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Surprise result for PMI in New Zealand iQOS case

iQOS case

If you follow the news on heated tobacco products you’ll probably have noticed that Heat not Burn hasn’t been having an easy ride in every market. Despite the spectacular success of iQOS in Japan, where it’s now taken over more than 15% of the cigarette market in just two years, some governments have decided they’d rather keep collecting cigarette taxes than give smokers the option of switching to a lower-risk product.

One recent example of this was New Zealand. Although the country has been making some (uneven) progress towards legalising vaping, the Ministry of Health seems to have taken a strong dislike to iQOS. Philip Morris International started selling the iQOS device, and the Heets for it, in early 2017; the ministry’s response was take them to court for violating a law that was originally intended to ban chewing tobacco.

According to the Ministry of Health, PMI were in breach of Section 29 of the Smoke-free Environments Act. This bans the import, sale or advertising of any tobacco product intended “for chewing, or for any other oral use (other than smoking)”, and technically Heets do come under it – they’re not smoked, because the tobacco doesn’t burn, but they are meant for oral use. However, the law was written in 1990 when HnB didn’t seem to have any future, and PMI have been arguing that it was never intended to apply to products like Heets. They only come under the law because of a technicality, and the company’s position was that it made no sense to use the Smoke-free Act to ban the product.

A lost cause?

The case finally came to trial on 5 March, and following three days of claims and evidence most people assumed that the judgement would go in favour of the Ministry of Health. It’s been a long time since a tobacco company actually won a case brought by a health organisation, after all. iQOS doesn’t benefit from the increasing support for e-cigarettes, either; it’s different enough that many people – even some vaping advocates – still think it’s basically a cigarette.

Well, some people were in for a big surprise. In fact I confess I was one of them. When the judgement was released on Tuesday my jaw hit the floor just as hard as everyone else’s.

Because PMI won the case.

That’s right; the District Court at Wellington rejected a charge laid by its own government’s health department, and awarded victory to a tobacco company. This now means that PMI can carry on selling Heets in New Zealand – and potentially makes iQOS the most accessible product for any Kiwi smoker who wants to move to a safer option.

The previous government had pledged to legalise nicotine e-liquids, but the Labour-Green coalition that replaced it has been dragging its feet on the issue. That means vapers in New Zealand have to import their own liquid from abroad. This can be an expensive and complicated process, and it’s likely to deter many smokers from trying to switch. With Heets once more legally on sale they now have HnB as an easier option.

So what happened?

It’s not clear why the Ministry of Health decided to go after Heets, but when they did they chose to use a technical legal argument based on the strict wording of the law. The Smoke-free Environments Act makes clear references to “any tobacco product” intended for “chewing, or any other oral use (other than smoking).” A Heet is certainly a tobacco product; processed tobacco is the main ingredient in the filling. It’s also intended for oral use – the vapour it produces is inhaled through the mouth – and, because there’s no combustion involved, it’s obviously not smoking.

It’s worth taking a moment to think about that. The health ministry wanted to ban a new, reduced-risk tobacco product because it isn’t smoking. If the Heet was just a new brand of cigarette that would have been fine with New Zealand’s government; their problem was that it wasn’t a cigarette, but something specifically designed to be much safer.

Luckily, PMI’s defence team weren’t shy about pointing that out. They reminded the court that the section of the law was written specifically to ban chewing tobacco, which is linked to mouth cancer – not to suppress a product designed to remove almost all the harm of smoking. The defence also brought a strong expert witness who explained just how safe HnB is compared to smoking. The health ministry tried to claim that this was irrelevant, but the judge disagreed.

The exact tool the judge used to demolish the case was a legal rule called Ejusdem Generis. This says that if particular words describe a class of thing, then any general words that follow it are confined to the same class of thing. So, where the law starts off by mentioning “chewing” then says “or for any other oral use”, it still only means chewing. Based on that the court agreed with PMI and threw out the case; in the process they rebuked the Ministry of Health, telling them that trying to ban a safer product was the exact opposite of what the law was trying to achieve.

 

So what does this mean for heated tobacco products? It’s actually hard to overstate what good news it is. Obviously it’s good for smokers in New Zealand, who once again have iQOS available as an alternative to cigarettes. The big impact, though, is the precedent it sets. Other health ministries who might be thinking about banning Heets will now have to look at this case and consider the possibility that, if they try it, they might just lose.

