Alexandra Thurber

Philip Morris International, Marlboro’s parent company, met with the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee on Jan. 24 to seek clearance to distribute their new tobacco heating system “IQOS” in America. In their presentation, the company acknowledged that the use of IQOS does not make the consumer invulnerable to health conditions induced by tobacco use but claimed the device poses a lower risk to users than traditional cigarettes.

With research supposedly providing evidence for their conclusion, Philip Morris is also requesting permission to advertise their product as a “Modified-Risk Tobacco Product” (MRTP).

The committee reached a final verdict the next day, with a decision against Philip Morris. CNBC reported, “Members voted unanimously (aside from one abstention) against PMI’s claim that its heat-not-burn tobacco product cuts the risk of tobacco-related diseases.”

However, eight of the nine committee members did validate their assertion that if consumers totally transferred to IQOS, exposure to harsh chemicals would decrease. Philip Morris still stands by the device as a relatively healthier alternative to combustible cigarettes.

Philip Morris’s proposal to introduce IQOS to the U.S. heavily relied on citing the mechanisms which work to fulfill their claim. The system is designed to deliver a tobacco flavored vapor filled with nicotine by heating — instead of burning — sticks of tobacco called “HEETS” up to 662 degrees inside its cylinder casing. Think of it as putting the tobacco into an oven instead of over an open flame.

By a process of indirect heating, toxic compounds released when vapor is created “are reduced by 69% to 99.9% compared to the average cigarette on the market,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Philip Morris maintains that the removal of such chemicals lowers the physiological risks associated with smoking tobacco which should grant them authorization to sell IQOS as an MRTP. With a healthier alternative label than competing vape products, the MRTP title would attract consumers who are dependent upon nicotine but still strive to be health conscious.

Philip Morris claims their new system is safer than other electronic cigarettes, but carcinogenic chemicals are still released released during use. The company has also come under scrutiny for allegedly breaching the FDA’s standard of the Good Clinical Practice policy over the past two decades.

Accusations of malpractice include disregarding the requirement for gaining informed consent from research volunteers and the employment of research investigators inadequate in their practice. Former Philip Morris scientist Tamara Koval spoke about the weak communication within the business. Koval said that researchers-in-training in Japan were “unable to describe in English what their jobs were.”

At a pivotal moment in the tobacco industry, Philip Morris is in a tough position as a corporation long famous for its cigarettes. According to The Washington Post, statistics tracking smoking trends over the past 18 years show a dramatic decline in the popularity of traditional cigarettes and a steep rise in the use of e-cigarettes and hookah pipes in young smokers.  

CEO and president of Legacy of Health, Robin Koval, said the two phenomenons correlate to the Huffington Post: “E-cigarettes are cheap, highly available, come in youth-appealing flavors, and they’re new. So no surprise that kids are going to try them. When you make these things taste like gummy bears and cotton candy, you’re not targeting long-term smokers.”

With this in mind, numerous advocacy groups bring up the potential hazards of vaping devices, and many have campaigns targeted at children. The unknown, long-term health issues associated with prolonged e-cigarette use are often debated since they have been available for a relatively short time.

However, electronic methods for consuming tobacco are increasingly popular nonetheless. The future of traditional tobacco companies such as Philip Morris remains unseen as more research is done on e-cig products.

1 COMMENT

  1. Regulation is important for industries whose health impact is undetermined. In Europe food regulations operate under a consumer-first policy that places the burden of proof on companies to demonstrate the safety of their product. In the US, the process is less strenuous and forgiving for the corporations pushing their products to market. Research on vapes is still in the infancy stage. We must continue to determine it’s safety for public exposure and in the meantime restrict its use in public spaces.

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