AN illustration photo of the Philip Morris iQOS heat-not-burn electronic cigarette. Photo: Reuters
AN illustration photo of the Philip Morris iQOS heat-not-burn electronic cigarette. Photo: Reuters

Scientists slam claim that heated tobacco products are less harmful

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published Mar 1, 2021

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Cape Town - An attempt by a cigarette manufacturer to promote “heated tobacco products” as less harmful than traditional cigarettes has been slammed by medical scientists as “deceptive”.

In a press statement, Philip Morris International (PMI), the company which manufactures Marlboro cigarettes and the IQOS device which heats tobacco instead of burning it, said: “While a smokers’ best choice would be to quit, many will not. So what is the alternative?

“For centuries people have smoked tobacco and, within the last decade, there have been scientific advances in the development of less harmful alternatives like heated tobacco,” said the statement.

PMI claims that heated tobacco, also known as smoke-free products, are “an innovative way of enjoying the authentic taste of tobacco without combustion”.

PMI said: “While nicotine is not risk-free and is addictive, it is not the primary cause of smoking-related diseases.

“The burning of tobacco causes the production of the vast majority of harmful chemicals that are the primary cause of smoking-related diseases. By eliminating the burning process, the levels of harmful chemicals generated can be significantly reduced compared with cigarette smoke.”

Stellenbosch University’s pulmonology department head Prof Elvis Irusen said: “The companies will try and fool us and deceive the public. Nicotine is the primary addictive agent that ensures a customer for life.”

As for PMI’s claim that if all those smokers were to switch completely to smoke-free alternatives, it would dramatically improve their lives, Irusen said: “Many of the dangerous chemicals are still present, admittedly in small concentrations, and the heating process during vaping, for instance, can also generate poisonous compounds.”

UCT’s Lung Clinical Research Unit head Prof Richard van Zyl-Smit said: “Nicotine is the addiction-causing substance. It is used in pesticides and should not be thought of as a non-toxic substance.”

Van Zyl-Smit said: “Nicotine exposure to the foetus during pregnancy has been linked with the development of hypertension, diabetes and even asthma in later life. Nicotine (from tobacco cigarettes) has been linked with the development of coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis and aortic aneurysms, stomach ulcers and the risk of certain infections such as pneumonia and possibly TB.”

However, the Health Professions Council of SA’s former president, Dr Kgosi Letlape, said: “Smoking cigarettes is the most harmful form of consuming nicotine, and it is the duty of government to ensure that smokers have access to less harmful nicotine products to accelerate the decline in smoking rates in the country.”

Letlape added: “I’ve observed that there are four groups of addicts in relation to the tobacco industry: the government is addicted to the taxes, the industry is addicted to profit, the smokers are addicted to nicotine and the health-care professionals or experts are addicted to forming positions based on opinions rather than science.”

Cape Argus

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