Philip Morris Korea Inc., which could face punitive action if found guilty of false or exaggerated advertising, strongly refuted the latest finding by the South Korean government that underscored health risks in the heat-not-burn cigarettes.
The maker of the iconic heated tobacco product IQOS flagged its own clinical study in a press briefing on Monday to defend its original argument that smokeless tobacco can reduce health risks, an appeal that has made the novel concept device sell 1.9 million units in just a year after its launch in June 2017 and made Korea its second-largest market after Japan, where the product has been sold since 2015. About 1 million smokers in Korea are estimated to have switched to its vaping device.
The test was conducted on 984 smokers in the U.S., of which 488 people switched to IQOS for six months. Researchers found that IQOS switchers showed a reduction in eight health risks, including cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
“The exposure-response study showed that the eight clinical risk endpoints for smoke-related diseases improved in smokers who switched to IQOS compared to those who continued smoking [regular cigarettes],” said Manuel Peitsch, Philip Morris International’s chief science officer and a toxicology expert, at a press conference in central Seoul.
The scientist maintained that the company has not found any additional hazards.
“It’s highly unlikely that we’ll have something new popping out in IQOS that does not already exist in the residue of combustible cigarette smoke,” he added.
IQOS is a pen-shaped device that vaporizes disposable tobacco sticks by heating, not burning, them. Philip Morris claims this method releases much lower levels of harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes and reduces secondhand smoke exposure to nicotine and tobacco-specific nitrosamines.
The clinical results came after the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced earlier this month that IQOS emits 9.3 mg of tar, a level higher than that of conventional cigarettes (0.1-8.0 mg).
Philip Morris and other tobacco makers like British American Tobacco argued the simple comparison in tar level is misleading as the smoke produced from combustion and the aerosol from heat-not-burns have completely different constituents.
Tar measurement is not an accurate indicator of the relative risk of tobacco products, Peitsch said, citing the World Health Organization and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.
He explained that tar is simply the residual weight of cigarette smoke after nicotine and water, and this weight alone gives no information on whether the composition of the residue is high or low on toxic materials.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare decided to attach graphic health warning labels, currently applied to conventional cigarettes, to heat-not-burn products in the latter half of this year based on its finding.