New smokeless cigarettes claim to reduce health risks, but many are doubtful
Published Wednesday, May 10, 2017 10:00PM EDT
A new type of smoking device that heats tobacco instead of burning it is now being rolled out in Canada, but not everyone is convinced it will reduce the health risks associated with traditional cigarette smoking.
The so-called “heat-not-burn” (HNB) products only heat the tobacco and deliver a nicotine hit without the smoke. Proponents call the technology “risk reduction” -- a less harmful alternative to regular cigarettes. Manufacturers claim it removes up to 95 per cent of toxic chemicals in cigarettes.
A device called iQOS, made by Philip Morris International, is now hitting Canadian store shelves and one store owner in Calgary says sales have been brisk.
“We’ve had it since March and we’ve probably sold 500 units in a couple of months,” Mike Kinch told CTV News. “It’s been outstanding.”
This week, Imperial Tobacco Canada’s parent company, British American Tobacco, unveiled its own tobacco heating product in Vancouver, called “i-glo.” In a news release, the company called the product “a real alternative to smoking,” but said that does not necessarily mean it produces less adverse health effects than other tobacco products.
Long-time smoker and Calgary resident Kim Ball believes the iQOS device produces a fraction of the toxins smokers inhale with regular cigarettes. She said it also eliminates the unpleasant cigarette smell.
“There's only a small amount of tobacco, full leaf,” she said. “It’s less than what you get with a regular cigarette.”
Philip Morris International officials say the company wants to achieve “a smoke-free future.” On its website, PMI suggests that the smoke-free device could eventually entirely replace regular cigarettes.
Its Canadian subsidiary, Rothmans Benson & Hedges Inc., said switching to iQOS is “likely to present less risk of harm than continued smoking.”
“We’re not saying IQOS is risk-free but it is a better choice than continued smoking,” managing director Peter Luongo told CTV News in a statement.
“I believe smokers should know all of their options when it comes to smoke-free products and we encourage regulators and the public health community to conduct their own testing on iQOS,” he said.
But Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said the talk of phasing out traditional cigarettes is “nothing more than a public relations stunt.”
“What the company is doing is engaging in double speak,” Cunningham told CTV News. “On one hand they say they want to stop selling cigarettes, but on the other they keep promoting cigarettes and they finance opposition to measures that would reduce cigarette sales…I think people can be deservedly suspicious of this.”
Pippa Beck, a senior policy analyst for the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, said there is currently no credible, independent research to confirm the claim that iQOS is less harmful than cigarettes.
Beck said her association is supportive of products that reduce tobacco-related harm, but “until we see good solid evidence that these are significantly safer than cigarettes, we are going to reserve judgement.”
Even if iQOS does prove to be 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes, as the company has claimed, “there will still be preventable deaths,” Beck said.
She added that there’s concern that making the switch to heat-not-burn devices will prevent Canadians from quitting tobacco altogether.
Yet these products could be a lucrative new market. IQOS, for example, is made with just one third of the amount of tobacco used in a conventional cigarette, yet is priced the same as premium cigarettes, with lower taxes because it is a manufactured tobacco product. That makes these products very lucrative for companies.
The most recently available national survey found that 17.7 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older -- or roughly 5.3 million people -- smoked either daily or occasionally in 2015, down from 18.1 per cent a year earlier. Smoking rates in Canada have been steadily declining over the years, but tobacco use continues to cause significant harm.
The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that smoking is responsible for 30 per cent of all cancer deaths in Canada and is related to more than 85 per cent of lung cancers.
With a report from CTV’s medical affairs specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip