Smoke without fire? Researchers question heated tobacco products

PARIS (AFP) – Heated tobacco products have soared in popularity as a “smoke-free” alternative to cigarettes in recent years, but a peer-reviewed report has suggested their emissions could be considered smoke, a claim strongly rejected by the tobacco industry.

Heated tobacco products, or HTPs, are often confused with e-cigarettes, which heat liquid that can contain nicotine but do not involve tobacco leaf.

HTPs instead use high heat to decompose tobacco, via a process called pyrolysis, which does not set it on fire or burn it, therefore avoiding creating smoke.

The most popular and widely available HTP, Philip Morris International’s IQOS, is an electronic device that heats a tobacco-filled, paper-wrapped, cigarette-like stick at a temperature of up to 350 degrees Celsius.

Last month, a review of the available research by experts in pyrolysis from Britain’s Nottingham University found “chemical evidence that IQOS emissions fit the definition of both an aerosol and smoke”.

The paper, published in the American Chemical Society’s Omega journal, was funded by the STOP anti-tobacco initiative.

Its lead author Clement Uguna said that IQOS emissions contain chemical compounds that are “in normal tobacco smoke, bush burning and wood smoke”.

“Hence smoke arises simply by heating organic substances and does not necessarily involve fire,” he told AFP.

The paper also found that previous research on IQOS – the majority of which has been funded by the tobacco industry – had compared a stick to a typical cigarette.

However, IQOS sticks are much smaller, containing around 200 milligrams of tobacco compared to 645 milligrams for a standard cigarette, it said.

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Because research by Philip Morris International (PMI) did not use a “like against like” comparison, it “underestimated” the levels of harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs) from IQOS, the review added.

PMI said the level of HPHCs in IQOS emissions – per stick – was “reduced on average by 90-95 per cent compared to cigarette smoke”.

However that level fell to 68 per cent when comparing the tobacco content of the two products, the Nottingham University experts said, calling for more research.