Phillip Morris wants to manage your Vaping
Big Tobacco thinks it has discovered a new way to make money from vaping, and has hopes of presenting itself as the good guy for quitters. The makers of declining Marlboros are introducing a product that will enable users to vape tobacco without igniting it (full version of patent). Plus, the device can go online for a variety of purposes, ranging from assisting your quit attempt to enabling Big Tobacco to track your habit and squeeze cash from it.
Designed by Phillip Morris International, the "Heat Stick" was already unveiled last summer, under the name iQOS, and is scheduled for test marketing in Japan and Italy, touted as a "reduced risk tobacco product." But the version unveiled at a recent investors' meeting will have a USB or wireless link to the user's online connection.
The company apparently wants users to think the purpose is to help them quit smoking. It can monitor usage, giving a boost to the user's own willpower. It has been suggested that a "pay-as-you-vape" application may be developed, allowing the user to buy a pre-paid amount of vaping and use it according to a managed schedule, or the application could be a "pay-per-puff" system.
A small independent company called Smokio already launched a smart e-cig app that monitors usage, earlier this year. The new Phillip Morris patent suggests the possibility of going beyond monitoring to managing.
Image control plays a large part in this rollout. Big Tobacco has a bad press, and would like very much to appear as the good guy. Of course there are ironies, and a large dose of hypocrisy, in the idea of the cigarette supplier stepping into the role of helping you quit using its product. But Big Tobacco is desperate to refurbish its image, and Phillip Morris is betting that a "reduced risk tobacco product" will do just that.
With sales of combustible cigarettes plummeting, Big Tobacco also wants to find another way to make money from tobacco. With a product that monitors usage, and may even control usage, the tobacco company would no doubt find additional ways to do that. As it monitors usage, it will of course store data about usage. Doubtless it will attempt to use that data to design additional profit-making possibilities.
This would not seem so sinister if a non-tobacco company were doing it. But with "Fuck Big Tobacco" T-shirts popping up all over, the ironies may prove to be too great.
As techno-wonk Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic notes, "When you connect some previously dumb object to the Internet, it can be both hacked, and you can be tracked... for good or ill...." Most vapers may turn out to see the sinister side of Big Tobacco control looming large behind this product.
As Meyer concludes: "When you connect an object to the Internet, you don’t quite own it the same way as you did before."