'Heat-not-burn' cigarettes still release cancer-causing chemicals

(Reuters Health) - - A new type of “heat-not-burn” cigarette releases some of the same cancer-causing chemicals found in traditional cigarette smoke, a recent experiment suggests.

Researchers analyzed the chemical compounds and nicotine in smoke from traditional cigarettes and from the new devices, which are designed to heat disposable tobacco sticks and give users the taste of tobacco without the smoke or ash.

The smoke released by this “heat-not-burn” cigarette had 84 percent of the nicotine found in traditional cigarettes, researchers report in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Heat-not-burn cigarettes also released chemicals linked to cancer including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

The research team was surprised to find that heat-not-burn cigarettes “released some of these chemicals in much higher concentrations that conventional cigarettes,” said lead study author Dr. Reto Auer of the University of Bern in Switzerland.

“We need more studies to find out about the health consequences” of smoking heat-not-burn cigarettes, Auer said by email.

“However, there is no safe minimum limit for some of the chemicals” in heat-not-burn cigarette smoke, Auer added, “and some of these chemicals may contribute to the high mortality rate of smokers.”

To see how heat-not-burn cigarettes compared to conventional cigarettes in terms of chemicals released, Auer and colleagues analyzed the smoke from Lucky Strike Blue Lights and the newer alternative tobacco devices using a smoking device developed to capture fumes from traditional and electronic cigarettes.

They looked at the contents of the I-Quit-Ordinary Smoking (IQOS) product from Philip Morris International with an IQOS holder, IQOS pocket charger, Marlboro HeatSticks regular and Heets.

While more studies are needed to determine the long-term health effects of heat-not-burn cigarettes, their use should be restricted until more is known about them, Auer argues.

“Harmful chemicals were present in IQOS smoke, though in lower concentrations, on average,” Auer said. “We need to conduct more studies to find out whether IQOS are safer for users or bystanders.”

Based on their findings, the authors conclude that heated tobacco products should fall under the same indoor smoking bans in place for conventional cigarettes to prevent bystanders from breathing the fumes.

That’s because the new tobacco products threaten the progress that has been made on decreasing the harms of second-hand smoke, because existing bans may not apply to heat-not-burn cigarettes, Dr. Mitchell Katz, deputy editor of JAMA Internal Medicine wrote in an editor’s note accompanying the study.

“There is concern that heat-not-burn tobacco will skirt local ordinances that prevent smoking in public areas,” Katz, director of the Los Angeles County Health Agency, said by email.

“This would harm public health by eroding social norms about the use of tobacco,” Katz added. “In addition, the article demonstrates that heat-not-burn products release carcinogens, so the use of these products in public space would harm the health of both the user and those around the user.”

SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, online May 22, 2017.