A little-known tobacco technology, Heat-not-Burn (HNB), has the potential to slash smoking-related death and disease by appealing to the millions of smokers who’ve failed to quit using e-cigarettes and traditional nicotine-replacement therapies.
Unlike e-cigarettes, HNB products use real tobacco, but instead of burning it like traditional cigarettes, they heat the tobacco, giving users a tobacco-flavored vapor. This is critical because it is the burning of tobacco which forms the most harmful compounds found in cigarette smoke.
According to research from PMI Science, the level of harmful chemicals released by HNB products is 90-95% lower than in cigarette smoke. A recent report from the R-Street Institute argues these HNB products, which retain the flavor and some of the rituals of smoking but massively reduce the level of cancer-causing chemicals, offer a new tool for tobacco harm reduction.
“Heating tobacco at lower temperatures than combustible cigarettes allows nicotine to be delivered in ways that retain much of the ritual and experience of smoking,” writes the report’s author Dr. Edward Anselm.
“Comprehensive scientific programs have demonstrated these products present significantly reduced risk when compared to traditional cigarettes. Collectively, they represent a new set of tools to reduce the harm of combustible tobacco,” adds Anselm.
The exciting potential of these products comes from their ability to appeal to smokers who find both e-cigarettes and traditional nicotine-replacement therapy unsatisfying.
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Of the millions of smokers who have tried e-cigarettes, most have failed to become regular users. This suggests there is a large number of smokers who are eager to reduce their risk of smoking-related disease but find the current range of offerings insufficient to help them quit and prefer to carry on using regular cigarettes.
But with the advent of new HNB products, smokers looking to reduce their risk may no longer be stranded between products they find unappealing and continuing to smoke.
HNB technology now offers smokers the possibility to transition from lethal tobacco products to a reduced-risk product that satisfies both their desire for nicotine and tobacco flavor.
Combined with the e-cigarette revolution, HNB gives the prospect of a policy and consumer environment where tobacco harm reduction plays an even bigger role, and smokers who reject an abstinence-only, quit-or-die message aren’t left out in the cold.
This harm-reduction approach offers a win-win whereby businesses and jobs are created and thrive by making it as enjoyable as possible for people to quit smoking. But the role of HNB in reducing tobacco-related harm is not just theoretical; it is happening around the world in markets where they are already available.
HNB products released in Japan, Portugal, Italy, Romania and Russia have proved popular with consumers since they are easy to use, safer than regular cigarettes and adequately mimic the experience of smoking.
A single HNB product, IQOS, has already captured 5.5% market share in Japan after the product was rolled out nationally in the beginning of the second quarter in 2016. Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog is bullish on the prospect of HNB products, estimating that Philip Morris’ IQOS could displace as much as 30% of the regular cigarette business in developed markets by 2025.
The HNB concept has been kicking around since the 1980s but until now has failed to take off and be accepted by consumers. Innovation and competition have produced a new generation of HNB products which are already changing the tobacco landscape, with the head of Philip Morris now speculating about phasing out conventional cigarettes.
American smokers, however, do not yet have access to these products. They will have to pass the Food and Drug Administration’s rules for new tobacco products to be released onto the market. In the end, it will be up to the FDA whether Americans will have access to HNB products which could save millions of smokers from an early death.