Health organisations don’t lose often; that’s a sad fact about the nanny state times we live in. This result is going to send shockwaves rippling around the world. A tobacco company has actually won, using the argument that their product is going to help public health and should be protected from misguided laws. Let’s hope the message gets across in other countries too; smokers need more options, not more knee-jerk bans.

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California study claims iQOS risks – but is this good science?

iQOS risks

Im my last post I mentioned that there would be some good news about Glo being released today. What I didn’t know at the time was that some bad news about iQOS was also scheduled for release. Luckily the ever-resourceful Dick Puddlecote tipped me off that it was coming. He wasn’t the only one who knew about the paper, either; Philip Morris International have obviously got hold of an advance copy in plenty of time to have a look at it and compare its conclusions to their own science.

Actually, as a long-time advocate for vaping, this all looks very familiar to me. I mentioned in my last post that tobacco control is increasingly rejecting science, and this new paper is an excellent example of that. I was going to say it’s terrible science, but that’s too kind – it isn’t science at all. In fact PMI’s response completely demolishes it. Unfortunately the media won’t pay any attention to that. They’ll report the bad news, and ignore the response because it comes from an Evil Big Tobacco Company. So I’m going to do what I can to get the message out – and hopefully, in the process, show just how low tobacco control “science” has fallen.

The usual suspects?

The new study has been published by the University of California, Riverside – and that’s something else I’m familiar with as a vaping advocate. The UC system is excellent in many ways, and includes several world-class universities, but it also harbours a nest of virulently prejudiced anti-nicotine loons. The most notorious, of course, is Stanton Glantz, but there are others. So when I looked at the authors of the new paper and saw the name Prue Talbot, I wasn’t at all surprised. Talbot is a professor of cell biology at Riverside – so, unlike Glantz, she does at least have some actual qualifications – and she’s also a fanatical opponent of any form of tobacco harm reduction. Her obsession with the subject started with e-cigs, but now she seems to have transferred it to heated tobacco. And the quality of her science is as bad as ever.

Talbot and her team have come up with the argument that iQOS isn’t really a Heat not Burn device. They’re claiming that it burns tobacco and other parts of the Heet, creating toxic substances in the process, and that the way people use it actually increases their exposure to nicotine and harmful chemicals. The thing is, they aren’t the first people to investigate this, and their results are wildly different to what previous researchers found.

There were four main claims in Talbot’s paper, adding up to the conclusion that iQOS exposes users to serious toxins. They are:

  • Despite PMI’s claims, iQOS does burn tobacco
  • The device runs hot enough to melt part of the filter, releasing toxic fumes
  • The time limit on an iQOS session makes users puff more often, increasing their exposure to toxins
  • Not cleaning the iQOS increases the temperature when it’s heated

These are obviously worrying claims, if they’re true – but are they? The hazards identified by Talbot and her team haven’t been spotted by anyone else, and it’s not like Talbot was the first person to look. PMI did a lot of research into safety before iQOS went on the market, and while it’s easy to dismiss that as industry research, PMI have a big incentive to do rigorous research. They’ve invested a lot of money in moving to less harmful products, after all. If it turned out that those products hadn’t been properly researched, and there were risks people weren’t being told about, their whole strategy would collapse. On top of that, PMI know that if they do the research themselves a lot of people will attack it, so they’ve been using independent labs for most of the work.

For obvious reasons, that research has already looked at all the issues Talbot claims to have found. PMI have looked at each of them, and compared them with their own research. The results don’t look good for Talbot.

Does iQOS burn tobacco?

According to Talbot, the tobacco in a Heet is charred when the iQOS heats up. That, she says, leads to a process called pyrolysis, which creates toxins. Her team decided this after looking at a used Heet under a stereomicroscope – but a stereomicroscope isn’t powerful enough to detect pyrolysis. I have one at home; they’re designed for looking at insects, coins and electronic components. If the tobacco really was charred, like she claims, a stereomicroscope could detect that, but is charring possible in an iQOS?

No, it isn’t. The heating blade in an iQOS never gets hotter than 350°C, and that temperature was chosen for a reason. In a cigarette the tobacco burns at a temperature of at least 800°C, and there’s no way an iQOS will ever get anywhere close to that. PMI deliberately selected a temperature that was hot enough to create a vapour from the tobacco, but not hot enough to burn or char it.

I’ve dissected used Heets myself, and looked at them under both a stereomicroscope and a high-powered biological microscope. I didn’t see any signs of burning or charring; what I did see was some discolouration around where the blade had been. PMI say this is torrefaction, a kind of mild thermal decomposition that takes place around 300-350°C.

