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Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM)
Q4 2017 Earnings Conference Call
Feb. 8, 2018, 9:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day, and welcome to the Philip Morris International 2017 Fourth Quarter and Full Year Results Conference Call. Today's call is scheduled to last about one hour, including remarks by Philip Morris International management, and the question-and-answer session. In order to ask a question, please press the * key followed by 1 on your touchtone phone at any time. Media representatives on the call will also be invited to ask questions at the conclusion of questions from the investment community.

I will now turn the call over to Mr. Nick Rolli, Vice President of Investor Relations and Financial Communications. Please go ahead, sir.

Nicholas Rolli -- Vice President of Investor Relations and Financial Communications

Welcome, and thank you for joining us. Earlier today, we issued a press release containing detailed information on our 2017 fourth quarter and full results. You may access the release on www.pmi.com, or the PMI Investor Relations app.

During our call today, please note the following unless otherwise stated. First, we'll be talking about results for the fourth quarter and full year 2017 and comparing them to the same period in 2016. Second, references to total industry, total market, PMI volume and PMI market share performance reflects cigarettes and heated tobacco units.

A glossary of terms, adjustments, and other calculations, as well as reconciliations to the most directly comparable U.S. GAAP measures, are at the end of today's webcast slides, which are posted on our website. Reduced-Risk Products or RRPs is the term we use to refer to products that present, are likely to present, or have the potential to present less risk of harm to smokers who switch to these products versus continued smoking.

Today's remarks contain forward-looking statements and projections of future results, and I direct your attention to the forward-looking and cautionary statements disclosure in today's presentation and press release for a review of the various factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from projections or forward-looking statements.

Now, it's my pleasure to introduce André Calantzopoulos, our Chief Executive Officer. Martin King, our Chief Financial Officer, will join André for the question and answer period. Andre?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Nick and welcome ladies and gentlemen. Before I get into a discussion of our 2017 results, let me share my thoughts on last month's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee or TPSAC meeting in the US, which I recognize is top of mind for investors. For reference, we have posted our full presentation to the committee on www.pmiscience.com. The meeting was part of the US Food and Drug Administration's, FDA's, review of PMI's request to commercialize IQOS as a modified-risk tobacco product or MRTP. To advise the FDA on PMI's applications, the committee covered a wide range of scientific, technical, and consumer communications topics. It raised questions and probed the likelihood and magnitude of potential benefits as well as how best to address possible unintended use. We believe the committee's interactions with presenters and its discussion reflect the respect for the integrity of our scientific data and our commitment to bring IQOS to the US.

Although the committee did not agree with some of the specific language related to consumer communication, it confirmed that the evidence supported the statement that switching completely to IQOS significantly reduces exposure to harmful chemicals. The meeting with TPSAC was just one step in a broader, ongoing review of our MRTP applications by the FDA. And the recommendations and vote of the committee, while important, are advisory. In order to make a final decision, the FDA was now considered the topic to discuss at the meeting, including public comments, along with the totality of the evidence we submitted, and additional information we had already planned to submit.

In the immediate future, we look forward to working with the FDA to clarify any outstanding point by recognizing that some questions can only be realistically answered in a post-market scenario. In this regard, in 2018 we will complete an exposal response study designed to measure clinical risk markers in adult smokers who switch to IQOS over a 12 month period. The results of the first six-month term were received at the end of 2017, and the related report is under preparation. We expect to submit the report to the FDA in May.

Separately, PMI has submitted a premarket tobacco application or PMTA to the FDA, which, if granted, will permit the commercialization of IQOS in the US without modified risk messages. This application was not before the committee as it follows a regulatory pathway.

Finally, I'm deeply grateful to my colleagues for their exceptional work on our applications to the FDA and for the presentations last month. Our science and the commitment of our people give me confidence in achieving a vision of a smoke-free future. I would also like to thank the FDA for the time that it invested to review our application as well as the many members of the public who took their time to provide thoughtful comments.

Turning to 2017, it was a landmark year for PMI reflecting better than anticipated performance of our flagship smoke-free product, IQOS, which draw the positive annual profit contribution from our RRP portfolio for the first time, encouraging early feedback from a range of government agencies and advisory committees regarding the scientific substantiation of IQOS, including a growing recognition of a risk continuum for tobacco and other nicotine containing product, the accumulation of valuable learnings that are driving organizational changes to support and accelerate our smoke-free ambition, and our highest annual net revenue growth, excluding currency and acquisitions, since become a public company in 2008.

Full year net revenues increased by 9.4% percent excluding currency driven by higher heated tobacco unit volume and IQOS device sales across all IQOS-launch markets. This reflects a favorable volume mix variance of $1.1 billion, our best ever performance on this measure. RRP net revenues reached $3.6 billion or 12.5% of total net revenues, of which IQOS devices and accessories accounted for approximately $0.9 billion.

Net revenue growth also reflected favorable pricing for our combustible tobacco portfolio, partly offset by the growth in RRP allowances, which resulted in a total pricing variance equivalent to 5.2% of prior year net revenues despite essentially no net pricing in Russia.

Adjusted OCI increased by 7.4% excluding currency driven by higher net revenues partly offset by the adverse impact of higher sales of IQOS devices and increased investment to support the commercialization of IQOS. Consequently, our adjusted OCI margin decreased by 0.8% points to 41% excluding currency.

As outlined in today's press release, our reported diluted earnings per share were impacted by tax items primarily related to the enactment of the US Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Excluding these tax items and an unfavorable currency impact of $0.21, our adjusted diluted EPS increased by 10%. The negative currency impact was $0.04 more than we had assumed in our previous forecast in October, not doubly due to the euro and the Japanese yen.

Operating cash flow reached $8.9 billion, an increase of 10.3% or 5.5% excluding currency. Capital expenditures increased by $376 million to reach $1.5 billion reflecting higher investment behind heated tobacco unit production. These strong, currency-neutral financial results were achieved despite 2.7% decline in our combined cigarette and heating tobacco units shipment volume. The volume decline was principally due to lower cigarette industry volume notably in Indonesia, the Philippines, Russia, and Saudi Arabia partly offset by strong growth in heated tobacco unit volume, particularly in Japan.

The sequential improvement in our quarterly volume performance continued in the fourth quarter with heated tobacco unit growth driving a total shipment volume increase of 3.8% or 1.4% excluding inventory movement.

