WHO: Health risks of heated tobacco products

19 January 2018:

Philip Morris International (PMI) has been promoting its new ‘heat-not-burn’ products as being ‘safer’ than its conventional cigarettes. However according to the World Health Organization (WHO) there is no evidence to demonstrate that these ‘heated tobacco products’ (HTP) are less harmful than regular cigarettes.

WHO refers to these products as HTP and does not use the industry term’s ‘heat-not-burn’ because the industry term does not clearly describe that these are tobacco products. Examples of HTP are iQOS (image below) sold by PMI, Ploom TECH by Japan Tobacco International and Glo by British American Tobacco. In Asia, HTP are currently sold in Japan and Republic of Korea.

The WHO has released the latest information about these HTP and answers several questions about these products:

What is a heated tobacco product (HTP)?

HTP are tobacco products that produce aerosols containing nicotine and other chemicals, which are inhaled by the user, through the mouth. They contain nicotine, that is highly addictive and contained in the tobacco, which makes HTP addictive. They also contain non-tobacco additives and are often flavoured. 

How do HTP work?

To produce the nicotine-infused vapor, HTP heat tobacco up to 350°C (lower than 600°C as in conventional cigarettes) using battery-powered heating-systems. The heating device requires charging and the user draws on the mouthpiece at intervals to inhale volumes of the aerosol through the mouth, which is then taken into the body.

Are HTP electronic-cigarettes?

No, HTP are not e-cigarettes. HTP heat tobacco to generate nicotine. E-cigarettes heat e-liquid, which may or may not contain nicotine and in most cases do not contain tobacco.

Are HTP safe for second-hand exposure?

Currently, there is insufficient evidence on the potential effects of second-hand emissions produced by HTP. Independent studies are needed to assess the risk posed to bystanders exposed to emissions released from HTP.

What does WHO recommend?

All forms of tobacco use are harmful, including HTP. Tobacco is inherently toxic and contains carcinogens even in its natural form. Therefore, HTP should be subject to policy and regulatory measures applied to all other tobacco products, in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

For more information see WHO Information sheet: http://www.who.int/tobacco/publications/prod_regulation/heated-tobacco-products/en/