PMI also cited Public Health England, the UK Committee on Toxicity and the Netherlands National Institute for Health and Environment, all of which confirm from their own research that iQOS does not burn tobacco – and Talbot is wrong.

Are the filters melting?

Talbot claims that the PLA roll inside a Heet, which is there to let the vapour cool before being inhaled, gets hot enough to melt and release a highly toxic chemical called formaldehyde cyanohydrin.

PMI say that they’ve tested the aerosol from iQOS with advanced techniques, including gas and liquid chromatography, and found no trace of formaldehyde cyanohydrin. They also said that the chemical is found in conventional cigarettes.

Finally, PMI pointed out that PLA is made from corn starch, and is a very safe product. When the PLA filter in a Heet is exposed to the heated vapour it doesn’t melt; it hardens, and it doesn’t release any toxic chemicals. In fact that’s exactly why the material was chosen.

Do users puff more rapidly?

Talbot thinks – and it’s just speculation; she has no evidence for it – that because iQOS switches off after six minutes, users will puff faster and expose themselves to more toxins. What this suggests is that Talbot doesn’t understand how iQOS – or cigarettes, for that matter – works.

Firstly, a smoker who’s used to smoking a cigarette in five or six minutes isn’t going to feel rushed with an iQOS. They can puff at their usual speed, with no worries about running out of time. Secondly, iQOS shuts down after six minutes or 14 puffs. It doesn’t matter how fast you chuff away at it; you’re not going to get any more than 14 inhales. On this point Talbot isn’t even wrong; she’s just making things up.

Does not cleaning the iQOS make it run hotter?

Talbot’s final claim was that iQOS, if not properly cleaned after every session – and she said that PMI’s recommended cleaning routine doesn’t work – collects residue that makes it run hotter and generate more toxic chemicals. Again, PMI point out that she obviously doesn’t know how it works. The temperature of iQOS is electronically controlled and cannot go above 350°C. Again, Talbot seems to be making things up.

 

Nobody at PMI is pretending that there are no toxic substances in iQOS aerosol. That would be ridiculous; there are toxic substances in fresh air. However, all the research except Talbot’s has found that the levels of toxic substances are close to two orders of magnitude lower than what’s found in cigarette smoke. As the product is aimed at smokers, that’s the comparison that should be made.

Overall this looks like the same kind of sloppy, biased research vapers have been used to for a long time. It’s even by one of the same researchers who produced a lot of that sloppy, biased research. The aim of Talbot’s paper isn’t to increase the sum of scientific knowledge; it’s to give tobacco controllers ammunition to bash iQOS and the people who make it. There’s likely to be a lot more of this in the future, so all Heat not Burn enthusiasts need to start activating their bullshit detectors now.

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Tobacco control is becoming a doomsday cult that eats its own children

Tobacco control

Another week, another anti-nicotine conference. This time it was Cape Town’s turn to host the World Conference on Tobacco or Health, a three-day extravaganza of propaganda and hate funded by NRT manufacturer Pfizer. This conference has been running since 1967 and, until the mid-1980s, it was reasonably good at sticking to proper science. Then the prohibitionists started to take over, and since then it’s become increasingly hysterical and extreme. Its activities lost touch with the health effects of tobacco long ago, replaced by an obsession with regulating people’s lifestyles. This year’s event showcased that perfectly, plumbing new depths of ideological nutbaggery even by tobacco control standards.

The most newsworthy thing about the event was the very public blackballing of Derek Yach. This came as a surprise to many; after all, Dr Yach isn’t exactly famous as a friend of the tobacco industry. In fact he was one of the key figures behind the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, when he worked for that organisation as its director for non-communicable disease. The FCTC sets up strict rules for how governments and other organisations are allowed to work with the tobacco industry.

Working together?

However, Yach is also a realist. He knows that hundreds of millions of people actually like tobacco and nicotine, so the chances of them ever going away are roughly zero. The only way smoking is going to disappear is if people are given safer ways of enjoying tobacco and nicotine; that, of course, is what Heat not Burn is all about.

To advance his more realistic agenda, last year Yach agreed to head the new Foundation for a Smoke Free World. The goal of this organisation is to accelerate the process of eliminating smoking globally, so you would expect the people at WCTOH to approve of it. FSFW has already secured close to a billion dollars of funding over the next twelve years, which should make a huge difference to research and education about smoking and safer alternatives.

Unfortunately – from the point of view of the tobacco control industry, anyway – that billion dollars in funding comes from Philip Morris. It’s coming quite openly and without any strings attached, of course; FSFW’s rulebook says quite clearly that the organisation has total control over how funds are spent. PMI can’t tell Yach what to spend the money on or what any research it pays for has to find.

