Is Heat-Not-Burn Vaping Safer Than Smoking Cigarettes?

What Is Heat-Not-Burn Vaping?

Dear Dr. Mahler: I keep reading about a “tobacco unit” that heats tobacco instead of burning it. The information states that the tobacco is heated just enough to release a flavorful vapor that contains nicotine. What do you think? I am desperate to quit smoking because I have severe COPD. I have tried everything including the patch, gum, spray, and Chantix. My friend told me that hypnosis helped her quit, but my insurance does not cover this. Should I consider trying IQOS as a safer alternative to cigarettes?  Andrew from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada Dear Andrew: I appreciate your situation as many others in my practice continue to struggle with quitting smoking. I am sure that Canada has some Help Quit phone numbers to assist you to give quitting another try. Unfortunately, there is no published research by independent universities to answer your question. Here is a brief review of different tobacco products –  cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, and heat-not-burn – to help you and other viewers understand your choices. Tobacco Cigarettes Lighting a cigarette creates a fire that burns tobacco at a temperature of more than 600 degrees Centigrade. This creates smoke that contains nicotine and other toxic chemicals as well as ash. The latest statistics in the United States is that 15% of adults smoke cigarettes daily – an all-time low.

A cigarette sits in an ashtray

Electronic Cigarettes E-cigarettes do not contain any tobacco, but instead vaporize a liquid that usually contains nicotine and possibly favoring. Apparently, many smokers are not satisfied with e-cigarettes because they do not provide the “throat-hit” that smokers are used to with cigarettes.
Vaping e-cigarette may cause e-cigarette explosion

A person vaping e-cigarette.

Heat-Not-Burn Tobacco Products These products heat tobacco at temperatures about 350 degrees Centigrade which releases a vapor containing nicotine without burning the tobacco. Because the tobacco is heated and not burned, tobacco companies claim that there are lower levels of harmful chemicals compared with cigarettes.
IQOS is a product for heat-not-burn vaping

A heat-not-burn product called IQOS which means “I quit ordinary smoking.” Image shows charger and holder.

There are several different heat-not-burn vaping tobacco products called 3T, Glo, IQOS, iSmoke OneHitter, Pax 2, Ploom Tech, and V2 Pro. Many of these are currently available in about 30 countries including Canada (where you live), the United Kingdom, and Japan. Once again, there is no independent research to support the claims that these products are safer than cigarettes. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA has announced plans to cut nicotine levels in cigarettes to become less or non-addictive. For those who can’t or won’t quit, the FDA plans to allow lower-risk products that deliver nicotine without the deadly toxic chemicals. At a two day meeting next week before the FDA, scientists from Philip Morris International and its US partner Altria will try to convince government experts that IQOS is less harmful than cigarettes. If successful, IQOS could then be advertised as the first “reduced risk” tobacco product sanctioned by the FDA.  Please note, the advice provided is not a substitute for asking your health care professional about your specific situation. Sincerely, Donald A. Mahler, M.D.

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.