Tobacco safer when “heated not burnt” say manufacturers – health panel unconvinced

Tobacco companies now say that tobacco is safer when “heated not burned”. A government advisory body has negated these claims saying that even heated, tobacco containing products have chemicals that can cause serious harm to health.

The independent committee called the Committee of Toxicology (COT) has been scanning the evidence on the “heated not burned” products that are available online in the United Kingdom. These are considered to be less risky that that traditional cigarettes according to the marketing strategies. The committee has however said that these should not be assumed to be safe nonetheless.

The committee in its report on these products to the Public Health England (PHE) writes that there are two such products which are widely sold in UK. These lead to 50 percent and 90 percent less exposure to harmful chemicals compared to traditional cigarettes respectively. These products are heated to 350 degree Celsius and 50 degree Celsius respectively they write. A conventional cigarette is burned at 800 degree Celsius. These “heat not burn” products are generally heated to lower temperatures and they produce a vapor which results from directly heating the substances. These are then passed over tobacco to obtain the flavor. Tobacco is not heated directly in this manner.

The chairperson of COT, Professor Alan Boobis explained that there is a risk to health with these products although reduced. The safest he said would be quit completely. He said nicotine replacement patches and gums should be the first step for those attempting to quit smoking. When this fails, he adds, e-cigarettes could be tried and if that fails too, “heat not burn” devices may be chosen. He warned that these were not “recreational devices.” These “heat not burn” products are not safe for pregnant women and are also not safe for bystanders who may inhale the smoke coming from these devices. In this manner these are similar to the conventional cigarettes.

Phillip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco have developed these “heat not burn” products. According to a statement from the PMI, they wish to aim for safer alternatives that could lead to a “smoke free future”. However the marketing strategies of the tobacco giant are aggressive especially in the developing nations say experts. PMI has its iQOS device and British American Tobacco has its own iFUSE device that is marketed in the UK.

The COT at present is also assessing the safety of e-cigarettes that have caught on worldwide. Anti-smoking charities and experts have hailed this new report from the COT and reiterated the fact that quitting is the healthiest option and not switching to so-called “safer” alternatives.

The PHE earlier had suggested a shift to e-cigarettes among those who were unable to quit using other means such as nicotine replacement. The organization however calls use of these “heat not burn” devices as a means to quit as unclear in its effectiveness and safety. Rosanna O‘Connor, PHE director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco said in a statement, “Heat-not-burn tobacco products are not the same as e-cigarettes… There is a large amount of evidence that shows vaping is much less harmful than smoking – at least 95 percent – and we encourage smokers to try e-cigarettes as a way of stopping smoking…People who combine e-cigarettes with support from their local stop-smoking service have some of the highest quit success rates.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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