Rehashed ‘Safer Tobacco Products’ Gimmick Masquerading as Public Health Benefit

In a recent news article, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC) boasted the successful transition of75,000 Filipino smokers to its flagship heated tobacco product (HTP), IQOS, all the while ignoring that it continues to sell millions of cigarettes and opposes effective tobacco control measures in order to increase its profits.

The tobacco industry has a long history of promoting “safer cigarette” innovations, such as cigarette filters and“light/mild” and “low-tar” cigarettes, often mislabeling these products as game-changers in public health despite their ineffectiveness in reducing health risks.

A culture of disinformation and tradition of fake science

While HTP users may be exposed to lower concentrations of harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke, there isno evidence that this reduces health harms. Referring to HTPs as “safer smoke-free alternatives” is irresponsible.

In fact, Philip Morris International’s (PMI) own IQOS study neglected to report on 53 of the 93 harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHC) on the US FDA’s HPHC list. PMI’s data also showed significantly higherlevels of 56 other chemicals not on the FDA’s HPHC list but found in IQOS emissions compared with cigarettesmoke. Studies have since shown that iQOS still produces smoke, and its emissions are as harmful as cigarette smoke to human health.

The World Health Organization clarified that HTPs are still tobacco products, which remain significantly harmfulwhether or not they are burned, and that they emit additional chemicals not in tobacco smoke with known and unknown harms to human health.

The tobacco industry manipulates public opinion to promote its products. It has hired various consultants, donated to universities, and hired media strategists to cast doubt on independent research on tobacco and its harmful effects on health, economy, and the environment. Further, studies funded by the tobacco industry are 29 times more likely to portray electronic smoking products positively compared with independent studies, casting serious doubts on theintegrity and objectivity of such research.

Tobacco control much more effective despite industry interference

It is unclear where PMFTC based its magical claim that 75,000 Filipinos switched to its “safer

alternative” HTP in the past 3 years, but this figure is far from impressive, as it is dwarfed by proven tobacco controlmeasures (tobacco tax increases, graphic health warnings on tobacco products, and smoke-free policies) that helped 2.9 million Filipinos to quit smoking from 2009 to 2021 despite PMFTC’s opposition and weakening of these measures.

Contrary to industry claims, HTPs do not help smokers quit or prevent relapse, as shown in a recent study inJapan, which is the world’s largest market for IQOS. Many HTP users are dual users of both HTPs and traditional cigarettes, increasing their risk of harm while doubling industry profits.

The rise of HTPs threatens to undermine decades of tobacco control progress. With smoking rates declining in manycountries, the industry has found new ways to perpetuate addiction. The claims of

“reduced harm” distract from the fundamental problem that tobacco companies are the cause of the tobacco pandemic and their new products are still tobacco, still addictive, and still harmful.

Youth-appealing marketing 

Thousands of Filipino adolescents (14.1% of teens aged 13-15 years) use electronic cigarettes, according to the 2019 Global Youth Tobacco Survey. To appeal to youths, electronic smoking devices, such as HTPs, are marketedin sleek colorful designs, trendy promotional campaigns, and fun, fruity flavors. By presenting HTPs as a modern, sophisticated alternative to traditional cigarettes, the industry is initiating harm for a new generation of addicts to replace the 8 million smokers that it kills annually.

Studies have shown that the use of HTPs may be a youth gateway to cigarette smoking by normalizing tobacco use and making it more likely for young people to start cigarette smoking, undoing years of progress in preventing smoking uptake.

Stop the deception

Heated tobacco products are not a public health solution to cigarette smoking. They are a way to keep smokers addicted and to attract new youth smokers and thereby maintain industry profitability.

If tobacco companies were serious about helping smokers, they would stop making cigarettes. If they were genuineabout protecting youths from smoking, they would not have sued Balanga City in Bataan to oppose its smoke-free ordinance and tobacco-free generation ordinance that protected Balangueño youths from the scourge of tobacco.

Policymakers, health professionals, and the public should demand accountability and greater transparency from thetobacco industry whenever it claims to be part of the solution to the tobacco problem that it created.

Author Information:
Dr Ulysses Dorotheo
Executive Director, SEATCA

Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo is an internationally renowned Filipino tobacco control advocate with 25+ years ofexperience in patient care, education, and advocacy. Currently, Dr. Yul is the Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) and a member of the WHO Civil Society Working Group on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and the World Heart Federation Tobacco Experts Group.

Contact Information:
Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Manager,
SEATCA Email: Mobile: +639173124600


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