Could heat-not-burn spell an end to vaping?

If the big guns in the tobacco industry are to be believed, heat-not-burn products are the next big thing in the industry. They sound too good to be true: the taste of tobacco, a nicotine hit, and all for a fraction of the dangers to health contained in a normal cigarette. But heat-not-burn faces a monumental task in even making a dent – let alone overhauling – the electronic cigarette market.

It is believed that there are more than 20m vapers world-wide. That number is starting to plateau, but with conventional cigarettes slowly dying a death in the developed world, their appeal remains strong. Electronic cigarettes are believed to be at least 95 per cent less harmful than conventional cigarettes.

That has led to them being used as a vital tool in the battle to reduce smoker numbers around the globe, with Public Health England last year advocating their use as a quitting alternative during Stoptober – the UK’s highly popular mass-quitting initiative. For the first time ever in the UK, more former smokers are using electronic cigarettes than current smokers.

The fact that electronic cigarettes have been popular for a number of years now means that many of the fears over their longer-term health effects have slowly been addressed. Concerns do remain, with the World Health Organisation suggesting limiting their use and countries such as Brazil, Singapore and Thailand banning them outright. Their use in the workplace has been heavily restricted in both France and some states in the US. Despite their popularity, electronic cigarettes are not a silver bullet in the battle against smoking. So could heat-not-burn be the answer, or is the technology simply smoke and mirrors?

The first studies regarding the new generation of heat-not-burn products have just come out. In October, Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) revealed that, with the Philip Morris International-made IQOS, the intake of carbonyl compounds such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde is reduced by 80 to 90 per cent.

The BfR also concluded that the emission of volatile organic compounds decreased by 90 to 99 per cent. “We can confirm for these substances that tobacco smoke contains a significant reduction of pollutants,” said study leader Dr Frank Henkler-Stephani.

Those figures were backed by findings late last year from the independent Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals (CoT) in the UK. The CoT studied both the IQOS and the iFuse – manufactured by British American Tobacco – and found that users are exposed to between 50 and 90 per cent fewer ‘harmful and potentially harmful compounds’ found in traditional cigarettes. But they also warned that some of the chemicals that remain can cause cancer, and that quitting smoking entirely remains a far safer option.

The early impressions, therefore, are encouraging. But will they prove popular?

A great deal of stock is being placed in what has occurred in Japan. In 2015, heat-not-burn had barely been heard of, but a high-profile advertising campaign has seen interest sky-rocket. From 2015 to 2017, Google searches for heat-not-burn increased by almost 3,000 per cent, with between 5.9m-7.5m searches each month. Big Tobacco have, understandably, been encouraged by this news. Experts have also pointed out that the increase in interest even outstrips the rapid growth in popularity witnessed by electronic cigarettes.

But serious doubts remain as to whether this will translate into actual sales. Both the IQOS and the iFuse are not even available in the US or many European countries.

They potentially face many more stringent tests before their sales are approved – and that is if regulation legislation does not change in the meantime. There also remains very little hard data regarding their safety, while public health scepticism towards tobacco – which heat-not-burn products use and electronic cigarettes do not – continues to grow.

Finally, heat-not-burn faces a monumental task in dethroning electronic cigarettes.

Vaping has had time to work its way into the market and consolidate its position, and it has slowly become accepted in most societies around the world. The global electronic cigarette market is set to be worth more than $5bn by 2021. That number is still dwarfed by the value of the traditional cigarette market – which is currently worth between $22bn-$25bn – but it shows just how much ground heat-not-burn has to make up from a standing start.

So, is there extra room in between for heat-not-burn? Only time will tell.

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