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Research Letter
July 2017

Heat-Not-Burn Tobacco CigarettesSmoke by Any Other Name

Author Affiliations
  • 1Institute of Primary Health Care (BIHAM), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Ambulatory Care and Community Medicine, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 3Institute for Work and Health, University of Lausanne and Geneva, Lausanne, Switzerland
JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(7):1050-1052. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.1419

The tobacco industry’s most recent response to the documented harms of cigarette smoking was to launch new heat-not-burn (HNB) tobacco cigarettes.1 Philip Morris International (PMI) created IQOS (I-Quit-Ordinary-Smoking): disposable tobacco sticks soaked in propylene glycol, which are inserted in a holder in the HNB cigarette. The tobacco is heated with an electric blade at 350°C. The cigarettes are marketed by PMI as a “revolutionary technology that heats tobacco without burning it, giving you the true taste of tobacco, with no smoke, no ash and less smell.”2 In many countries, laws that protect people from passive smoke only apply to smoked tobacco products. Philip Morris International claims that IQOS releases no smoke because the tobacco does not combust and the tobacco leaves are only heated not burned. However, there can be smoke without fire. The harmful components of tobacco cigarette smoke are products of incomplete combustion (pyrolysis) and the degradation of tobacco cigarettes through heat (thermogenic degradation). Complete combustion occurs at a high temperature (>1300°C), higher than the heat generated by smoking a tobacco cigarette (<800°C). Typical markers of pyrolysis and thermogenic degradation of tobacco cigarettes are acetaldehyde, an irritant carcinogenic volatile organic compound, benzo[a]pyrene, a carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, and carbon monoxide.

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