Smokers and alternative cigarette users as well as those close to them are full of questions after seeing a smoker talk about his experiences using a product called IQOS a few days ago.
IQOS is a novel alternative tobacco product, which is a ‘heated tobacco’ or ‘heat-not-burn’ product from Phillip Morris, the owner of well-known cigarette brands such as Marlboro, L&M and Parliament. The company has recently announced that it will introduce its smokeless products to smokers so that it can substitute traditional cigarettes as soon as possible following their vision of a ‘Smoke-Free Future’ as the company believes that millions of smokers in the world are looking for a safer alternative tobacco product.
‘Smokeless’, so what?
Most smokers are exposed to toxins and carcinogens from cigarette smoke, which are produced by the burning of tobacco, and this occurs during the igniting and puffing of the cigarette. Therefore, if there is no burning of tobacco involved, smokers are safer, however, not 100% safe because nothing on earth is 100% safe, right?
Big cigarette companies are investing more in smokeless technology and cutting out the burning process for us. That technology is called ‘heat-not-burn’ or ‘heated tobacco’, which can be literally translated to “apply heat but not burn” yet still produce aerosol (some may think that it is smoke). Public Health England has followed this group of products and tested them and the group found it was true that these products actually emit a lower level of toxic chemicals compared to traditional cigarettes. (They tested products from three companies: IQOS, Ploom and GLO). I’ll primarily talk about IQOS because it has been mentioned the most.
How does IQOS work?
The main component of the device is a charger, a shaft-shaped holder, which holds a battery and looks like a pen, and a cigarette roll made specially to use with the IQOS only, which is called a ‘heat stick’. (Never put a regular cigarette in the device!) It works by putting the ‘heat stick’ into the holder, which heats it up to a temperature of 350 degrees Celsius (according to the manufacturer) – a high level but not enough to burn – then it delivers nicotine to users without the smoke.
Is (something that looks like) smoke emitted from IQOS really not harmful?
If you’ve read this from the beginning, you will have seen that I emphasized the word ‘smokeless’, but many people may say: “No, I can still see smoke coming out.” This is a misunderstanding that occurs with IQOS (which also occurs with other e-cigarettes). In fact, the vapor from e-cigarettes and IQOS is not smoke; glycerin (VG) has been intentionally added as an ingredient in order to generate aerosol.
How important is aerosol?
In order to fulfil the smoking ritual, aerosol offers IQOS users the same sensation as if they are smoking and so they can get the same feeling. Although IQOS could deliver nicotine to smokers without aerosol (which gives a similar sensation to smoking for smokers), the ‘feeling’ of smoking would be missing. Encouraging smokers to switch to less harmful products that do not offer the same sensation as smoking is much more difficult for those who are less determined and may have a weaker will to quit.
Where can I find it? Is it illegal? What flavors are available? Where can I get more information?
Phillip Morris in Thailand is not allowed to sell it at the moment, probably due to the current e-cigarette laws that may also cover IQOS, but I am sure that they are sold at online stores, where the sellers bring them in from abroad. It is difficult to control the sale because smokers themselves want to have improved health even though they have not yet been able to quit smoking and so they need better alternatives.
Read IQOS info: Evidence review of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products 2018: executive summary, which is a study from England; you can read further information directly from the manufacturer at www.pmi.com and www.pmiscience.com