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Study Finds IQOS Heat-Not-Burn Cigarette Still Releases Carcinogens

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Bern, in Switzerland has found that the popular IQOS heat-not-burn cigarette produced by Philip Morris releases many of the same cancer-inducing chemicals found in regular cigarette smoke, including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

PMI-IQOSPhilip Morris has been promoting the IQOS as a less dangerous alternative to classic tobacco cigarettes, claiming that it contains 90% less toxins. However, that’s not what Dr. Reto Auer and his colleagues at the University of Bern found when comparing the new device with an old fashioned cigarette. In a study that was recently published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, they write that not only dis the IQOS release many of the same carcinogens found in cigarette smoke, but it “released some of these chemicals in much higher concentrations that conventional cigarettes.”

While the exact methodology was not presented in the study’s press release, we know that researchers used a smoking machine to generate smoke from both the Philip Morris IQOS and a Lucky Strick Blue Light cigarette. Their analysis of the smoke revealed that “harmful chemicals were present in IQOS smoke, though in lower concentrations, on average.”

“However, there is no safe minimum limit for some of the chemicals,” Dr. Auer told Reuters. “And some of these chemicals may contribute to the high mortality rate of smokers.”

In the introduction of their published study, the authors write “Smokers and non-smokers need accurate information about toxic compounds released in IQOS smoke. This information should come from sources independent of the tobacco business, but the only analyses we founds come from PMI (Philip Morris International) and PMI competitors.” Theirs was apparently the first independent study on the massively popular heat-not-burn cigarette.

As a result of their findings, Dr. Auer and his team recommend “that heated tobacco products should fall under the same indoor smoking bans in place for conventional cigarettes to prevent bystanders from breathing the fumes.”

Interestingly, Philip Morris responded to the findings of the recent study: “We welcome independent research on our smoke-free products. However, we are surprised by some of the study methodologies and conclusions,” a company spokesperson told the Daily Mail. “The presence of some harmful compounds is presented as news, while it is not. What matters is that the levels of such compounds are drastically reduced compared to the levels found in cigarette smoke.”

“There can of course be disagreement in science. We are open to discuss differences, and believe this is best achieved by comparing methodologies and discussing results,” PMI added.

As a result of their findings, Dr. Reto Auer and his colleagues at the University of Bern recommend “that heated tobacco products should fall under the same indoor smoking bans in place for conventional cigarettes to prevent bystanders from breathing the fumes”. They add that more research is needed to find out whether IQOS is safer for users and bystanders.

Now, after hearing the same “we need more evidence” excuse being used over and over to justify an aggressive stance against electronic cigarettes, and without having seen the exact results of this research, I would say that there is no reason to panic yet. Maybe the IQOS does contain some levels of carcinogens, but, as PMI points out, the levels of these toxins in comparison to combustible cigarettes, are important, at least from a “reduced risk” perspective.

At the same time, I remember that just a few weeks ago, renowned French pneumologist Bertrand Dautzenberg warned about the dangers of heat-not-burn devices in general, and the IQOS in particular.

“No, it’s no less harmful than a cigarette, it is a tobacco product,” Dautzenberg said. “By claiming that this product poses less risk to our health, Philip Morris is running an illegal campaign, and French and European laws prohibit such allegations. IQOS was created to nurture addiction and seduce non-smokers. It’s smoking, an umpteenth attempt to manipulate the industry. It is the same principle as 50 years ago: the filter-less blonde cigarette was invented to replace the brown one, but a Kalashnikov and a pistol have something in common, they both kill.”

I guess that in this case, we really have to wait for more objective research to find out if the IQOS is better than cigarettes.

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