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Tobacco: The Promise of ‘Heat Not Burn’



In a decision expected to test the Trump administration’s approach to tobacco regulation, U.S. health advisers will vote this week on whether to allow Philip Morris International Inc to claim its novel iQOS tobacco device is less harmful than cigarettes.

IQOS is designed to heat tobacco but not burn it, and comes in a sleek package that would not look out of place in an Apple store. Most of the harmful chemicals in tobacco are released when tobacco is burned, forming the basis of Philip Morris’s claim of a less-risky product.

To get regulatory approval, Philip Morris must show not only that the product is safer for individual users than cigarette smoking — something that I do not think is seriously contested — but also that it won’t set back public health overall. That is, it can’t be so appealing that it gets a lot of non-smokers to take it up or keeps a lot of smokers from quitting tobacco altogether. The high up-front cost of regular use — the product requires a “heat stick” that sells for around $90 — might help on that second front.

I think the balance of public-health risks weighs heavily in favor of approval. But even if I didn’t think that, I’d be in favor of letting companies make accurate claims about the safety of their products.

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