Today in snakes-eating-their-own-tail news, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes is starting its own health insurance company.
Philip Morris International has announced plans to start selling health insurance in the U.K., where traditional smoking is in decline and smoke-free alternatives like the Juul vape are exploding.
The company (which once billed itself as doctors’ preferred cigarette) is offering big discounts to folks who switch to these smoke-free alternatives.
Sorry. That should actually read “offering big discounts to folks who switch to Philip Morris brand smoke-free alternatives.”
Folks who switch to generic e-cigarettes will get a measly 2.5% discount on their premiums. But if you switch to Philip Morris’ own “tobacco heating system,” you’ll receive a nice fat 25% discount.
This might seem like a health-based initiative on the surface. But all Philip Morris is doing is incentivizing customers to switch from one of its products to another.
This way, the company gets to look like its concerned for the public’s health, while paying less taxes on its products.
As CEO André Calantzopoulos told CNBC in an interview Tuesday:
“Obviously that makes sense for public health and the people who smoke themselves, but it also makes sense for our shareholders because financially, as these products are not cigarettes, they benefit from lower excise taxes and better margins, so it’s a win-win for everybody.”
At the same time, that 25% discount reinforces the idea that Philip Morris’ IQOS tobacco heating system is 25% healthier than traditional smoking, which has not been established.
I Make Bad Acronyms: IQOS stands for “I-Quit-Ordinary-Smoking.” Jeez, the marketing department must have clocked off early that day.
Philip Morris has released a single study which claims that using IQOS is a healthier alternative to cigarettes. But the tobacco industry has never been great at self-investigation. (They knew about the cancer-causing effects of smoking tobacco for decades before it became public knowledge.)
It’s true that all these “tobacco heating systems” and vapes and e-bongs might be healthier than regular smoking. But it will be years before we can accurately assess the long-term effect of robosmoking.
In January of last year, the FDA Tobacco Scientific Advisory Committee unanimously voted that Philip Morris could not claim IQOS would reduce the risk of tobacco-related diseases.
Despite the general air of scientific uncertainty, Philip Morris is all-in on the IQOS. While the obnoxiously named “tobacco heating system” only made up 6% of its sales last year, the company spent 60% of its advertising and development budget on it.
Philip Morris sees the writing on the wall for traditional cigarettes. And its putting all of the company’s eggs in this unproven tech.
As we all know, the next best thing to science is untested anecdotal evidence. In that spirit, I’d like to hear from you on this.
Have you tried any of these e-cigarettes or vape pens?
Did you see any noticeable health differences? Or is this the same stuff we’ve been smoking since we hopped off the Mayflower, wrapped in a fancy package?
Google’s Flying Grocery Robots Secure FAA Approval
Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. just got the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration to start commercial drone delivery.
(Thus removing the last remaining human element from the process of buying stuff. And folks wonder why all millennials suffer from anxiety.)
Alphabet’s drone company, Wing Aviation, is the first drone delivery service in the U.S. to secure FAA approval. But don’t expect flying robots to be knocking on your door any time soon. (Unless you live in Virginia.)
Under the scrutiny of the FAA, Wing will kick off its drone delivery service in the sleepy town of Blacksburg, VA.
If you do happen to live in Blacksburg, you can look forward to airborne deliveries of… (quick Google search) …”Asian-inspired treats” from the Next Door Bake Shop and a “shirt your boyfriend can’t return” from Alligator Alley.
Death From Above
Obviously, safety is going to be something of a concern when you have giant robots airlifting bubble tea and gym equipment across town.
According to Wing, these drones are safer than deliveries made by car. And the FAA seems to agree with them (for now).
“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
“Safety continues to be our Number One priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential.”
You know she’s serious because she capitalised the words “Number One.”
Even so, the FAA has slapped Wing with a couple of restrictions on the service:
- One pilot can operate up to five drones at once and only during the day. (Five?! Starting to think this flying drones gig is easier than I thought.)
- Drones cannot carry hazardous materials or hover over people. (Don’t hover over Gary with a vat of radioactive waste. Makes sense to me.)
This could be the first step in a major disruption in the package delivery and logistics industry. We’re watching this one closely.
Boeing’s Tailspin: Fatal Crashes, Billion-Dollar Losses, and the Wing is on Fire
Surprising no one, Boeing suffered substantial losses in the wake of the crisis that grounded its bestselling aircraft. (And killed a whole bunch of people. But shareholders don’t really care about that stuff.)
Despite a strong start to the year, Boeing’s earnings fell 21% in Q1. Which will happen when your planes are dropping out of the sky like hotdogs at a Phillies game.
The company that thinks it’s a good idea to cut corners on a 90,000-pound flying bus has shied away from revealing the full cost of the grounding. But it indicated in its report that shoring up its fleet of 737 Max’s will add an additional cost of $1 billion to the build.
Boeing execs said they have no idea when the grounding is going to end, or when it can again begin deliveries, or how much this is going to affect their financials going forward.
Per the report:
“Due to the uncertainty of the timing and conditions surrounding return to service of the 737 Max fleet, new guidance will be issued at a future date.
“We will continue to apply whatever resources are required to return the 737 Max safely into the fleet and take the time necessary to do so.”
Earlier this week, the engine of a Boeing 737 (the predecessor of the 737 Max) caught on fire while it was sitting on a runway in Moscow.
Pretty much as that was happening, The New York Times released a bombshell report in which several Boeing whistleblowers accused the company of gross negligence and shoddy workmanship in its South Carolina factory.
Boeing technician Joseph Clayton reportedly told his wife to never fly on one of the planes made at the South Carolina plant.
While quality manager John Barnett said: “I haven’t seen a plane out of Charleston yet that I’d put my name on saying it’s safe and airworthy.”
Boeing’s stock (NYSE: BA) has dropped more than 11% since the March 10 737 Max crash and its future is uncertain.
After everything we know now, what would it take to get you back on a Boeing aircraft?
One Last Thing
We Haven’t Seen Crypto Move Like This Since 2015
Bitcoin soared to $5,622 this week, performing as maneuver analysts call “the golden cross.”
The crypto queen has since pared some of its gains, settling back to $5,460 today (still up $1,419 on this day last month).
The “golden cross” is when the average bitcoin price in the short term rises above its long-term average price.
The last time we saw this happen was way back in 2015, two years before the crypto bull-run that shook the world. And it happened again this Easter Monday, when the 50-day moving average outstripped the estimated 200-day moving average.