For the year, heated tobacco unit shipment volume nearly quintupled to reach $36.2 billion. The sequential growth in our total international market share, excluding China and the US, also continued in the fourth quarter. Since the first quarter, our quarterly share for heated tobacco units and cigarettes increased by 0.7% and 1.1% points respectively.

For the full year, our total international share was essentially stable. Lower share from our below premium cigarette brands, notably in Indonesia and Russia, was almost entirely offset by the growth of our premium products led by HeatSticks and HEETS. Within the below premium segment, we continue to strengthen our portfolio through brand consolidation in 2017 with the morphing of local brands into international brands such as Chesterfield and Philip Morris, which gained 0.3 and 0.5 share points respective.

Marlboro cigarette share was up slightly, a notable achievement given the disproportionate impact of out-switching to our heated tobacco products in IQOS. The brand's cigarette share increased in the Asia Indie regions, reflecting robust growth in the Philippines and across markets in North Africa, such as Algeria and Egypt.

I will now discuss a few of our key geographies beginning with the European Union region. Total industry volume for cigarettes and heated tobacco units declined by 1.9% in 2017, slightly better than our forecast decline range of 2% to 3%. Relatively modest decrease in industry volume largely reflected the improving economic environment across most markets. Our total regional market share in 2017 was stable, reflecting a gain from HEETS, which reached a share of 0.3% for the year and 0.6% in the fourth quarter, offset by the decline of our cigarette brand portfolio.

Amongst the largest EU markets by industry volume, we gained total share, notably in France and Poland, driven by a higher share of Marlboro and Chesterfield respectively. Share declined in Spain mainly due to Marlboro's passing of around €5 per pack price point in the vending channel at the end of 2016. The share performance in Italy is also worth mentioning. While down for the full year, the favorable sequential share progression continued in the fourth quarter led by HEETS. Currency neutral adjust OCI declined by 4.4% in 2017, mainly due to unfavorable volume mix and higher investments behind the commercialization of IQOS. Fourth quarter adjusted OCI increased by 6.1% excluding currency supported by higher heated tobacco unit shipments. During the quarter, we observed an acceleration in HEETS share growth in IQOS markets across the region, which I will cover later in my remarks.

Turning now to EEMA, our 2017 results for the region were significantly impacted by two markets: Russia and Saudi Arabia. In Russia, total industry volume declined by 7.2% primarily due to the impact of excise tax-driven price increases coupled with higher illicit trade. Despite continued downtrading, our cigarette share was essentially stable, reflecting growth for Philip Morris net of portfolio consolidation, offset by declines for Chesterfield, L&M, Next and [Next Dou]. Net pricing, i.e. pricing above the excise tax increase, was a significant challenge due to the competitive environment. Consequently, we were unable to offset the financial impact of our volume decline, which was essentially market driven.

For 2018, the excise tax increase is scheduled to take effect in July rather than January as in the past. The weighted average total excise tax pass on for the industry is approximately 5 rubles per pack compared to 13 last year. We're optimistic that we will return to profit growth in Russia this year. In Saudi Arabia, the excise tax-driven price increased in June 2017, which resulted in the doubling of retail selling prices, drove a cigarette industry volume decline of approximately 28% in the second half and17% for the year. The volume decline primarily reflected a reduction of adult smoker's average daily cigarette consumption coupled with a surge in the consumption of illicit products. The structure of the excise tax increase resulted in the widening of price gaps and led to significant downtrading to low price brands. This can be seen in our quarterly share performance with sequential declines in the third and fourth quarters for premium Marlboro and L&M partly offset by gains for low price Chesterfield. Those factors weighed heavily on our profit in the market during the second half of 2017, and we expect continued pressure this year, particularly during the first half.

Moreover, the other five GCC countries are in various stages of introducing a similar excise tax increase with the United Arab Emirates having already done so in the fourth quarter of 2017. As a result, we anticipate considerable volume and profit pressure across the area this year. For reference, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates accounted for approximately 60% and 20% respectively of the GCC's cigarette volume prior to the 2017 tax increases.

In Japan, the spectacular performance of IQOS drove our results in 2017. Total shipment volume increased by nearly 30% driven by the strong growth in HeatSticks demand and an increase in HeatSticks inventory level. Excluding estimated inventory movements, total shipment volume increased by 15.1%. The favorable inventory movements primarily reflected an increasing demand for HeatSticks, which we expect to grow further in the first quarter following a planned lifting of the restriction on IQOS device sales; the establishment of appropriate distributor inventory levels of heated tobacco units, given the current high dependence on a single manufacturing center; and the transition from air to sea freight of heated tobacco units shipment, largely completed in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Our total market share increased by 5% points to reach 32.1% with HeatSticks share up by 7.9% point to 10.8%. In the fourth quarter, HeatSticks share grew by 9% points to 13.9% and reached 14.1% for the month of December. Total industry volume decreased by 4.2% for the full year, broadly consistent with the secular decline rate for cigarettes prior to the introduction of IQOS.

In Indonesia, the economic environment showed signs of recovery toward the end of 2017, though consumer spending remained soft. Against this backdrop, full-year cigarette industry volume declined by an estimated 2.6% compared to our forecast of approximately 3%. The shift of industry volume into the machine-made Kretek segment continue in 2017. Share form Marlboro Filter Black increased by 1.4% points driving overall share growth for the brand.

While our cigarette share declined by 0.4% point to 33% for the year, we essentially recorded stable, sequential share at that level across all four quarters. The 2018 excise tax took effect January 1 resulting in a weight average excise tax increase of 10.8% industrywide compared to 10.3% last year. This included a reduction in the number of excise tax tiers, and we are encouraged by the government's roadmap to further reduce the number of tax tiers over the coming years.

In the Philippines, higher pricing across our portfolio drove further profit growth in 2017. Pricing increases at the bottom of the market, in particular, resulted in the narrowing of price gaps between Marlboro and lower price brands. This contributed to the brand's strong performance with share up 4.6% points to 33%. While our total cigarette share declined by 3.7% last year, we recorded strong sequential share growth beginning in the second quarter. Full-year cigarette industry volume declined by 5.6% percent, mainly due to the impact of excise tax-driven price increases on lower price brand. In fact, volume in the premium segment, which is essentially Marlboro, increased.

As a reminder, the first step of the revised cigarette excise tax increase for 2018 took effect on January 1 with the second step scheduled for July 1. The industry weighted average total increase is expected to be in line with the increase of approximately 14% last year. Importantly, while the increase is higher than the government's original plan, the single tier specific tax structure remains unchanged. Heading into 2018, we believe that we have finally turned the page on the multiple challenges that we faced in recent years and are very optimistic about the outlook of this important market.

