It’s common knowledge that smoking is dangerous. The breadth of the damage caused by smoking is far-reaching, with the health hazards a topic of debate for decades. Globally, it accounts for the largest avoidable cause of death, with over 7 million mortalities reported annually. With statistics like these, it’s no wonder that alternative products are gaining huge momentum in the marketplace, touting a healthier alternative to smoking.
It would be naive to believe that an alternative to cigarettes would arrive without some controversy of its own, and this is the murky world where we now find ourselves. We have multiple products on the market, and a flurry of research to determine the true pros and cons of these products, and ultimately which outweighs which. We do not have sufficient data to determine the long-term effects, so we have to make decisions and recommendations based on short term data which is currently only presenting one piece of this very complicated, and highly emotional, puzzle.
What are the options?
There are multiple products on the market, and there is a clear differentiation between the two basic categories. E-cigarettes vaporize a liquid that contains nicotine, whereas heat-not-burn (HNB) products heat tobacco to a high enough temperature to create a vapor rather than smoke. Both products are considered a safer alternative to smoking, with Public Health England, a UK government agency, stating that substantial evidence shows that e-cigarettes, are much less harmful than smoking, by at least 95%.
A recent study, conducted by independent experts at the Committee of Toxicology (CoT), for Public Health England (PHE), said that people using HNB products ‘were exposed to between 50 and 90 percent fewer harmful and potentially harmful chemicals compounds with conventional cigarettes.’
This is certainly a positive step, and gives hope that there are products on the market that could significantly impact the staggering number of casualties per year.
Two of the largest global tobacco companies are leading the charge in the HNB arena, and have invested a great deal of time and money into their products; Philip Morris with the iQOS and British American Tobacco (BAT) with iFuse. André Calantzopoulos, PMI’s CEO, has been quoted saying ‘we want to move out of cigarettes as soon as possible,’ and Nicandro Durante, BAT’s CEO says that ‘investing in lower-risk products is a win for shareholders, consumers and society.’ It should be no surprise that skepticism surrounds these and similar claims made by these brands and whether they will be able to truly make such bold shifts remains to be seen.
As for the consumer, if quitting altogether isn’t an option, then a choice needs to be made. Evidence points to a reduction in harm with these products, but to what extent is still unclear.
No end in sight.
It appears that the debate on anything tobacco related is going to continue. Although consensus is that these products are safer than traditional cigarettes, there is still an evident lack of evidence to prove that, over considerable periods of time, the e-cigarette or HNB solutions are safe. What is clear, is that both e-cigarettes and HNB products are safer than traditional cigarettes. As this message is amplified and adopted further, we should be able to measure whether a shift to these products has a positive impact on smokers’ health on the whole.
The delicate balance lies in adapting short-term solutions that reduce harm today, whilst continuing to research the long term effects of these alternative smoking methods.