One of the world’s biggest cigarette companies is ready to enter the U.S. market with a new type of combustible products — a “heat-not-burn” tobacco device.
Philip Morris International has developed an electronic gadget known as the IQOS Tobacco Heating System, a device that heats tobacco to a precise temperature, producing an aerosol that contains nicotine.
This makes it different from conventional cigarettes, as well as e-cigarette or vaping devices that use chemical liquids.
The device is available in 47 countries worldwide, and it’s set to enter the U.S. market after clearing a regulatory hurdle.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has
It’s a breakthrough for the company, but the FDA ruling isn’t an endorsement of any assumed health benefits of the product.
With the number of cigarette smokers declining to historic lows, traditional cigarette manufacturers see an opportunity to pivot into a more lucrative market with fewer regulations.
There are already a number of websites that sell a variety of Marlboro Heatsticks that can be used in the IQOS device.
“Of course, they have an interest in keeping people using tobacco, whatever sort,” said Dr. Thomas Ylioja, tobacco cessation expert and clinical director of health initiatives at National Jewish Health in Colorado, told Healthline. “What we are seeing is the disruption of the tobacco control movement.”
The FDA pointedly stated that they weren’t approving anything beyond strictly regulated marketing for the new heat-not-burn device.
But even this could be seen as an endorsement, says a tobacco control advocate.
“The perception may be that the FDA may be endorsing the use of these products, which may increase sales,” said Patricia Folan, DNP, director of the Northwell Health Center for Tobacco Control in New York.
Philip Morris says they intend to work with the FDA in keeping the product out of the hands of minors.
The FDA took this into account in their ruling, saying, “Available data, while limited, also indicate that few non-tobacco users would be likely to choose to start using the IQOS, including youth.”
Ultimately, the wheels have been set in motion, and it remains to be seen how the IQOS will be marketed and how the FDA will regulate it.
“The FDA said they’re going to have a lot of regulation around the marketing, but the proof will be in the pudding with how much they’re actually able to regulate it and keep it out of the hands of teens,” Ylioja said.
There hasn’t been a lot of research done so far on heat-not-burn tobacco devices.
However, one study published earlier this year concluded that devices such as the IQOS cause as much damage to your lungs as regular cigarettes.
The IQOS product is poised to enter a market where vaping e-cigarettes such as Juul is already popular.
From 2017 to 2018, the number of high school seniors who had vaped nicotine products in the past year rose from 11 to 21 percent. Vaping in general — including nicotine-free and flavored vapor — went from 28 to 37 percent during the same period.
For many, the appeal of vaping comes with the perception that it’s healthier than smoking.
On the surface, this would seem to make sense: The word itself connotes harmless water vapor.
But even if it’s healthier than smoking, it’s far from harmless.
“Vaping — really, aerosolized nicotine — isn’t a harmless product,” Ylioja said. “There’s a risk associated with it and within the use of any tobacco product.”
Because of this perception of being better than smoking, some might turn to vaping as a way to wean themselves off of cigarettes.
But Dr. Len Horovitz, an internist and pulmonary specialist in private practice in New York and at Weill Cornell Hospital, as well as a clinical instructor at Weill Cornell Medical College, says vaping can still contain a powerful amount of nicotine.
“For someone who’s quitting smoking, he or she may think it’s not a bad idea and that it’s at least better than smoking. But the fact is that when those people go to vaping, they’re getting more nicotine,” he explained.
“When you smoke a cigarette, you’re not smoking the entire cigarette. You rest between puffs and some of it, maybe a third of it, burns down,” Horovitz explained. “But every time you pull on a vaping device, you get the nicotine. The nicotine dose is usually higher in smokers who are trying to quit, so that keeps them addicted to nicotine.”
An abundance of medical literature says that smoking is bad for you. For many, vaping provides hope that they can ease their nicotine addiction with an alternative that may be healthier.
But when trying to kick the habit, it’s best to talk with your doctor before switching to the newest tobacco alternative.
Ylioja says a doctor can help people understand what’s in these products and how they affect the body, along with other means of support.
“We don’t stigmatize people. We congratulate everybody on wanting to make a quit attempt. We think quitting tobacco of all forms is the best thing that somebody can do for their health,” he said.
A new heat-not-burn device — one that isn’t a cigarette or an e-cigarette — is being rolled out in the U.S. market by Philip Morris.
The FDA has given the tobacco company the go-ahead to market the device, but stopped short of saying it’s healthier than smoking.
In a market already crowded with cigarette alternatives, it’s important to be mindful of the risks involved in using any form of tobacco, even if a device seems “healthier” than smoking.
Medical literature recommends avoiding tobacco of all kinds. But if you’re already hooked and want to quit, discuss options with your doctor first.