Turning to the Latin America and Canada region, cigarette industry volume declined by 3.8% in 2017 mainly due to the impact of retail price increases in Brazil and Canada. Despite the cigarette industry volume decline and essential stable regional share, we recorded very strong currency neutral adjusted OCI growth driven by higher pricing notably in Argentina, Canada, and Mexico.

To close on 2017, we'll cover in more detail the strong momentum of IQOS across geographies beginning with Japan. As seen on this slide, HeatSticks recorded strong sequential quarterly share growth throughout the year, despite capacity limitations first related to HeatSticks and then on IQOS devices, as well as the increased availability of competitors' heated tobacco products. We now begin 2018 in excellent shape with the supply of HeatSticks now longer an issue, the shipment of HeatSticks now shifted from air to lower cost sea freight, and the capacity limits on IQOS devices behind us as of this month.

While the presence of competition in the heated tobacco category at the national level in Japan remains in the early stages, the Sendai Prefecture offers insight into a competitive environment where multiple, established heated tobacco products are present. In this environment, IQOS is performing very well as illustrated by consumer off-take data. During the fourth quarter, HeatSticks weekly off-take share increased by 1.4% points to 19.9% while also growing PMI share of the total heated tobacco category by 4.4% points to 67.3%.

In Korea, IQOS continues to perform exceptionally. Fourth quarter market share of HEETS more than doubled sequentially to 5.5% reflecting growth in existing launch areas coupled with the impact of national distribution expansion.

Outside Asia, we recorded strong market share growth for HEETS in the fourth quarter with notable accelerations compared to the prior quarter across many markets. We believe that these share gains primarily reflect our relentless focus on building quality awareness, improving commercial execution, and continuously applying our learnings across markets. Building adult smoker comprehension of the heated tobacco category generally and IQOS specifically is key to the product's success. The ability to do so is very dependent on regulatory restrictions in place in a given market, particularly with regard to adult smoker communication. This, in turn, impacts the speed at which we are able to grow IQOS.

Italy is a good example of a market that has required a relatively longer time period to gain traction. In this regard, we are very pleased by Italy's share growth acceleration in the fourth quarter, which provides evidence that our efforts to build the category are bearing fruit.

The favorable fourth quarter market share progression is also visible in our focus area off-take shares in markets where our launch of IQOS remains more targeted geographically. The performances in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where IQOS was only launched in the third quarter of 2017, were particularly impressive with focused area off-take shares already reaching 1.8% and 1.6% respectively.

Turning now to this year, our reported diluted EPS guidance for the year at prevailing exchange rates is a range of $5.20 to $5.35 versus $3.88 in 2017. It includes a favorable currency impact of approximately $0.16. This guidance represents a growth rate excluding currency of approximately 7% to 10% compared to our adjusted diluted EPS of $4.72 in 2017. This forecast assumes currency neutral net revenue growth of over 8% driven by RRPs. The robust growth in underpinned by sizable, upfront investment that while having an adverse impact on our near-term profit outlook reflect our growing optimism for the RRP category broadly and IQOS in particular.

The incremental RRP spending in 2018, net of lower spending on our combustible portfolio, is projected to be approximately $600 million, excluding currency. This equates to a drag of approximately 6% points on our projected EPS growth compared to adjusted diluted EPS of $4.72 in 2017. The incremental spending comes from the top of introductory discounts on IQOS devices to accelerate adult smokers switching. We plan to provide further detail on consumer acquisition, commercial deployment, and economic model for IQOS during our presentation at the CAGNY Conference on February 21.

The $0.16 of favorable currency at prevailing exchange rates included in our 2018 guidance is driven primarily by the euro, Russian ruble, and Japanese yen. We've currently hedged approximately 50% of our 2018 forecast sales to Japan, which at prevailing exchange rates translates to an effective rate of 110 yen to the dollar versus 111 in 2017. This is the first time since 2011 that we entered the new year with guidance that reflects a positive currency impact. While we're encouraged by this development, we should caution that spot exchange rates remain volatile.

While aware that investors would appreciate increased clarity on the phasing of our full year results, while we don't provide quarterly guidance, I do believe that it is appropriate for us in this instance to share additional visibility on our expected first quarter 2018 results. Despite strong anticipated currency neutral net revenue growth in the first quarter, we expect reported diluted EPS of approximately $0.87 at prevailing exchange rates including approximately $0.3 of favorable currency. Our results in the quarter will reflect unfavorable comparison, especially with the first quarter 2017, primarily related to: the impact of the excise tax-driven cigarette industry volume decline and related downtrading in the GCC, principally Saudi Arabia; higher RRP investments, primarily in EU region; and our 2018 contribution of $80 million to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which is fully expensed in the first quarter.

In addition, given the heightened interest around the recent corporate tax reform in the US, I will provide a general overview of the related impact on our estimated effective tax rate in 2018. I must begin with a caveat, however, that our estimate reflects our current capital structure as well as our current interpretation of the new tax law, which may change as implementing regulations and clarifications become available. For 2018, we expect an effective tax rate of approximately 28%. The difference between this rate and the 21% statutory rate under the new law reflects the fact that PMI operates in markets outside of the US and is driven by three main factors: foreign tax rate differences, the non-deductibility of interest expense, and the partial disallowance of foreign tax credits related to the application of the rules for global, intangible, low-taxed income.

It is important to know that under the new territorial-based system, we may face greater variability in our effective tax rate going forward largely reflecting any changes in earnings mix by taxing jurisdictions. With regard to the impact of tax reform on our shareholder return priorities, we remain committed to restoring over time our leverage multiples to ranges associated with our single A credit rating.

Importantly, the new tax law provides us with greater flexibility on cash repatriation. We are targeting operating cash flow of over $9 billion in 2018. This is above last year's level despite our initial payment of approximately $130 million related to the repatriation tax on our unremitted earnings under the new tax law. We plan to use this cash flow primarily for capital expenditures to support the growth of our business and for dividends at the board's discretion to our shareholders. We do not forecast any share repurchases in 2018.

We anticipate capital expenditures of approximately $1.7 billion this year versus $1.5 billion in 2017. The projected increase is driven by hard investments to support RRP capacity expansion.

In conclusion, our robust business performance in 2017 underscored the enormous promise of reduce-risk products, the enduring strength of our combustible product portfolio, and the commitment of our employees to lead the transformation of our industry. We recorded strong full-year currency neutral adjusted financial results highlighted by our highest annual net revenue growth, excluding currency and acquisitions, since our spinoff in 2008.

