Debunking the ‘Heat-Not-Burn Tobacco Product’ Myths

In response to Philip Morris (M) Sdn Bhd (PMM)’s recent media release, the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) wishes to rebut the claims.

In the opening statement PMM stated that “we would like to stress that our smoke-free products are intended to be better alternatives for adult smokers who can’t or don’t want to quit”.

We ought to ask why smokers are unable to quit. The answer lies in ‘chemical addiction’ or more precisely, nicotine addiction. Nicotine is a Class C poison that requires a pharmacist’s prescription and it is as addictive as heroin or cocaine yet. This explains why smokers experience withdrawal symptoms within 30 minutes of the last nicotine use and why they may need nicotine patch to help ease nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

As for the heated tobacco product being described as the ‘better alternatives’ by PMM, we want to emphasise that they are not ‘safe alternatives’.

The letter went on to say that “in January, the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) concluded that IQOS did not appeal to non-smokers and youths, given that it contained tobacco and has limited flavouring”.

PMM pointed out that “the US Food and Drug Administration Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee concluded that IQOS did not appeal to non-smokers and youths, given that it contained tobacco and has limited flavouring”. We, however, disagree; youth and young adults may try the product and get addicted to nicotine for life much in the same way as other addictive drugs. It is not because of the flavour, from product positioning by the industry to entice them. Aren’t alkaloids bitter to taste but that did not stop first-time users to experiment with them until they became drug dependents?

PMM’s IQOS name is deceptive because it is the abbreviation for “I Quit Ordinary Smoking” and to non-smokers and youths, it implies that smoking conventional cigarettes (“ordinary smoking”) is no longer cool but smoking IQOS is. It is an advertising ploy to battle for the minds of consumers and to position it in an emerging niche market. The emergence of heat-not-burn tobacco product is paradigm shift to thwart the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC)’s efforts in de-normalising smoking and tobacco use.

We are quite surprised that PMM is silent on the fact that the same US FDA Committee “unanimously voted (with one abstention) that Phillip Morris International (PMI) could not claim their heated tobacco product (HTP) IQOS (I-Quit-Ordinary-Smoking) would reduce the risk of tobacco-related diseases”. It is cherry picking.

Researchers have found that on the contrary to what is claimed of ‘heat-not-burn’ the tobacco plug (HeatStick) used in the heat-not-burn tobacco product, the tobacco plug was charred after use showing that burning in the absence of air had taken place.

As for the low levels of nicotine and carbonyl emissions in the aerosol of the heat-not-burn tobacco product, we wish to point out the fact that a smoker requires a certain dose of nicotine to stop his cravings. In order to achieve that, the smoker is likely take deeper and longer puffs to compensate the low nicotine drawn from the aerosol, thereby raising the levels of other chemicals found in the aerosol as well.

On the point that all the major tobacco companies in Malaysia are manufacturing and selling heat-not-burn and other smokeless products in Japan and Korea, and many other countries does not mean that these devices are safe. One interesting point to consider: Were the heat-not-burn devices sold in Malaysia been imported as a tobacco product or as an electronic device? Did the packaging comply with the Malaysia’s Control of Tobacco Product Regulations that require pictorial health warning?

PMI’s claim that heat-not-burn tobacco product has been developed through years of research and is scientifically substantiated. However, it was not mentioned that there are no safe level of exposure to carcinogens and cancers may take decades to develop. For PMI to claim that its product is safe is rather premature but independent research have shown that it is not as what meets the eye.

German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and some other organisations ‘supported’ the lower levels of chemicals in the aerosol but held reservations in other areas of concern. As we explained earlier, lower levels of chemicals in the aerosol does not mean that the product is safer.

We would urge the government to ban such devices as they are set to replace conventional smoking. It is important to consider the fact that the association between lung cancer and smoking was established in 1950 before other smoking-related diseases were discovered. Until today, close to seven decades later, governments are still struggling to bring down the smoking rate in their respective countries. If this is the case, the government should stop this menace now before it plagues our future generations.


Press Statement, 19 December 2018