The FDA and iQOS Situation
The fate of Philip Morris’ iQOS e-cigarette in America will soon be known once the FDA makes a decision about whether it constitutes less of a danger than cigarette smoking. Currently the iQOS is sold in over thirty markets outside of the United States even though many other e-cigarettes are sold in North America.
The difference between the iQOS and other e-cigarettes is that the former uses real tobacco while other e-cigarettes use e-liquid. E-liquid, or e-juice, contains nicotine but not tobacco, so devices that use it do not receive the same type of scrutiny to which the iQOS is being subjected. The FDA will listen to an independent advisory committee before it makes a decision.
A Closer Look at the iQOS
A detailed look at the iQOS can be found in this review of the iQOS but here is a brief summary. The iQOS is an electronic device that heats, but does not burn, tobacco. The tobacco in the iQOS is heated up to the point where it produces vapor but not smoke. Tobacco burns at 1112°F (600°C) whereas the iQOS reaches a maximum temperature of 662°F (350°C), well below tobacco’s combustion point.
The appeal of the iQOS is that it is the closest a smoker can get to smoking a traditional cigarette without actually doing so. The fact that each iQOS heat stick looks more like a cigarette than other e-cigarettes do only adds to the appeal.
Concerns Over the iQOS
Philip Morris claims that the iQOS produces at least 95% fewer harmful chemicals than the smoke produced by tobacco combustion. They believe that it constitutes a reduced risk and should be allowed to be sold in the US marketplace. However, many anti-tobacco activists do not believe that any tobacco company is qualified to make such a claim since they are inherently biased.
Those on the opposite side of the argument believe that devices that heat, but not burn, tobacco are a viable alternative to smoking. They believe that these devices might be able to help some people quit smoking entirely or help them transition to a less harmful project. The head of the FDA’s tobacco division, Mitch Zeller, refers to a continuum of risk regarding tobacco products.
Lozenges and nicotine gum are the least risky and cigarettes are the riskiest, the goal of the FDA is to shift smokers from high risk to low risk products. Philip Morris believes that the iQOS is a lower risk than conventional cigarettes.
Results of iQOS Testing
A preliminary review by the FDA shows that the iQOS “contains lower levels of harmful and potentially harmful compounds than cigarettes” and that the effects of the iQOS’ aerosol “are generally less severe and observed at much higher concentrations” than cigarette smoke. Full results of the carcinogenic potential of the iQOS are pending and will become available later this year.
More results from the study found that vapor from the iQOS was less damaging to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems than cigarette smoke. So far, the studies conducted under the FDA’s test conditions have shown that the iQOS has a lower toxic potential than cigarette smoke. However, the test cannot say whether it reduces the risk of non-cancerous tobacco related diseases in the long term.
The Future of the iQOS in America
In order to be approved by the FDA, Philip Morris must show that the iQOS is good for protecting the public’s health. This means that the iQOS cannot present a danger to the public even if it is beneficial to the person using it.
The iQOS could be sold in America without being promoted as a less dangerous alternative to cigarettes; however, that is not how Philip Morris wants the iQOS to be marketed. The other, easier option is to claim that cigarette smoke exposes users to far more harmful compounds than the iQOS does. If successful, the iQOS would be the first vaping product allowed to advertise as being less harmful than cigarettes.
The Effect of the iQOS Ruling on the Vaping Industry
The significance to the vaping industry is that the ruling could potentially affect how alternatives to smoking, like e-cigarettes and dry herb vaporizers, are marketed. The claims made by Philip Morris about the less harmful nature of the iQOS could also apply to both types of devices.
A ruling against the classification of the IQOS as being less harmful than smoking will not negatively affect the forward momentum of the vaping industry. However, a ruling in Philip Morris’ favor could give the industry a big boost towards mainstream acceptance. The only thing left to do is wait and see.