Heat not burn products challenging the electronic cigarettes

In the United Kingdom, there are some 2.9m people who use electronic cigarettes and – for the first time ever – more former smokers are using electronic cigarettes than current smokers.

It is easy to see why. Vaping is seen as being around 95 per cent less harmful than conventional tobacco smoking. Put another way, assuming the risk of electronic cigarettes was five per cent of that posed by smoking tobacco and that only a minority of American smokers would still smoke by 2026, some 6.6m premature deaths could be avoided by 2100 in the United States.

If that number is not enough, consider that it constitutes a whopping 86.7m life years.

Electronic cigarettes are now being used as a vital tool in the battle to reduce smoker numbers around the globe. That is better late than never, although the fact that global electronic cigarette numbers are slowing suggests various government health bodies may have missed a trick in exploiting their reduced health risks earlier.

But if those organisations have been slow in coming to the party, take a look at Big Tobacco and, more specifically, their heat-not-burn products. It is only now that approved, high-profile heat-not-burn products are hitting the market, with the Philip Morris International-made IQOS and the iFuse, made by British American Tobacco.

‘Heat-not-burn’ technology works by warming tobacco to a temperature high enough to create a vapour but not smoke. Tobacco is burned at around 800C in a conventional cigarette, while electronic cigarettes work by converting nicotine into a vapour. Remarkably, heat-not-burn products have actually been around since the late 1980s, yet they have never captured the public’s imagination.

That is largely because people have never been truly convinced that they offer a health risk significantly lower than traditional cigarettes or their electronic cousins. Two studies released late last year go some way to addressing those concerns. In October, Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) revealed that, with the IQOS, the 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,” said study leader Dr Frank Henkler-Stephani. Those figures were backed by findings late last year from the independent Committee of Toxicity of Chemicals (CoT) in the UK.

The CoT studied both the IQOS and the iFuse and found that users are exposed to between 50 and 90 per cent fewer ‘harmful and potentially harmful compounds’ found in traditional cigarettes. But they also warned that some of the chemicals that remain can cause cancer, and that quitting smoking entirely remains a far safer option.

Heat-not-burn products could go some way to clawing back business for Big Tobacco. In Japan, where the technology has been heavily marketed since 2014, there has been a rise in popularity. On the other hand, electronic cigarettes are being given a far easier ride when it comes to regulation, with the US extending the deadline for manufacturers to apply for a tobacco product review. Enough to guarantee a foothold in the market ?