Heat Not Burn Products

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To secure the tobacco industry’s medium to long-term future, in light of growing tobacco regulations and a rapidly shrinking cigarette market, tobacco companies have been looking to develop and market so-called ‘Next Generation Products’ (NGPs), which include snus, e-cigarettes, and Heat Not Burn (HNB) tobacco products.[1][2] This overview page focuses on HNB products. It explains what these products are, summarises tobacco company investments in this product segment, and discusses the main public health debates around these products. This page does not include research updates on the potential health benefits/risks of HNB products.


Unlike e-cigarettes, HNB products contain tobacco. According to tobacco companies, by heating the tobacco, rather than burning like conventional cigarettes, the formation of cancer-causing chemicals created at high temperature associated with combustion is significantly reduced.[3] This tobacco industry reduced-risk claim has yet to be verified by independent scientific evidence, as discussed in the Harm Reduction section below.

In 2017, the British Government classified HNB products into three categories:[4]

1. Processed tobacco heated directly to produce vapour;
2. Processed tobacco designed to be heated in a vaporiser;
3. Devices that produce vapour from non-tobacco sources, where the vapour is then passed over processed tobacco to flavour the vapour.

The image gallery below shows examples of HNB products. Unless otherwise stated, images are screenshots from the manufacturers’ websites taken in June 2017.

Despite significant media attention of the tobacco industry’s HNB pursuits,[5][6][7] and the technology marketed as ‘a real game changer’,[8] HNB tobacco products represented only 0.3% of the value of the global tobacco market in August 2017 according to market research company Euromonitor.[1] Cigarettes continued to dominate the tobacco market with 89.8% market share, loose tobacco accounted for 3.5% of the market, cigars 3.4%, smokeless tobacco 1.6%, and e-cigarettes 1.3%.[1]

Heat Not Burn Technology Pioneered in 1980s

Image 1: Accord Advertisement by Starcom Media Services[10]

HNB technology is not new. It was first developed by tobacco companies in the 1980s to address concerns about second-hand smoke exposure. In 1988, American tobacco company RJ Reynolds (RJR) launched the first HNB product, Premier, in several American cities.[11][12] The company’s objective behind developing Premier was to “produce a cigarette which provided the enjoyment and satisfaction of other cigarettes, but without many of the perceived negatives”.[12] Richard Kampe, then President RJR Development, said: “What it all comes down to is a cleaner smoke for smokers and those around them”.[13] Premier was withdrawn from the market early 1989 reportedly because smokers “did not like Premier’s taste or smell”.[14]

In 1996 RJR started test marketing its second HNB product called Eclipse, marketed to smokers under the slogan “imagine the unimaginable”.[15] The company purported that Eclipse was a new cigarette “with nearly 90 percent less second-hand smoke”.[16] This claim was refuted in 2002 by an independent study which found that Eclipse was at least as toxic as conventional cigarettes.[17] The product was on the American market until 2014.

In 1998, Philip Morris launched its first HNB product called Accord under the slogan “the time is right”.[18] The company commissioned Starcom Media Service to run a media campaign to create awareness of the product and communicate its perceived benefits, including reduced second-hand smoke, smoke odour and ash.[10][19] Accord remained on the market until 2006, when it was discontinued due to poor sales.[20] Consumers allegedly complained that the product was not as satisfying as conventional cigarettes.[20] In 2007, PMI briefly rebranded Accord to Heatbar and trialled the product on the Swiss and Australian markets. It’s unclear when the product was withdrawn from these markets.

it appears as though none of the first and second generation HNB products gained commercial success, and none were marketed as potentially less harmful. A 2016 study by Dutra et al[21] concluded that the tobacco industry’s early HNB pursuits were primarily driven by non-health related reasons, in particular to evade smoke-free regulations and to complement, rather than compete with, conventional cigarettes.

