It’s a well-known fact that cigarette smoking is harmful. It causes serious disease and is addictive, but technological innovation has enabled the development of different smoke-free alternatives, some of which have been scientifically substantiated to be a better choice than continuing to smoke cigarettes.
Smoke-free products deliver nicotine without burning tobacco and do not generate smoke – hence the name smoke-free. Instead, they produce an aerosol that is fundamentally different to the smoke of burning tobacco. Examples include e-cigarettes or vapes and heated tobacco products such as IQOS.
While these options have been available for some time, there is still some confusion as to what exactly they are and the differences between them.
“This is partly due to widespread misinformation about smoke-free products, and in South Africa partly due to the current regulatory framework which limits adult smokers from receiving accurate and non-misleading information about heated tobacco products,” says Rishaad Hajee, Head of Corporate Communications at Philip Morris South Africa.
“To maximise their public health benefit, there needs to be a wide range of smoke-free alternatives with different characteristics, giving adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke a suite of products to choose from, addressing different preferences so they can fully switch,” he says. “We are often asked if IQOS is a vape? The answer is quite simply, no, IQOS is not a vape.”
He explains that IQOS heats real tobacco without burning it, while vapes heat a liquid which often contains nicotine, neither produce smoke or ash because they don’t burn tobacco.
“IQOS is an alternative for adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke and who prefer the taste of tobacco when considering less harmful smoke free products,” he adds. “Scientifically substantiated smoke-free products can significantly reduce the levels of harmful chemicals compared with cigarette smoke.”
It is widely accepted among harm reduction experts that delivering nicotine without burning tobacco is a positive development for smokers who would otherwise continue smoking. It is the high levels of harmful chemicals, which are the primary cause of smoking-related disease and these are generated from burning tobacco and found in cigarette smoke.
He points out that, IQOS emits, on average, 95 percent of lower levels of harmful chemicals compared to the smoke of a reference cigarette. “While this does not necessarily equate to a 95 percent reduction in risk. IQOS is not risk-free and contains nicotine, which is addictive, smoke-free products are for adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke.”
“The totality of scientific evidence available for IQOS in comparison with continued smoking shows that, while not risk-free, switching completely to IQOS is less harmful than continuing to smoke cigarettes,” he adds. “However, to restate the obvious: quitting tobacco and nicotine altogether is – of course – the best choice any smoker could make.”
He explains that smoke-free products have the potential to accelerate the decline in smoking rates. “When scientifically substantiated and appropriately regulated, this will ensure that smokers have correct information and access to this information and it is our ambition to replace cigarettes with these products as soon and as fast as possible.”