IQOS is performing exceptionally, demonstrating the importance of our investment and our ability to transfer and apply learnings across markets. We estimate that over 4.7 million adult consumers around the world have already stopped smoking and made the change to IQOS.

 To support our business transformation, we have reorganized into six regional segments, up from the previous four, effective January 1. This change aims to enhance our executional focus and our ability to exploit business opportunities in an accelerated manner.

The outlook for our business remains strong. Our 2018 EPS guidance reflects a growth rate of approximately 7% to 10% excluding currency compared to adjusted diluted EPS of $4.72 last year. This includes significant incremental investments behind RRPs as outlined earlier. Our guidance including currency reflects a growth rate of approximately 10% to 13% also compared to adjusted diluted EPS of $4.72 last year.

Thank you. Martin and I will now be happy to answer your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. We will now conduct the question and answer portion of the conference. Again, in order to ask a question or make a comment, please press * followed by 1 on your touchtone phones.

Our first question comes from the line of Matt Grainger with Morgan Stanley.

Matthew Grainger -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

I guess I wanted to start by asking a few follow-ups on the reinvestment guidance you communicated for IQOS. This is something that's obviously been highlighted and sort of directionally talked about in recent months. But can you just address the decision to sustain that reinvestment phase and what the implications are for investors as they think about modeling out the profitability you expect from your RRP platforms relative to those initial 2020 targets?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

First of all, I think we have very strong momentum behind IQOS, clearly, and we want to accelerate this momentum. So, the investments in our plan are around $600 million incremental. Obviously, behind IQOS there is more amounts of money, but there is a reduction that is coming from the fact that we are reinvesting some of the conventional business back to IQOS. Some of these costs are pure incremental and may be also repeated to a certain degree in the forthcoming years as volume grows and we gain more consumers. Some of them are infrastructural costs including digital infrastructure, increasing the number of retail shops we have in different markets, and the number of IQOS coaches we increase and so on. And these I consider as necessary this year in order to accelerate our growth in the acquisition of new consumers that switch out of cigarettes, but they will stay rather in the base in the years to come. So, I don't expect them to expand at the same rate.

We also need to understand something that-and I appreciate-is the new business model. And we'll explain more in CAGNY, but let's understand one thing. In any given market you need a certain infrastructure to start. So, as I said, shops, a number of coaches in place, a number of contracts with retail outlets, call centers, you name it, OK, that we didn't have to have under the previous business model. Then, during the year, let's assume you go from 100,000 to 500,000 people that switch to IQOS. You need the acquisition costs in the first year because they vary between, say, $400 and $2,000 depending on the market at the beginning and the infrastructure cost. But you get revenues only from the equivalent of 250,000 converted people during the year, so, next year, however, you get revenue from the entire 500,000 in my example.

So, there is always a period when you build infrastructure and the acquisition costs, but the revenues come the year after. And, obviously, the year after you don't have acquisition costs on these particular consumers, but you have retention costs that are notoriously lower. So, in our logic, I think in the years after you have to see the benefit of what you invest this year, and I would assume that 2019 results would be better than '18. Having said that, there will always be new markets that we open, and there will be commercial costs. But as we get ahead of the curve as we see in Japan, where the clearly the bottom line is positive from RRPs, you will see it in other markets. So, I think that's the right business model to grow the business, and when we see momentum, we'll have to put the money behind the momentum. And that's exactly what we're doing.

Matthew Grainger -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thanks. I agree regarding the business model, and the momentum in Q4 was definitely encouraging. I guess just to help us with the modeling of all the moving parts on this to that end, from a capacity standpoint-you may talk about this at CAGNY-can you give us a sense of where to plan to be by yearend 2018? And given the magnitude of the incremental spending, how closely would you expect shipments to track relative to capacity? And I guess the last part is you've had 14% organic sales growth in the second half of the year. You were talking about 8% for 2018. Is that just your reflection of conservatism, or can you help us think through any other big offsets that we should be thinking about?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

We were explaining in detail the progress of capacity build in 2016 and '17 because of the constraints. I think in '18 we have to assume, unless we have some real explosion of IQOS sales somewhere, that we were not bound by capacity constraints in 2018. So, I think that becomes less relevant going forward. Of course, we have to build capacity as volume grows, and we have an increase in capacity because the capital expenditure clearly is up compared to this year. But this should not be something that should be worrying investors going forward because I think we are ahead of the curve just now. So, that's the first thing.

The second thing clearly is I gave a range, and we gave a range of 7% to 10% EPS despite all the investments, which I think is pretty good growth. Clearly, the biggest variable I think we all will agree is the sales of IQOS. I think the minimum I expect is a 65% increase, rather 60 billion plus, but we have many markets that are open, some of them at the beginning. All markets have very good signs of growth, but it's very difficult to anticipate the speed. And that will give us the variability, and that's how we look at it.

Now to finish to give you the other rules of [pump], we said that devices-and you'll have some indication-will always be something between 25% to 30% of the revenue growth. And devices at the beginning of the journey, they're not bottom line accretive. I mean, actually we lose money on those, but that's for a very good reason. Over time, I hope, we'll get there. So, that part does not really contribute to the bottom line at this stage and may sound margin dilutive, but it's a necessary investment in order to switch the smokers. And the rule of pump is always what I gave last year. For every billion of incremental HeatSticks sales, you need to count rather 330,00, 350,00 units. So, that gives you a little bit of color on how to calculate this.

Now, sorry guys and ladies, I understand this is a bit more complicated than before. So, we'll try during CAGNY to give a bit more color on how to better evaluate this thing, but I hope I helped.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Owen Bennett of Jefferies.

Owen Bennett -- Jefferies -- Analyst

A couple of questions today. First of all, just on IQOS, it seems to be kind of really accelerating in Europe now. I was just wondering if you could talk us through these dynamics a bit more: what sort of market share you think's doable for fiscal year '18, especially given the heightened investment; and I'd also be keen to hear what has changed in Italy to see the pickup in share there which is encouraging. And then secondly, just coming back to the spending expectations, you talk about lower spending on the combustible portfolio. Could you give any details on the areas of combustibles this reduced spending will be focused on? What brands? Will it be local portfolio brands, etcetera? Thank you.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

I think what is happening, and, of course, as I said in my remarks different markets have different restrictions, so I think it's a bit more time. I think there are three things. First of all, we learned a lot during these last two years. I mean, we have to be very fair. There are many new things for us from much more consumer-centric marketing, logistics, call centers, coaches, you name it. But as we learn, we deploy and apply the learning. So, that's the first thing. We are much more efficient in the way we approach smokers to convince them to switch. I think we understand better and better, and, of course, as we work, there is more awareness. So, at a certain stage, all of these are conducive to higher market share and an acceleration in the number of smokers that switch to the product and the category. So, it's no surprise to me that we see acceleration and more.