That’s not good enough for the tobacco controllers, of course. Instead of being pleased that so much money is available to reduce smoking, they’re just furious about where it came from – and they seem to be even more furious at Yach for having it when they don’t. Being tobacco controllers they’ve vented their fury in a typically childish way. Last Wednesday, on the first day of the conference, they held a session on FSFW and let rip with every cliché they could think of.

Dick Puddlecote went through the session in some detail on his blog here, here and here, and it’s not impressive; just the usual collection of dishonest rubbish we expect when tobacco controllers are confronted with something they don’t like. Yach is enough of an expert that he could easily have countered all the allegations made against him – if he was there.

He wasn’t there, of course. Even though the conference was held in his native South Africa, Yach didn’t attend. Neither did anyone else from FSFW – because they were declared personae non grata and publicly informed through the conference website that they weren’t welcome and wouldn’t be allowed in.

This is pretty astonishing, to be honest. If Yach’s colleagues weren’t happy with who controlled his funding, they could have discussed it with him at the conference. Instead, they chose to openly turn on one of the most respected people in their profession and ban his entire organisation from a major event. This, as the saying goes, is nothing to do with health. The people who decided to ban Yach are nothing more than quasi-religious zealots, so consumed with hatred of the tobacco industry that they can’t even admit the possibility of it doing anything positive.

Not about health – or truth

The banning of Derek Yach wasn’t the only case of demented spite at WCTOH; several vaping advocates who were there reported being abused by delegates or ejected from sessions. As bad as it was, though, we can write that off as just what you’d expect from the sort of unpleasant people who’re attracted to a career in telling the rest of us how to live. What’s really worrying is the increasingly open hostility to science shown by tobacco controllers.

One of the stars of the conference was Robyn Koval, the CEO of the anti-tobacco group Truth Initiative (which is entirely funded by tobacco industry money). Koval was described as a “visionary” by some WCTOH delegates, but in fact she’s just a marketing executive with no scientific or medical background – and it shows.

Among Koval’s great ideas were to “refuse to legitimise scientific dialogue”, because “any engagement on a scientific level is a win (for FSFW).” There’s no other way to say it: This is appalling. FSFW is pro-harm reduction; most of the science it’s looking at doing is aimed at making safer products available. Why don’t tobacco controllers want to know how safe these new products are?

We know the answer to that one; it’s because every effective harm reduction product on the market is made by what these demented zealots call “the tobacco industry”. They’re still saying that about e-cigs, despite it being obvious for years that most of the market has nothing to do with tobacco companies. Imagine how angry they must be now that HnB is growing in popularity, because those products really are made by the dreaded Big Tobacco.

And so what? Who cares? iQOS has already helped millions of people to quit smoking; Blu, when it becomes widely available, will help millions more. It doesn’t matter that these products are made by companies that also make cigarettes – they still do what they’re supposed to do (and you can find out for yourself by buying an iQOS today).

People who want iQOS banned because it’s made by PMI are saying that they’d rather smokers continue to smoke – and die – than be helped by a tobacco company. This is a fanatical, fundamentalist position. It has strong echoes of the religious concept of original sin, and it’s certainly nothing to do with science.

Science works. It’s the best method we have for examining the world and answering questions about it. There’s already science that shows HnB is much safer than smoking, and more is in the pipeline – some very interesting research on Glo will be released tomorrow. Tobacco controllers hate that, which is why they’re turning their backs on science, expelling heretics like Derek Yach and retreating into the echo chamber of their destructive cult. That’s the sort of people who’re criticising Heat not Burn; my advice is that you treat them the same way you’d treat any other loony cultist.

Ignore them.

 

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HnB and vaping – We’re on the same side!

Vaping

Most readers of this blog will know that, while I’m a user and huge fan of Heat not Burn products, I’m mainly a vaper. When I quit smoking I used an early e-cig starter kit, and I’ve now been vaping for more than five years. In that time I’ve used a lot of different e-cigs, learned to make my own coils and e-liquids, and written thousands of words to advocate for vaping. I go to pro-vaping conferences and know most of the UK’s prominent vaping advocates. Vaping is a thing that I do.

It’s not the only thing I do, though. I don’t see vaping as the only acceptable alternative to smoking, the way public health nuts think nicotine patches are the only acceptable alternative. I use Swedish snus, when I can get it. I have a couple of tins of snuff around. I like HnB products. I even have a cigar a couple of times a year.

