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Everything about “heated tobacco”

We have already talked superficially about heated tobacco and now we are ready to take a deeper dive into a product that is gaining strength worldwide and might one day arrive in Brazil as an option for those looking to switch to a lower risk product and alternative to conventional tobacco.

Major companies like BAT (British American Tobacco, our Souza Cruz) and Philip Morris are investing in heated tobacco as their leading reduce risk product. Both companies also have vaping solutions with pen-style devices and even closed systems that used pods, so when I see social media comments like “vaping is not allowed in Brazil because of the tobacco companies are lobbying against them”, I find it highly ironic as the situation is completely the opposite and it is these same companies that invented cigarettes who are now hugely interested in having vaping approved here. Brazil has 20 million smokers and almost half the cigarettes consumer are smuggled in or counterfeits, in addition to which sales are falling every year so some sort of switch is inevitable if the market is to survive. Heated tobacco will only be useful for people who cannot, for some reason, get accustomed to vaping or who want an experience identical to smoking, as the product is based around a “cigarette” referred to as a “tobacco rod” or “heat stick”. Despite the fact it uses a tobacco rod, the electronic device heats the tobacco instead of burning it, producing an aerosol vapor that contains nicotine and flavorings.

Heat not burn

One of the biggest problems with cigarettes is the way they are consumed. Once lit, a cigarette’s temperature hits 600º C and it creates smoke containing over 7000 chemical substances. This is the process that creates the carcinogenic sub-products. By changing the way tobacco is consumed, tobacco companies are trying to reduce the associated risks by heating instead of burning it. In order to produce a safer product, the composition of the tobacco itself was also changed. The tobacco Philip Morris’s IQOS uses is called reconstituted tobacco and does not burn when exposed to an open flame. As the name says, the tobacco in heated tobacco does not burn, so it doesn’t release the same substances and it creates vapor instead of smoke. As discussed below, there are already many studies showing that these products are safe and efficient.

How the devices work

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Although similar, there are some differences between the Philip Morris and BAT products, the only ones currently available on the market. The BAT GLO device uses tobacco rods shaped very much like the Vogue or Capri-style cigarettes sold in Brazil, which are long and thin. The company’s website says the product heats tobacco up to 240º C and produces a nicotine aerosol. When I spoke to an employee at the BAT stand at the 5th Global Forum on Nicotine, which I attended in Warsaw, Poland, I was told the GLO heats the entire length of the tobacco rod, which is why it looks similar to a normal cigarette, but it is thin enough to ensure uniform heating. Its competitor, the IQOS, made by Philip Morris, uses a heating element, which means its tobacco rod had to be adapted to work with the device, which is why the “heat sticks” or “heat rods”, commercially known as “Heets”, are much smaller, less than half the length of a conventional cigarette, including the filter.

The engineering behind this choice was also based around efforts to achieve uniform heating. Development of both products shows significant concern for controlling temperature delivery and tobacco rod heating to ensure they do not burn and do not produce any harmful compounds. Below is a video showing some of the IQOS engineering details:

Scientific research

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During to the 5th Global Forum on Nicotine, which Vapor Aqui covered last month in Warsaw Poland, we had an opportunity to look at a number of heated tobacco studies first hand. One of these studies was produced by Dr. Christelle Haziza, who researched biological markers in 3 different groups of individuals, IQOS users, smokers and non-smokers, over 6 months.

The entire study is complex and full of numbers and scientific terms and can be accessed here, but basically it says: IQOS users achieve results close to those presented by non-smokers and concluded that although not smoking is the best alternative, there is no doubt it would be preferable to switch to heated tobacco rather than continue smoking. A pesquisa toda é complexa e cheia de números e termos científicos, podendo ser conferida neste link, mas resumindo: usuários do IQOS se aproximaram em resultados dos usuários abstinentes e concluiu-se que apesar de não fumar seja a melhor alternativa, não há dúvidas que é preferível migrar para o tabaco aquecido do que continuar fumando. 

Another study by a group of scientists who compared the cardiovascular effects of quitting and continuing to smoke using the IQOS corroborates this. Once again, the results from the group that quit smoking are very similar to those from the group that continued smoking using the heated tobacco system, showing there is little difference between using the product and using nothing, which is great.

Despite the good news, none of the studies to date have been independent, in other words, they are directly or indirectly linked to the manufacturers, which generates a certain amount of skepticism about the results.

The first independent study was carried out by Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, one of the most respected people working on health and its relationship with tobacco and reduced risk alternatives, particularly electronic cigarettes. The study compared three methods looking for Carbonila, a substance linked with the composition of aldehydes, ketones and other carcinogenic products. The study compared the results of smoking Marlboro Red cigarettes with a Nautilus Mini (an MTL or “mouth to lung” style electronic vaping product that is quite famous in Europe), and the IQOS. You can access the duty here. The Nautilus Mini atomizer delivered 97% to 99% less Carbonila, heated tobacco delivered 85% to 95% less, meaning it is much less harmful than conventional cigarettes, but not to the same extent as the electronic cigarette. Many other scientific articles and studies can be accessed directly from the Philip Morris website here:

Like electronic cigarettes, we do not yet have any long terms studies on heated tobacco, but there is already strong evidence of its short term benefits compared with traditional cigarettes and switching will clearly benefit smokers’ health.

Who is this new technology for?

Anyone who reads Vapor Aqui knows we have always focused on vaping, on using electronic cigarettes as an alternative to smoking. As heated tobacco and other alternatives gain market share, we will start expanding our coverage to include these new solutions. In fact, we will soon be launching a full analysis of the IQOS, but taking advantage of this article to give you a little spoiler, what we can say is that the heated tobacco system feels identical to smoking, which can increase familiarity and acceptance among smokers unable to switch to vaping or even for vapers who still miss cigarettes and may smoke the odd one. However, you shouldn’t expect to see the “Strawberries and cream” we can find when vaping. Heated tobacco tastes the same as conventional tobacco, with a few benefits we will discuss in our analysis, but basically you are “smoking” a cigarette that apparently poses 85% to 95% less risk, which is slightly higher than the risk from electronic cigarettes, but much lower than the risk from conventional cigarettes, so it could be good news if these products are able to replace conventional tobacco.

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