Now, I will not venture a forecast of market shares here going forward, but I think Italy, as you mentioned, is a very good example of a lot of patience, a lot of work, a lot of infrastructure in terms of the amount of coaches and training of the coaches. But now we start seeing results, and in some cities, we are much higher than the national share. So, all this is baked into the guidance, and, hence, as I said, the range is wild because the speed by which things are going I cannot forecast. I wish I had a crystal ball, but I don't precisely have it. But everything is moving in the right direction and upward, so that's what we'll all be happy about.

Owen Bennett -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Cool, thanks. And then on the spending around the combustible portfolio?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

What we tried to do is in every market strike the right balance between what is necessary to maximize support with IQOS without clearly leaving ground to our competitors on the existing portfolio. We also are much more focused on the number of new product introductions we do in these markets because we have increased efficiency and focus, and actually, we have much higher success rates by being much more focused, which is very good news. So, we are not moving money out of the business unnecessarily, but clearing the field for focus and our investment is on IQOS. But I don't see in the markets where I have dual existence of the products because I'm not talking here the markets where IQOS is not available like Indonesia where we continue with a normal investment in the business. In these markets, we don't see any negative on our existing portfolio. On the contrary, that also focused us on consolidating, as I said, morphing local brands into international brands and increase overall efficiency. And that's how I would look at it.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Judy Hong of Goldman Sachs.

Judy Hong -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Just a bit of a follow up to Matt's question about revenue guidance for 2018, I think based on the commentary around IQOS, it seems like IQOS could contribute maybe about 10% of revenue growth. So, I'm just wondering within that 8% plus revenue growth guidance, what are you expecting in terms of the combustible revenue, sort of breaking out volume versus price?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Clearly, we'll see a decline in the volume of combustible both because of the secular decline but also because of the switching to IQOS. So, the volume mix there is gonna be negative. Now, I tried to say this in my remarks. It's important to notice that the pricing variances that you will see going forward have two components because of the way they work, and I think it's important for everybody to understand. There is the combustible price increase on which I think we have pretty strong power, and nothing is lost there. The model is robust, and I will explain. However, as the allowances on the devices and sometimes other incentives we give for IQOS-for example, going against the pricing variance-the net variance is lower than what the combustible bring in assuming no price increases of this or the IQOS hits.

The second element is, to give you an example, what happened in Korea just to give some color. In Korea, we had a higher net ex-factory price. There was a tax increase. The net ex-factory price during 2017 went down. The way you report variances is that you take this difference of the lower net ex-factory prize, but we multiply it by the volume projected in the current year. And that variance, you know, may be big in the hundreds of millions, but it's nothing dramatic because you didn't have this business before. So, it's not the current model where we had no price variance. It's real price variance. It's just a little bit-I wouldn't say hypothetical-but it's a bit theoretical. So, if we take last year, we reported a pricing variance of 5.2%, but if I exclude the allowances on the devices, we'll be in the range of 5.8%, 5.9%, which is no different with the price variance we had in combustibles in the past. That is despite the fact that we didn't have real pricing in Russia. So, next year is going to be higher, so nothing is broken in the model just for you to understand. I don't know if I'm helpful.

Judy Hong -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

I guess the 6% you're referring to is the consolidated pricing variance for IQOS and combustibles, right?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

It's 5.2% this year we reported, OK. So, that's consolidated. If I de-consolidate, 5.9% is combustible, and the negative is coming from the allowances from the devices and other incentives. Obviously, this is going to increase next year-the allowances. But as I said, if you take combustible to combustible comparison, it's going to be higher next year compared to this year, if that makes sense to you.

Judy Hong -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Yes, that makes sense.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

2018 versus 2017. What did I say? Yeah, I was in '17. I'm sorry. I missed the chronology here.

Judy Hong -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

I think I get that. Separately, Japan, first on IQOS, it sounds like if you kinda look at the retail market share performance and your shipment figures, there's sort of a 12 billion or so in terms of additional shipments in 2017 related to favorable inventory movement. And I think the way we should model this is this phase in the base, and so we're not going to see an adverse impact in 2018. So, I just wanted to clarify that, number one. And, number two, JT's view of the total market decline in 2018 seems pretty sizable. So, I'm just wondering what you're thinking in terms of the combustible plus the HeatSticks volume outlook for Japan if there's anything changing from a secular perspective that you see.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

We had to build these inventories for the reasons I explained. So, I don't see these decreasing. If I see anything, if the volume goes up it has to be adjusted, obviously, upwards over time. I'm talking now HeatSticks inventory. Obviously, we have reduced the combustible inventory to reflect the volumes of combustibles going down, and we'll continue adjusting this during the year as it unfolds. So, that answers your first question. The second one is we have our own projection for total market in Japan including, obviously, HeatSticks, and there's nothing in the horizon that would cause any change in what happened to the previous year. Now we all know there is a discussion about an excise tax increase in Japan toward the end of the year, but this will be implemented, if anything, in October and I don't think will particularly 2018. It will have more effects in 2019.

Judy Hong -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Finally, André, I understand your comment about the TPSAC recommendation not binding and it's more advisory in nature as we think about the modify risk application, but I'm just wondering if that is affecting sort of your conversations with other governments as you discuss tax structures and regulations. I think some of the headlines talking about the recommendation potentially could be viewed as something that the other governments may consider. So, I'm just wondering if that shape of the conversation is changing at all post the TPSAC meeting.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

I think we need to separate the regulatory discussions from fiscal, although you're right. Sometimes they are related. I think we see across the world very encouraging signs of various governments and agencies embracing harm reduction through novelty products. I don't know if you've read the reason Public Health England report, but it's a clear endorsement of the product and talks about the harm reduction potential of electronic cigarettes and of heated tobacco product. So, there is an increasing movement-and faster than I expected-in favor of the category. And irrespective of TPSAC, what they will come back, I think the policy announcement of the FDA is very clear that the new category has a very significant role to play in the policy of FDA.

