Hot debate over heat-not-burn and vaping products

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French Oncologist and PMI exec discuss health impact of new products that deliver nicotine fix in less damaging ways than cigarettes

As the Hong Kong government mulls regulation on new tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) is trying to convince the regulators that these new smoking products are not as harmful as they think.

In a roundtable event held in Hong Kong on September 1, PMI presented relevant data regarding its heat-not-burn device IQOS.

“The elimination of burning produces an aerosol that has on average 90 to 95 percent lower levels of harmful constituents compared to cigarette smoke,” said Dr Gizelle Baker, scientific engagement director of PMI.

At the event, French oncologist Professor David Khayat also noted that making cigarettes more expensive or forbidding them is not the only answer to curb smoking. “[T]his is why through science and innovation, finding alternatives to smoking that can be less harmful… is so important,” he said.

“Many government agencies have published reports and summaries on alternative products. […] The research [findings] were mostly comparable with what the industry has published and this should give us some confidence,” Professor Khayat added. “We need to consider these reports beyond any political discussion and objective […] based on the data that is provided.”

Currently, the Hong Kong government has yet to impose any regulations concerning e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. However, it is on its way to amend the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance to define the rules surrounding these products.

The Food and Health Bureau proposed to regulate them the same way as traditional tobacco products in May, according to a paper submitted to the LegCo. It stressed that “e-cigarettes are harmful to health” and the heated tobacco products “retain the addictive effect of nicotine”.

The bureau proposes to prohibit the public advertisement and sale of these products to minors. Health warnings would also be required.

Overseas trends

Regulatory stances surrounding these products have been varied worldwide.

Heated tobacco products, including IQOS, are now regulated under the Tobacco Products Directive in the EU. So there are clear definitions regarding their sale and use.

They are also subject to the same regulations on nicotine-containing e-cigarettes in South Korea. In the U.S., regulators have yet to allow them on the market.

It is legal to sell the IQOS device in Hong Kong, but not the heatsticks as those have yet to be properly legalized and levied. Many of those who have switched to IQOS from cigarettes buy heatsticks smuggled from Japan, where IQOS is already legally available.

Ms Becky Lo, a regular IQOS smoker, believes legalisation is a better approach.

“At least smokers won’t need to use IQOS discreetly and worry about being caught,” she said.

In an attempt to tap into the Hong Kong market, PMI calls for policies and regulations to allow smokers to gain access to reduced risk products and make informed choices.

“The medical community should have an open mind, look at the scientific data and see what other countries are doing. Then, we can have the discussion and broader perspectives,” said Mr Brett Cooper, General Manager of Hong Kong and Macau of PMI.

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