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Philip Morris’ IQOS Finds Itself Amidst Controversy - Vaping Still the Safest Alternative to Smoking, Study Finds

June 01, 2017

If you’re paying close attention to what’s going on in the vaping industry and the related fields, you might have noticed a bit of an uproar recently with regards to the IQOS, PMI’s ‘heat-not-burn’ nicotine delivery system. Both The Daily Mail and Fox News came out with sensationalist headlines, citing a new study that confirms that the new ‘heat-not-burn’ system might not be ‘safer’ than conventional combustible cigarettes. In fact, Fox News went as far as to suggest that ‘the study found “heat-not-burn” cigarettes release the same amount of cancer-causing chemicals as conventional cigarettes’. Quite frankly, this is a bit of an overkill, similar to what the vaping industry had to deal with when it comes to mainstream media.

What Exactly Are These ‘Heat-not-Burn’ Smoking Systems?

Now, if you’re not familiar with ‘heat-not-burn’ systems or the I-Quit-Ordinary-Smoking (IQOS) device launched by Philip Morris International, here’s some background. PMI has been working on an electrical smoking device since 2008, ever since vaping started becoming more mainstream and they began noticing a substantial shift towards it from their customers. Of course, since conventional smoking is going down the tubes in the recent years and they stand to lose a lot of money, they decided to carve out a new market. Basically, they’re muscling into the vaping domain, putting everything they have at their disposal behind the attempt.

IQOS_01_A.pngPMI developed the IQOS, a device that resembles second-generation vaping devices and delivers nicotine by heating up tobacco refills, instead of burning them. IQOS potential users are smokers who find it difficult to replace their habit with vaping. They’re just not feeling it and they want that genuine tobacco sensation, only without inhaling hundreds of other chemical compounds in the process (a result of combustion). PMI has invested over USD 3 billion in research and development of the product they’ve dubbed ‘Heet’ or, alternatively, ‘HeatStick’. They’ve even coughed up another 300 million to convert an old cigarette factory in Greece to fit the new manufacturing needs.

But was it all in vain?

What Does the New Study Actually Say?

Don’t forget, PMI touted this product as a ‘safer alternative to smoking’, while at the same time presumably investing (hand in hand with the Big Pharma) considerable resources into tarnishing the reputation of vaping around the world. Did this new study cited by The Daily Mail and Fox News manage to kill the new ‘smoke-free smoking’ trend before it took off the ground (as of now, IQOS is slowly making ground in Japan, South Korea, and several other markets, but sticky regulations are impeding its global rollout)?


Who knows.


The bottom line is - IQOS might be slightly safer than smoking but is nowhere near as safe as vaping and here’s why.

According to and the author of the actual study, Reto Auer from the University of Bern, Switzerland, what this study finds is that PMI can’t go around claiming that there are ‘no harmful compounds’ in the (non)smoke produced by the IQOS because there are.

The way that IQOS works is that it uses tobacco sticks coated with propylene glycol (sounds familiar?), which are then heated (not combusted) at 350 °C, maximum. This process causes pyrolysis of tobacco, which essentially means that tobacco is being charred to release a smoke-like substance, even in the absence of actual burning. It was reproduced in the study and it was found that the emissions have trace amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), PAHs, and carbon monoxide, which was to be expected, considering what’s being heated.

In fact, the author of the study, Reto Auer, had this to say in the interview: …’the smoke released by both IQOS® and conventional cigarettes is not as different as PMI might wish the public to believe. The same chemicals are present, though in different amounts.’

And here are those amounts:


As you can see, IQOS released lower amounts of carcinogens than conventional cigarettes. The key word here is - you’ve guessed it - lower. However, the results are nowhere comparable to the ones found in numerous studies done on vaping, which prove that vaping produces drastically lower emissions of VOCs, PAHs, and other particulates. So why even invest in a product that falls squarely between smoking and vaping when it comes to health hazards? Whatever you do to tobacco leaves, burn them or heat them up to ridiculous temperatures, they will still produce toxins. The bottom line is, the only reason why PMI is spending all that money on IQOS is to keep their tobacco plantations and factories afloat.

What Does Philip Morris Have to Say About This?

The company reacted fast. A spokesperson for the PMI said that the company ‘welcomes independent studies of their smoke-free product but is surprised with conclusions and study methodology’. God forbid that an independent study should conclude anything that’s not in line with their agenda.

While the vaping community might get an itch to gloat over PMI being treated exactly as they’ve treated others in the past (it does seem appropriate), it’s important not scratch that itch. We need sensible reporting that tells facts as they are, without blowing them out of proportion. What all these headlines need to focus on is the fact that there is a ‘safer’ alternative to smoking on the market already and it’s called vaping. It’s vastly superior to the IQOS and other ‘heat-not-burn’ substitutes and it’s time it starts getting treated as such, instead of being demonized, in large part thanks to Philip Morris International and their cronies.