So, even in countries-you may refer to Korea potentially-there was some discussion about excise taxes. I think they all recognize that these products are not cigarettes, and they left open adjustments-and Martin can correct me here because he was much more involved in this as President of Asia-open in revising the tax rates if there is more evidence about the harm reduction potential of these products. So, I don't think the dynamic here has changed. There will be some degree of volatility potentially, but I think the signs overall are very encouraging.

Now, clearly, there are some people of goodwill that take the discussion around the TPSAC out of context, and you've seen titles saying FDA rejects IQOS MRTP. We all need to know that FDA has neither approved nor rejected anything. This is an ongoing process. But clearly outside the US, we're very attentive, and we correct with governments and other people when necessary to put the situation to the right context. But as you know, there are a lot of people out there that would take any opportunity to discredit RRPs because it's not in their interest. But I don't think that's a subject of our conversation today.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Chris Growe of Stifel.

Chris Growe -- Stifel Nicolaus -- Analyst

I just had a question for you to follow a bit on Judy's question and your response to her. I just want to think about the pricing and how that will flow through in the year. Is it right to think about, if we can separate combustibles from the totality of the company, to think about 6% type pricing? As I think about it, your allowances are gonna grow for IQOS and for devices, and the more your HeatSticks volume grows, at least to this point you haven't taken much on the way of pricing against that, that would also likely weigh on that percentage of pricing, if I'm thinking about it the right. Is that the way to think about that?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, except that as I said many times we have to be very careful with the pricing of the RRPs because there is always the right price in order to maximize speed of switching; make sure that governments do understand we're not greedy and trying to benefit from more favorable tax regimes; not making them too cheap because that also worries them in terms of unintended use by young people; and that balance, and also making them available over time through our portfolio of products to all people in any country.

As I said initially, I think it's the right approach to make innovation rather premium because that's more credible, and we've seen that this is correct. We also tried, as you know, IQOS not at the premium segment but in mid-price segments in certain places. We, frankly speaking, don't see any difference in the speed of conversion at the initial stages because that's not the biggest consideration. But over time we need to offer smoker a variety of products at different prices. And as I explained, as we have new versions also of IQOS coming on stream over time, we may decide to keep some devices and a variance at the lower price and some at a higher. So, we'll have access to a larger part of the smoking population. At the same time, we also fulfill our promise that we'll give the product to as many people as possible.

We also need to know that as we gain economies of scale, the cost of the devices themselves is going down. Already this year we see a decrease, but if I take to where we started kind of commercial production to today, we have a 15% to 20% reduction in the cost, which you may decide to pass on the consumers or not over time. So, there are a number of variables here, and the same you see on the HeatSticks as we gain experience and more efficiency in our production. So, these are all on the positive side, but we cannot put them all in the pocket in 2018. But I think these benefits are coming more and more in the year to come.

Chris Growe -- Stifel Nicolaus -- Analyst

Okay, that was good. Thank you for that and then just a question for you on strategy behind IQOS for 2018. Is your goal to get into the most markets you can, or to be deeper into your existing markets? And if I could also ask, how do you factor in Platform 2, for example, and the expansion of that product throughout the year? Does that factor into your assumptions?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, I think for 2018 our priority is to focus and go deeper in the existing markets. It doesn't preclude us from opening new markets that make strategic sense, but I would rather put more effort and go deeper into the existing markets rather than expanding more. And I think that makes sense because we're in a sufficient number of markets now. So, I don't know if I answered your question on this. Is that clear?

Chris Growe -- Stifel Nicolaus -- Analyst

That is clear, and just Platform 2, is that a meaningful contributor-I guess the way to ask that-for 2018? Is that just something still fully developing?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

We're just testing in a couple of places. We started in the Dominican Republic a small scale test to learn better about the product. I can't exclude we will do another few market tests, but I don't see any large expansion in 2018. As I said, we need to build the category understanding in the existing markets, get the momentum with IQOS, and then we can envision all these things in the years after. Now, bearing in mind that as we add platforms to our infrastructure, clearly, they are not incremental because the infrastructure can support all the other platforms: the retail shops, the coaches, everything. But as I said, our job this year is IQOS, and that's what we're going to do.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Bonnie Herzog of Wells Fargo.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

I wanted to go back to TPSAC and the comments and get a sense from you about the potential timing of when you're expecting the FDA to, I guess, approve hopefully your PMTA for IQOS. Just trying to get a sense of when that could happen.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, the short answer is I don't know exactly. There is a statutory time that points to the first quarter, but it's up to the FDA to decide. I have no indication from the FDA when they will take a decision. And then the MRTP, clearly, we know this is one year, but they can stop the clock at any time. As I said in my remarks, we have now the results of the first six months of the long-term exposal response study, that our final reports are written, and as soon as we have them, we'll submit them to the FDA, latest May this year. And I think this study will answer some of the questions that are raised also in the TPSAC.

So, we'll see how this goes, and as I said, we'll stand ready to continue working the agency in order to answer any questions they may have so that we'll help them with the final approval. As we've seen from the TPSAC, I think overall the TPSAC was encouraging, and I think the dialogue as you've seen was very cordial and with a lot of respect to our people who I think did a great job. There were some questions raised regarding, in particular, the specific wording of how you communicate these products to consumers, but I think it can be addressed. So, we'll see how we deal with this with the agency, but the process is ongoing.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Okay, understood. And then on IQOS, you touched on this a little bit, but I'm curious. As you step up spending behind IQOS, can you give us a sense of how long it is taking to convert a consumer from combustible cigs to IQOS? And is that conversion process shortening as either you're getting better at it or word of mouth is increasing? And then should we anticipate that the stepped-up spending this year will be evenly spread throughout the year, or will it be more first-half weighted?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Obviously, as the product becomes more visible, the word of mouth is helping. So, the effort initially is no different because you need to contact people and you need coaches to take them through. So, it takes the initial two to three to four weeks for every person to fully switch. But, as I said, it also depends on the restrictions we have in the market. What we are doing also is implementing digital tools so that some of the consumer explanations and-let's call it-handholding during their conversion period can be done digitally and not by physical coaches, which clearly can both accelerate the number of people and reduce costs. And that's to a certain degree reflected in our current projection.

Now if I take a market like Korea, for example, the amount of coaches we used compared to the market share we have is much lower than what we had in Italy, for example. That's also because there was already a high awareness and comprehension of the product because of Japan. So, it went much faster, and I think this momentum will build over time also as we have more and more markets, for example, in Europe with sizable share. But it's a bit early for me to take into the projections, so we have a more conservative, probably, approach to this for this year.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

In terms of the spending, André, that you talked about and you're stepping up?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Tell you the truth, Bonnie, I don't really know. I think it's evenly spread, but probably can somebody help me here? There is a lot in the first quarter because we are building infrastructure in Europe in particular, and hence the results. But if you ask me how it goes by quarter, honestly, I don't know. I guess the guy can find out and let you know.

