UK and Germany

Government advisory panels in both Germany and the UK have independently concluded that ‘heat-not-burn’ tobacco devices do pose health risks to users. However, they did find that such products were markedly less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) revealed in October that, after studying the Philip Morris-made IQOS, intake of carbonyl compounds such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde is reduced by 80 to 90 per cent. The BfR also concluded that the emission of volatile organic compounds decreased by 90 to 99 per cent.

“We can confirm for these substances that tobacco smoke contains a significant reduction of pollutants,” added Dr Frank Henkler-Stephani who supervised the study.

Those figures have now been backed by findings earlier this month from independent Committee of Toxicity of Chemicals (CoT) in the UK. The CoT studied both the IQOS and the British American Tobacco-made iFuse and found that users are exposed to between 50 and 90 per cent fewer ‘harmful and potentially harmful compounds’ found in traditional cigarettes.

The difference in percentages was largely down to the nature of the two products in question and the temperatures at which they heat tobacco. ‘Heat-not-burn’ devices warm tobacco to a temperature high enough to create a vapour but not smoke.  The IQOS heats tobacco to approximately 350C, while the iFuse reaches just 50C. Tobacco is burned at around 800C in a conventional cigarette.

However, while reporting their findings to Public Health England, the CoT also revealed the devices produce ‘a number of compounds of concern’, some of which can cause cancer.

They also stressed that giving up smoking all together remained by far the safest option. Philip Morris International welcomed the findings. “We believe that smoke-free alternatives, including heated tobacco products like IQOS and e-cigarettes, have significant potential to be less harmful than cigarettes and can play an important role for smokers and public health,” said a spokesman for the company.

Nevertheless, the BfR did have concerns. While they acknowledged that ‘heat-not-burn’ products offered a less harmful alternative to current smokers, it may be offset by non-smokers taking up the product. Philip Morris International countered this by emphasising that their advertising for the IQOS revolved around ‘a new way to enjoy tobacco’ rather than attracting non-smokers.

The IQOS and iFuse also fit neatly into the policy of harm reduction being heavily pursued in both the UK and USA in the battle to reduce smoker numbers. The BfR, meanwhile, was wary of making health recommendations off the back of their research.

“We would expect this substantial reduction in pollutants to affect health risks,” said Dr Henkler-Stephani. “Nevertheless, recommendations are problematic because the emissions of tobacco heaters are still mutagenic.”

The BfR will continue their research into 2018 : they recently published another study focusing on HnB in the May issue of the Archives of Toxicology wich « confirmed reductions of relevant toxicants by about 80-99% » .  « The strongly reduced HPHC levels in the emissions of the analyzed HNB device are likely to reduce toxicant exposure » the study went on.

They were not alone in encountering limitations. The CoT claimed there had been a ‘marked difference’ in the data provided by the two manufactures, while there was also a lack of independent information available on both products. They also admitted there was not as much real-world data on which they could base their findings as they would have liked.

Both reports are at odds with research from the University of California, San Francisco, which found that ‘heat-not-burn’ products are almost as bad for health as conventional cigarettes.

Ultimately though, the BfR and CoT results are being seen as positive steps for ‘heat-not-burn’ products representing a viable alternative to traditional tobacco smoking.