A New Take on an Old Idea

HNB products re-emerged in 2010 when Japan Tobacco International (JTI) launched HNB product ZeroStyle Mint in Japan.[9]Euromonitor International. Meeting the new challenges – Corporate strategy in Tobacco. May 2011</ref> Like earlier HNB products, the motivation behind ZeroStyle Mint was to reduce second-hand smoke exposure. The product was marketed to be used “in places where consideration needs to be given for those nearby.”[22]

From 2014, there was a marked increase in new HNB product launches by tobacco companies. RJR launched Revo (allegedly a revamped version of Eclipse) under the banner “an unconventional cigarette”,[23] PMI introduced IQOS (allegedly a revamped version of Accord) under the banner “this changes everything”,[24] and BAT launched iFuse in 2015.[25]

By early 2018, all transnational tobacco companies except Imperial Tobacco had included HNB products in their product portfolio.

Japan Tobacco International

In March 2010, JTI introduced ZeroStyle Mint.[9] That same year the company acquired a 27% share in San Francisco-based entrepreneurial company Ploom, signing an agreement to commercialise Ploom’s HNB products outside the US.[26] Ploom’s HNB products heat small pods of tobacco. In February 2015, JTI and Ploom (henceforth trading under the name ‘Pax Labs’) ended their partnership and JTI acquired the intellectual property rights for Ploom HNB products.[27] One year later JTI launched an upgraded version, called PloomTech. In February 2018 the company announced that it would launch another HNB product by the end of the year.[28]

Philip Morris International

PMI launched IQOS (which reportedly stands for I Quit Ordinary Smoking[29]) in the second half of 2014 in Italy, and later trialled the product in Japan.[30] The electronic device heats tobacco sticks and in February 2018 IQOS was the most widely distributed HNB product, available in Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Palestine, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and the UK.[31] PMI has also been testing a HNB product with a carbon tip, called Teeps. PMI alleges that this HNB product is much closer to the look and feel of a conventional cigarette than IQOS.[32]

British American Tobacco

BAT initially focused its NGP investment on e-cigarettes (for more detail see the page on E-Cigarettes: British American Tobacco). In 2015, BAT entered the HNB market with the launch of iFuse, a product that heats an e-liquid, with creates a vapour which is passed through a tobacco pod (similar to JTI’s PloomTech).[33] In 2016, BAT launched Glo which the company has claimed to be “a real game changer for consumers”.[8]Glo, like IQOS, uses a battery operated device to heat tobacco sticks (called Neostiks and sold under BAT’s cigarette brand Kent).[34] According to BAT, Glo is a simpler and more practical alternative to IQOS.[35] In 2017, the product was sold in five countries, but BAT has said that it aimed to roll Glo in a further 16 markets in 2018.[36]

Imperial Tobacco

Despite a February 2018 statement[37] made by Imperial Tobacco claiming that the company trialled a HNB product in December 2017, Imperial Tobacco was the only transnational tobacco company not selling HNB products in early 2018. The company’s NGP strategy has largely focused on e-cigarettes, and previously it publicly dismissed HNB health claims made by its competitors, asserting “there’s no difference really between those products and traditional tobacco products” and “It’s probably better described generically as ‘heat and burn’ rather than ‘heat not burn’”.[38] In 2015, Imperial Tobacco scientists published a study in the Environmental Analytical Chemistry journal that concluded that PMI’s IQOS released tobacco-containing side stream emissions, and as such, the scientists recommended that HNB products should be covered by smoke-free legislation.[39]

For more information on Imperial’s NGP investments, go to Next Generation Products: Imperial Tobacco.

Harm Reduction: A Tobacco Solution to a Tobacco Problem?

RJR’s executive Steven Alderman testified in an American court in 2016 that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ tobacco product.[40] Yet, some tobacco manufacturers have marketed HNB products with direct and indirect claims that they are less toxic or less harmful than conventional cigarettes.[41][42] BAT and PMI have set up dedicated websites (bat-science.com, pmiscience.com) to showcase their harm reduction HNB efforts, and have published their findings in scientific journals.[43][44] In December 2016, PMI submitted a ‘modified risk’ IQOS application with the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which if successful, would allow PMI to market IQOS in the US as ‘reduced risk’.[45] BAT has indicated that it will undertake regulatory similar steps with Glo.[23] In January 2018, the Tobacco Products Advisory Committee (TPSAC) to the FDA, following careful scrutiny of PMI IQOS data, recommended against approving PMI’s application to market IQOS as ‘reduced risk’. The Committee concluded that the data had shown that IQOS users were exposed to lower levels of harmful chemicals, but had not demonstrated that this would translate into a measurable reduction in death and disease.[46]

