Philip Morris’ claims about IQOS safety are attracting scrutiny

On August 11, 2017, the Washington Post ran a detailed story, “Big Tobacco’s new cigarette is sleek, smokeless — but is it any better for you?” that highlighted Philip Morris’ sensitivity to a paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine highlighting the fact that, while IQOS produced a lower toxic load than conventional cigarettes, the level of toxins are a lot higher than Philip Morris has claimed, a replay of the e-cigarette debate.  In an accompanying editorial, Mitch Katz, on of JAMA Internal Medicine’s editors sensibly wrote:

Heat-not-burn tobacco products are for sale around the world. Although they are not yet on the market in the United States, Phillip Morris International has applied to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to sell these products. These products threaten the progress that has been made on decreasing the harms of second-hand smoke because existing bans may not apply to these heat-not-burn products. However, as convincingly reported by Auer and colleagues,1 although these products may or may not produce smoke, they release cancer-causing chemicals. As shown in their table, heat-not-burn cigarettes release similar levels of many volatile organic compounds and nicotine as conventional cigarettes and higher levels of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon acenaphthene than conventional cigarettes. They are bad for health because they release cancer-causing chemicals, and I hope the FDA will not approve them for that important reason. If the FDA does approve the sale of these products, existing smoking bans should be amended to include these products.

This is good advice that policymakers – especially local and state authorities who write clean indoor air laws – should heed.  The FDA also needs to be careful not to take Philip Morris’ health claims at face value without true independent confirmation.