So I like vaping, but I’m open to anything else that gives the pleasure of smoking but eliminates most of the risks – and if someone is willing to accept the risks and continue smoking, I’m squarely behind their right to do that too. I am definitely not one of those born-again vapers who thinks all smokers need to switch right now, and if any smokers do want to move to something safer I’m not going to tell them they need to move to an e-cig. If they’d prefer to buy snus online, or find an old-style tobacconist and stock up on snuff, or get themselves an iQOS, I have no problem with that at all.

The circular firing squad

That’s my philosophy, then – a tolerant one that’s mostly interested in making sure people have access to the products they want. So I wasn’t too please the other day when Dick Puddlecote sent me a link to a YouTube video from a popular UK vaping channel.

The first half of this video seems to have been provoked by an article in Vapouround, a British vaping magazine. Early this year the magazine carried a two-page feature on iQOS and how it features in PMI’s plans to phase out cigarettes from the UK market. Personally I don’t see any thing controversial about that. Yes, it’s a vaping magazine. That’s fine; iQOS is also a vapour product. It creates its vapour from heated tobacco instead of aerosolised liquid, but that’s a technical difference; the basic principle is the same.

Obviously that’s not what the star of the video thought, though. In fact he launched into a stunningly ignorant half-hour rant against iQOS, PMI, and HnB in general. And when I say stunningly ignorant, I’m not kidding. According to him, a Heet is just a cigarette that’s been coated with propylene glycol. In his opinion, using an iQOS “still qualifies as smoking” just because Heets contain tobacco. This is obviously total bollocks; by that logic using snus also counts as smoking, and do I really need to explain how ridiculous that is?

Ignorance is bad, but what really staggered me was the level of venom aimed at Philip Morris – who the culprit seems to think is an actual person involved in the sale of iQOS, by the way, rather than the long-dead proprietor of a small tobacconist in Victorian London. The video is peppered with delusional ramblings like “Phil, come to the office and have a coffee”. Frankly, it sounds unhinged.

Fake moral high ground

I’ll be blunt here: I’m fucking sick of certain vapers getting on their high horse about the tobacco industry. None of us whinged and moralised about the tobacco industry when we smoked, did we? Oh no; we all loved the tobacco industry back then, because they sold us things we liked. They’re still doing that, because millions of people like iQOS and Glo.

I don’t want to hear any crap about how the tobacco industry lied about the dangers of smoking either. That was decades ago, and the people who did it are all retired and mostly dead. Philip Morris is a company – a sign on an office and a name on a bank account. It isn’t an actual guy named Phil who wants to sell iQOS so he can buy another Bentley. The company is just a legal entity that lets people work together. It doesn’t bear any guilt for what people who worked for it in the 1970s did, so trying to smear iQOS because some guy lied about Marlboro causing cancer 50 years ago is just stupid.

The tobacco companies aren’t going to shut down tomorrow and only a moron would want them to. Apart from anything else, if Philip Morris and BAT go down, millions of ordinary people’s pension funds will go down with them. Do you seriously think it’s worth causing massive poverty just because you don’t like iQOS? No, you don’t – so why the vitriolic hatred of a business that’s just trying to give its customers what they want?

Let’s be realistic here: If reduced-risk products are going to be made widely available, the tobacco industry is going to play a role in making that happen. A lot of people simply don’t want to go into a vape shop staffed by tattooed people with hipster beards and ear gauges, and spend their money on Chinese brands they’ve never heard of. They’d much rather buy something that says Marlboro on the box, because that’s the taste they’re looking for. Yes, I get it; you hate the taste of tobacco now and think everyone should vape 3mg/ml mango sorbet. The problem is most smokers don’t agree with you. They want Marlboro, and unless you can give them an e-liquid that tastes like a burning Marlboro – which you can’t; it’s been tried often enough – they’re not interested. E-cigs work for many smokers, but not for all, and why should smokers be denied a safer alternative that does work for them just because you’re puffed up with moral indignation about the people who made it?

 

I don’t care if you don’t like Heat not Burn products. I don’t even care if you think they’re morally wrong. What I do care about is that you’re making angry, incoherent videos attacking reduced-harm products, and in the process doing public health’s work for them. If you’re ranting about how HnB is a cunning plot by the evil tobacco companies, you’re basically Stan Glantz. iQOS, and other products like it, are designed to do exactly the same thing as e-cigs are – give smokers a safer alternative. That’s something we should all be able to support. If you don’t like Heat not Burn products then just don’t buy them; there’s no need for all these tantrums.