zero risk products," Calantzopoulos told CNBC.


Philip Morris has started clinical trials similar to those deployed by the pharmaceutical industry, to assess the risk profiles of alternatives like iQos, and these trials will be essential to combat a recent backlash against e-cigarettes, Calantzopoulos said.

"Voices say these products are more dangerous than cigarettes. Personally, I think this is rather irresponsible," he explained.

The latest World Health Organization (WHO) report on e-cigarettes explains that most products haven't been tested by independent scientists, and that the limited amount of testing that has taken place so far shows "wide variations" around toxicity levels.

However, the WHO said it is "very likely" that there is a lower toxic exposure from e-cigarettes than traditional combustible smokes.

For the time being, Calantzopolous said he was excited about the technology that was providing an industry-wide transformation.

"It' s a very exciting moment actually."