The early results of scientific research behind “heat-not-burn” tobacco products seem to reveal a dramatically safer option than smoking traditional cigarettes. Although heat-not-burn products are becoming commonplace in a number of countries across the world, the U.S. government is dragging its feet on giving the final approval; in short, because it is tobacco-related.
In 2009, The Family Smoking and Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed into law. This law created a set pathway for products which to come to market which could be classified as “reduced risk” products. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration, with the help of the pharmaceutical industry outlined this process of application with a “Modified Risk Tobacco Product” petition. In it, it specifically spelled out what research would be required. The primary factor in evaluation theoretically is that, Does the product lead to significant reduction in exposure to harmful chemicals?
The industry standard for vaping solids is that the heating element not exceed 400 degrees Celsius. In doing so, the tobacco does not combust. In doing so, the amount of toxicants inhaled are drastically less. In using the real thing, smokers can get a very close approximated flavor of tobacco smoking, and the sensory satisfaction and ritual that they are accustomed to. In doing so this product directly targets smokers specifically.
Philip Morris International also conducted a battery of tests with their initial application the FDA, and have several more that will be released by years end. In clinical studies measuring the aerosol chemistry in heat-not-burn tobacco devices, they found they contain 90 to 95 percent less than those found in cigarettes. As such, the heat-not-burn devices did not negatively impact indoor air quality.
Of the 54 devices tested (the FDA requires 18) there was a 95 percent reduction in Group 1 carcinogens that the International Agency for the Research of Cancer says are the primary causes of cancer.
The research went on to measure 18 compounds in the aerosol produced. There were two, including nicotine that were slightly above baseline levels but still under international exposure levels.
Three in vitro studies were conducted measuring toxicity:
- In vitro cytotoxicity of the aerosol produced in heat-not-burn compared to smoking was 90 percent less.
- No bacterial mutagenicity was observed as seen in smoking.
- A Mouse Lymphoma Assay test was done. This is designed to detect mutagenic events. Compared to smoking it was eight times less mutagenic.
Two in vivo studies also found that heat-not-burn led to less lung inflammation.
Tests conducted also show that heat-not-burn devices drastically reduce the risk of emphysema and atherosclerosis. Further detailed analysis demonstrated that molecular mechanisms affected by smoke exposure in the lung showed that switching to heat-not-burn “aerosol reduced the overall biological impact in a way that approached cessation and that long-term exposure to the EHTP aerosol has only little effect on these mechanisms compared with cigarette smoke exposure.”
Philip Morris International has funded research extensively into the risks and benefits of heat-not-burn tobacco and has many more studies set to release by the end of the year. They are required to hire a government-licensed company to act as an audit of their research. It would be nearly impossible to fudge any of the research given the adversarial stance of the FDA and auditing agency. From what we know so far, heat-not-burn tobacco products are vastly safer than smoking by nearly every measure and offer a promising alternative to smokers.