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

That'd be great. And then just a final question on competition in RRPs and really how IQOS has performed. Again, you touched on this a bit, but I'm curious. Where competitive products have been introduced, I'm curious to hear more about the consumer behavior in terms of trial of these competitive products, possibly stickiness factors of IQOS, and then what's been happening to the promotional activity to drive trial behind all of these new technologies? And how much are you guys willing to step up spending to retain share?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

First of all, I think it's a good thing that competitors are coming into the category because so far we were the only ones bearing all the costs of educating people about the category. And I think also from an overall public health perspective that's a great thing that is happening. And I've always said that this is going to happen, and it's welcome. I don't think our spending just now is about defending our share against competitors. It's much more about continuing to move people into the category, and I think after that the better product and better ecosystem will always prevail. And this is what we are staying focused on: on continuously upgrading the product, the consumer experience, the interaction we have with them through our call centers, coaches, retail shops, accessories we offer, and experienced ecosystem that brings around the equity. And I don't think we change anything there because we're at competition.

Obviously, we're not going to have 100 percent of the segment. That's pretty clear, but I think there is enough room for everybody. And as we've seen in Japan, despite everything and the limitations we had, even in Sendai we have 67-something share of the segment despite the fact that all the competitors are there and the whole category's constantly growing, we're growing share. So, I'm fairly optimistic, and I think it's very good that others are coming in, as I said, because we're bearing the whole burden on our own just now.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Michael Lavery of Piper Jaffray.

Michael Lavery -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

I wonder if you could just give us a sense of how you think beyond 2018. I believe you've said before that you would revisit that, and I'm not sure if that's still the plan. Was there a time we could expect an update there or how you think about what some of the investments you're making this year get you going forward?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

I think we've discussed this in our investor's day in September if I'm not mistaken. As I said, a part of the cost that is in our base for this year is not going to be incremental or by any means proportional to the volume growth in the years to come. And as we have fully converted people, fully switched people, clearly, we should see the benefit next year. Also, this year in the base, for example, we have two elements. We also have the foundation that's going to be in the base of $80 million per year, and we also have the drug from the GCC that should abide by the year-end. So, 2019 should be better in my view, and then we'll give you a bit more color about going forward bearing in mind all the uncertainty about the volumes of IQOS and the speed of the category. But we'll do this toward the end of the year when I think we have a better reading than we have so far. Although I think, as I said, things are going very much in the right direction and faster than I expected.

Michael Lavery -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Okay, that's helpful, thanks. Then just back on TEEPS, with the Dominican Republic launch, it seems like that's certainly generally a lower priced market. Without the upfront cost for the device, does that give you more flexibility in where that product looks like it has opportunities relative to IQOS?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

It's not an equation of price at this stage. First of all, this is not a launch just a test-small-scale test-to understand how people use the product and gain the experience. I think the TEEPS or Platform 2 can also address a category of more conservative consumers where because the ritual is closer and because all these electronics and the hustle that's going around these is lesser, that I think can attract much more conservative smokers. Yes, it gives you also a pricing flexibility, but frankly speaking, if we take the device, if you take per day, it's probably $0.15 per day. So, on a pack of cigarettes, even in developing markets, it's not exactly an insurmountable amount of money. Don't forget it lasts for 8,000 experiences, and as the batteries get better, it will last longer. So, I think that we have this flexibility to go both directions, but for sure there is a category of smokers that will feel much more comfortable with Platform 2 that they will feel with Platform 1. And I see much more impact there than just on the pricing using as a pricing proposition.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Vivien Azer of Cowen and Company.

Vivien Azer -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

First off, thank you so much for the incremental color around the first quarter. I think that will prove incredibly helpful. My first question, also on IQOS, of course, can you offer any updated views on how you're seeing cannibalization in your portfolio with IQOS continuing to gain momentum? I'm thinking specifically about Japan where it does look like the rate of Marlboro market share loss has accelerated toward the end of the year.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

I think cannibalization rates are coming down over time as, obviously, the product becomes more known. If we take Japan or Korea, it attracts smokers that switch to it from different price categories and up-trading. Clearly, as it is premium position, it will always disproportionately attract people from the premium segment not only because of price but also because the most progressive smokers are in the premium segment typically. But if we look at the initial cannibalization rates and where we are just now in Japan, if I'm not mistaken, Martin, they have come down quite substantially while still slightly above our market share.

Martin King -- Chief Financial Officer

Just a few points above.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Just a few points above. They used to be 10, 15 points above our market shares.

Vivien Azer -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Thank you. And then on to South Korea, could you add any commentary around the competitive landscape there given that there's a third heat-not-burn player in that market?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

As you've seen from the last quarter, IQOS is booming in Korea. Now KT&G announced their product, but they don't have full national availability at this stage if I'm not mistaken. Maybe Martin can explain it a bit better.

Martin King -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, KT&G is still selling through one c-store chain. I'm sure they will expand it as their capacity becomes more available. And it's a competition. As André said, it helps accelerate the overall category, and it comes down to the whole ecosystem and the quality of our product versus theirs. And we're confident that we have a great product.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Adam Spielman of Citi.

Adam Spielman -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Thank you very much. I realize time is going quickly, and thank you also for your openness. It really is appreciated. So, my first question, can you just give us the latest CVS share in Japan? That would be very helpful. Thank you.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Let me find this. National?

Adam Spielman -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Please.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

I have the numbers here. July 2 was 12.8, 14.7 in October, 16.2 in December, and 16.7 the third week of January. That's the reading, so it continues you increasing. Tokyo is faster and Fukuoka also faster, but we're around these numbers.

Adam Spielman -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Thank you very much. That's very helpful. And the second question I suppose follows on from that. I think an ordered amount you said you'd hope to do at least 60 billion sticks of IQOS in 2018. And I was just wondering. Should we think this main increment is equally balanced between Asia and Europe, or do you see the incremental as twisted to Asia and Europe?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

In terms of absolute incremental, it's still Asia. In terms of percent incremental, it's vastly more in Europe.

Adam Spielman -- Citigroup -- Analyst

I was thinking in absolute terms.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

In absolute, it's still Asia.

