Earlier this year, tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) announced its ambition for smoke free products to account for more than 50% of its total net revenues by 2025 – by October 2021, this figure reached 28.6%, up from 0% five years ago.
There are currently more than 20 million users globally of PMI’s tobacco heating system commercialised as IQOS, and the company estimates that more than 73% (approximately 14.9 million) of these men and women have switched completely to IQOS and stopped smoking cigarettes.
But the key question remains – is IQOS a better option than continuing to smoke cigarettes?
“The best choice is never to start using any tobacco or nicotine product, or to quit altogether, however, we know that out of the 1 billion smokers in the world today, many will continue smoking,” says Rishaad Hajee, Director Corporate Communications at Philip Morris South Africa.
“For those adult smokers, scientifically substantiated smoke-free products such as IQOS are a better choice than continuing to smoke cigarettes,” he adds “The totality of evidence available shows that, while it is not risk-free, switching completely to IQOS presents less risk to your health than continuing to smoke cigarettes.”
So, what does the evidence say?
Smoking is harmful and increases the risk of disease. The smoke of a burning cigarette contains over 6 000 chemicals, around 100 of which have been identified by public health authorities, to be harmful or potentially harmful.
Hajee states that many experts and regulatory bodies, such as the U.S. FDA, agree that the primary cause of smoking-related diseases is not nicotine, but the inhalation of toxic- constituents in the smoke, most of which are formed as a result of burning tobacco. “The fundamental difference between heated tobacco products and cigarettes is that the former do not burn tobacco and when scientifically substantiated and regulated, can significantly reduce the levels of harmful chemicals compared to cigarettes.
PMI’s research demonstrates that the IQOS heated tobacco product emits, on average, 95% lower levels of harmful chemicals compared to the smoke of a reference cigarette. The product is not risk-free, and this doesn’t necessarily equate to a 95% reduction in risk. It also contains nicotine which is addictive.
“Our research clearly shows that when a smoker switches to our heated tobacco product it significantly reduces exposure to toxicants compared to those that continue smoking,” Hajee adds.
“For the adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke, it is our ambition to replace cigarettes with better, scientifically substantiated, alternatives. The harms of smoking cigarettes are universally known yet access to science-based information on harm reduction alternatives remains somewhat impeded,” he explains. “South Africa’s current regulatory framework in relation to heated tobacco products also contributes to confusion about smoke-free alternatives.”
Hajee says that sensible regulation which strikes the right balance between recognising the role of these alternatives in helping those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke to switch from cigarettes, while protecting youth and non-smokers, is needed to put an end to cigarette sales in the country and to reduce smoking-related harm.