Public health advocates have cautioned that the short and long-term effects on the health of the consumer of HNB products remain unclear, and that due to the tobacco industry’s long history of deceit over the health risks of smoking,[47] there is an urgent need for independent evidence.[48][49][50]

According to the World Health Organization (WHO):

“this generation of HTPs [heated tobacco products - HNB tobacco products] has not been on the market long enough for potential effects to be studied. Conclusions cannot yet be drawn about their ability to assist with quitting smoking (cessation), their potential to attract new youth tobacco users (gateway effect), or the interaction in dual use with other conventional tobacco products and e-cigarettes. Future independent studies should address these effects, as well as the safety and risk of HTPs [HNB tobacco products].”[51]

A new body of evidence is emerging that suggests that HNB products may be more harmful to health than tobacco companies would like us to believe. In May 2017, Auer and colleagues published a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine which challenged PMI’s claim that IQOS heats tobacco ‘without combustion fire, ash, or smoke’, and accused the company of “dancing around the definition of smoke to avoid indoor-smoking bans”.[52] According to the authors, PMI has misappropriated the popular, yet scientifically incorrect, perception that combustion releases harmful chemicals and creates smoke. Rather, the authors argue, it’s incomplete combustion (a chemical process known as ‘pyrolysis’) which produces cancer causing chemicals. Importantly, the authors demonstrate that pyrolysis occurs in IOQS.[52]

In addition, in December 2017 a number of former PMI employees and contractors described to Reuters “a number of irregularities” involving clinical trials that underpin PMI’s application to the FDA.[53] Tamara Koval, who worked from PMI from 2012 to 2014 and who was directly involved in these clinical trials, told Reuters that she questioned the quality of the researchers and laboratories contracted to carry out the experiments, and that when she had highlighted an irregularity in one the studies, PMI had excluded her from meetings. Reuters’ own investigations found that PMI had dropped one particular experiment because the basic procedure for obtaining informed consent from trial participants had not been followed. Speaking to the investigator in charge of that particular experiment, Reuters was told that he “knew nothing about tobacco”. Reuters also reported that a second investigator had submitted urine samples exceeding human levels, and a third had told Reuters that he “doesn’t hold such company-sponsored clinical trials in high regard, describing them as ‘dirty’ because their purpose is more commercial than scientific”.[53] PMI’s response to the Reuters report was that “all studies were conducted by suitably qualitied and trained Principle Investigators”, and that PMI had “taken steps to address any reported irregularities in our studies”.[53]

HNB Adoption Rates

BAT, PMI and JTI have used Japan, and to a lesser degree South Korea, as a trial market for its HNB products. Preliminary sales reports by the tobacco companies and industry analysts of have shown strong adoption rates. According to PMI, the tobacco company sold three million IQOS devices in Japan, and “demand continues to outstrip supply”.[54]<

Whether these positive results will be replicated elsewhere remains to be seen. Reuters suggested that HNB success in Japan might be connected to restrictive e-cigarette legislation, arguing that “e-cigarettes, which use nicotine-laced liquid, are not permitted under the country’s pharmaceutical regulation”. President of BAT Japan, Roberta Palazzetti, described Japan as “the first battleground for heated tobacco products”, explaining that BAT had chosen Japan because “Japan’s consumers are highly receptive to innovation”.[36] In addition, others have suggested that the Japanese success of HNB may be linked to the Japanese values of discretion and social politeness, which do not necessarily apply to other markets.[55]

In Europe, Italy was at the forefront of HNB developments. PMI chose Milan to trial market IOQS reportedly due to beneficial tax treatment of the product by the Italian government.[56] BAT Chief Executive Nicandro Durante reported in July 2017 that BAT had seen “no success whatsoever” with its HNB product Glo in European markets like Italy and Switzerland.[23]

Threat to Implementation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

The WHO and the Secretariat to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) have warned that the tobacco industry’s HNB products are addictive,[57] “in pursuit of profit rather than public health”,[58] and should be subjected to the same policy and regulatory measures applied to tobacco products, in line with the FCTC.[57]

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