Adam Spielman -- Citigroup -- Analyst

So, it's really dependent on Japan and Korea and, I guess, any other markets you may choose to launch in. Is what you're saying?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. But in Europe, we have a very big increment.

Adam Spielman -- Citigroup -- Analyst

My final question is around TPSAC. So, the thing that really surprised me was the data that came out that the intent to purchase in the US doesn't seem to be affected by any health claim. And I was wondering whether you think the experience in other markets where you've tested shows that making a health claim on the packs, does that have an influence, or is it the case that actually health claims are not what's important? What's really important is coaching and what you're doing already?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

No. The experience is very simple. Smokers as a very simple question. Is this better than cigarettes for me and for the people around me? And the more clear you are in this answer, the more convincing you are. And then people subsequently ask you what are the key reasons to believe that, if they ask. Now that's a fundamental question. Now it's pretty clear based on the cultural characteristics of people, and we should put as we said also the TPSAC, premarket surveys are as good as they can be, but only post-market you can have an actual understanding of how people behave.

What we see, Adam, is in different countries people have different drivers. In Japan, the key driver is the perception that you convey to other people much more than me. And everybody that knows Japan understands the cultural difference. So, Japan, the fact that we could communicate that this is vastly better for the people around you was an important driver. It doesn't mean that the health is not an important driver for people as well. Now, the other thing that sometimes people in public have to not understand is, first of all, it's not about the label on the pack. It's about what you tell people and also the fact that the consumers that adopt product talk about it. There are plenty of testimonials in Japan of people saying, I feel much better. That has changed my life. And so on.

So, even if there is not an explicit health communication, people do it experience a difference with the product, and that we should take into consideration. And regulators need to understand that. This is how people behave in real life. So, I think having the ability to say that this is better than cigarettes for you and the people around you is of fundamental importance, and it's of various importance in different cultures. It's more important in Europe, for example, than it is in Japan. And I don't think the US is very different fundamentally from what we see in Europe. And even with Europe, you see various degrees in various countries. All these things have to be much more granular. It depends on how you communicate to the individual person because each person has different needs. That's what's called marketing and how you build the category.

Operator

Our final question comes from the line of Jon Leinster of Berenberg.

Jon Leinster -- Berenberg -- Analyst

Thanks for taking the question. Actually, a couple of quick ones, just out of interest, what do you think the total heated tobacco segment is within the Japanese market in the fourth quarter?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

I would guess about 17% national, 18%. I'm not sure. I don't have the number.

Jon Leinster -- Berenberg -- Analyst

You would compare that against the 13.9%. So, you think the rest of the market is 3.1%?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Something like that.

Martin King -- Chief Financial Officer

In Sendai, we had more or less two-thirds share. In the rest of the nation, our skew is higher because the availability of the other products isn't completely nationwide. So, that could be a good benchmark.

Jon Leinster -- Berenberg -- Analyst

Secondly, in terms of Korean product, there was sort of a discussion about whether or not it had broken any patents belonging to Philip Morris International. Is that something you can comment on? Is there any developments there, or is that something that's not being pursued?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

I would make a general comment here that we evaluate any competitive product and look at if there is any infringement to our IP, and we will act upon this. But I will not make any public comment further than this.

Jon Leinster -- Berenberg -- Analyst

Just question on Japan and IQOS then, was it fair to say the vast majority of IQOS HeatSticks sold are flavored, whether it would be menthol or other flavor? Is that very much an obvious dynamic within the marketplace?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, Japan is a very high proportion of menthol smokers, so it's natural that you have a high proportion of menthol also in IQOS. It is higher than the average market.

Jon Leinster -- Berenberg -- Analyst

Is it the majority?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, it is the majority, but it's also looking at where the smokers come from. As I said, the more progressive and lighter smokers are also menthol smokers. So, you have this kind of combination. But, yes, it's menthol. It is not other flavors.

Jon Leinster -- Berenberg -- Analyst

Is that experience the same in Europe, or is that not the case? Do you find people switching across to menthol?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, in Europe also you have a kind of higher menthol than non-menthol compared to the relative market. I think the key reason is very simple. For people who move to the new category, there is a taste difference, obviously, between IQOS and conventional cigarettes, partially as I explain many times, coming from the fact we reduce many of the toxicants. And some of the toxicants have flavor and nice smell like formaldehydes and so on. So, it's probably easier that time to move to a different taste category, but that's fine. There is nothing wrong with it, and whether they continue with non-menthol or menthol IQOS, the essential thing is to switch them to these products. And that's exactly what we're doing.

Jon Leinster -- Berenberg -- Analyst

Okay, and just out of interest, in terms of France, obviously, the French government seemed to be sort of telling everybody there's going to be a sort of €1 pack price increase in March. Given the basis of that, is there any estimate you can give? Is that something you've taken into account? What do you expect in terms of French volumes?

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

As in any market, in France, our pricing is based on the same factors. What is the price productivity of a price increase versus price gaps and versus volume impact overall in the market? So, in the situation of France, where we have a pretty significant increase in our pricing, we try to balance the three elements. And don't forget that France has a lot of price productivity traditionally, and of the new regime that has not improved. So, that's why we try to balance. Now, overall, I think there will be given the magnitude of the price increase, a reduction in overall volume and, unfortunately, an increase in illicit trade, which the government seems to not have taken into consideration. But on the other side, we've gained market share in the past, and I think we're continuing gaining some share. So, overall, we've baked all of this in our guidance, but, yes, France will have an overall total market decline. It's inevitable.

Operator

And that was our final question. I would now like to turn the floor back over to the management for any additional or closing remarks.

Nicholas Rolli -- Vice President of Investor Relations and Financial Communications

Well, thank you all for joining us today. That concludes our call. If you have any follow-up questions, you can contact the IR team. As a reminder, we will begin reporting results based on our new regional structure that André outlined in his remarks. As of the first quarter of 2018, we plan to provide three years of historical data reflecting the new structure by the end of March. Thank you, and have a good day.

Operator

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This does conclude today's conference call. You may not disconnect.

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Maria.

Duration: 89 minutes

Call participants:

Nicholas Rolli -- Vice President of Investor Relations and Financial Communications

André Calantzopoulos -- Chief Executive Officer

Martin King -- Chief Financial Officer

Matthew Grainger -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Owen Bennett -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Judy Hong -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Chris Growe -- Stifel Nicolaus -- Analyst

Bonnie Herzog -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Michael Lavery -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Vivien Azer -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Adam Spielman -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Jon Leinster -- Berenberg -- Analyst

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