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Published On: Thu, Feb 1st, 2018

Harm reduction for smokers : the case for ‘Heat-not-burn’ products

Bad for you, but not as bad as a normal cigarette – that is the message from a british government advisory panel on two new ‘heat-not-burn’ tobacco products entering the market. The Committee on Toxicity (Cot) analysed data on the IQOS and iFuse and found that users are exposed to between 50 and 90 per cent fewer ‘harmful and potentially harmful compounds’ found in regular cigarettes.

Two brands of e-cigs with the corresponding spare battery.
Equazcion at the wikipedia project

However, the panel did conclude that the devices produce ‘a number of compounds of concern’, some of which can cause cancer. All in all, they felt they were unable to quantify the exact health risk posed by the two products.

‘Heat-not-burn’ devices work by heating tobacco to a temperature high enough to create a vapour but not smoke. Tobacco is burned at around 800C in a conventional cigarette. The IQOS – manufactured by Philip Morris International – heats tobacco to approximately 350C, while the British American Tobacco-made iFuse reaches just 50C. ‘Heat-not-burn’ products should not be confused with electronic cigarettes, which vaporise a liquid usually containing nicotine. Ultimately, the findings confirmed what has now been known for decades – that the safest option is to quit smoking all together.

However, more and more anti-smoking strategies are now revolving around the concept of harm reduction. This new approach involves accepting that some people will continue to smoke despite the well-publicised health risks, and so the impact of their decision should be lessened as much as possible – both for the individual and those around them.

It helps explain the rapid growth in popularity of products such as electronic cigarettes, as well as the introduction into the market of alternatives like the IQOS and the iFuse.

“There is likely to be a reduction in risk for cigarette smokers who switch to ‘heat-not-burn’ products, but quitting entirely would be more beneficial.” said committee chairman professor Alan Boobis.

One of the concerns outlined by the CoT was that people would view both electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn products as entirely safe alternatives to smoking. The CoT felt there was not enough evidence to compare the two, although an expert independent evidence review conducted by Public Health England and backed by the UK government found electronic cigarettes to be at least 95 per cent less harmful than conventional cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes are being used as a key weapon in the war against smoking, with the UK government now promoting their use as a quitting aid in an attempt to wean people off tobacco products. But, in keeping with the harm reduction strategy, some experts feel that the more alternatives to conventional cigarettes there are – including ‘heat-not-burn’ products – the better, despite their not-inconsiderable health risks.

Simon Clark, from the smokers’ group Forest, said: “Electronic cigarettes are a step too far for many smokers, so if the government wants smokers to quit, there has to be a range of products that fills the gap between combustible tobacco and e-cigarettes.”

Author: Lolita Di

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- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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