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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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We are now selling iQOS and HEETS.

Selling iQOS and HEETS

Heat Not Burn UK, not satisfied with being the most comprehensive blog in the world on everything there is to know about Heat Not Burn are now actually selling the superb iQOS system along with corresponding HEET tobacco sticks.

We currently have a special offer on all iQOS kits and that is the special price of just £49 for either a navy or white iQOS starter kit along with 3 packets of HEETS! The recommended retail price for the iQOS is £99 so our price of £49 for the starter kit and 3 packets of HEETS (60 sticks) is a fantastic offer!

Shipping is either with APC, Royal Mail or Royal Mail International and all orders are sent out very promptly.

Also every iQOS kit sold comes with a no-quibble 1 YEAR GUARANTEE too, click the banner below to be taken to our online store.

 

 

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iQOS Update – What’s Inside A Heet

iQOS update

One of the most popular pages on this site is our review of Philip Morris’s innovative iQOS device. That’s not much of a surprise, because iQOS has probably had more publicity than any other Heat not Burn product and it’s also the most widely available. It’s steadily rolling out beyond the first test markets and can now be bought in the UK, Spain, the Netherlands and several other countries; before too long it will be available globally, and I think it’s going to be a huge success.

When Heat not Burn UK first tested the iQOS the only sticks that came with it were mild menthols. Those were not as satisfying as they could have been, but did prove the concept. Happily, during our visit to PMI’s research centre at Neuchatel a couple of months ago there was no shortage of them in all flavours, and I got the chance to try an iQOS with a full-strength stick. I’m happy to report that it was very close to the experience of smoking a Marlboro, and an excellent substitute in every way.

Sticky Stuff

Obviously, what made the difference between “Meh, this is okay” on the first iQOS test and “Wow!” on the second one was the sticks it was being fed with. That means it’s probably time to look at the sticks themselves in a bit more detail.

The baby cigarettes that go in the end of an iQOS were originally called HeatSticks, but they’ve now been rebranded as “Heets from Marlboro”. Currently Heets come in three flavours – Amber, which roughly equates to full-strength Marlboro Red; Yellow, a lighter Marlboro Gold; and Turquoise, the mild menthol version. As far as I can tell these all have the same nicotine content, and the only difference is in the flavour.

Anyway, I just called them baby cigarettes. They’re not. Yes, they look like baby cigarettes, and they come in a tiny pack of twenty, but you can’t stick them in your mouth and fire them up with your trusty Zippo. That just won’t work. Even if it did work it would be pretty pointless, because the whole idea is that you don’t burn the tobacco.

In fact there really isn’t a lot of tobacco in there to burn, anyway. Looking at a Heet, you can see that the filter seems to take up about three-quarters of its length:

There are quite a few bits in here.

Not Just Tobacco

It’s not quite this simple, but we’ll come back to that. What’s in the other quarter is the stuff that gets heated, and I’ve actually had the chance to watch it being made in the factory at Neuchatel. PMI made me promise not to put all their trade secrets on the internet, but I can tell you the basics. What they do is blend selected tobaccos to get the flavour they want, then grind them to a fine powder. This is then mixed with water and some other ingredients – vegetable glycerine to keep it moist and generate the vapour; natural cellulose fibres to bind it; and guar (a natural gum) to hold the whole lot together.

This liquid mixture is sprayed onto a conveyor belt, run through a dryer then peeled off in thin sheets. The brown stuff in the end of a Heet is those sheets, rolled up like tobacco leaves in a cigar. When you load a Heet into your iQOS a steel blade in the device cuts into the roll, and when the blade heats up it creates the vapour for you to inhale. That vapour is mostly VG, loaded with aromatic flavours from the tobacco – which is why iQOS can replicate the flavour of a cigarette in a way that e-cigs can never quite manage.

So what else is in a Heet? Well, it’s not just the filter. In fact the filter itself is very short, as you can see:

From left to right: The tobacco, hollow tube, PLA and filter.

The actual filter is even smaller than the plug of tobacco at the other end, and it’s really only there to give you the familiar feel of a cigarette filter. Because iQOS doesn’t produce all the harsh combustion compounds you get from a cigarette there’s no real need for much filtration, so it can be very short. In fact if it was much longer it would probably soak up a lot of the VG vapour that you want to inhale.

After the filter is a loose roll of PLA, a very stable, food-safe plastic material. This is what does the real work; it slows the vapour down without absorbing it, giving it time to cool to a more pleasant temperature before you inhale it. This takes up almost half the length of the entire Heet.

Between the PLA and the tobacco is a short length of hollow tube, made of a similar material to the filter. As far as I understand it this is mainly to keep the blade away from the PLA and give the vapour a clear path to start its journey through the Heet. Then finally, at the end, you’ll find that little plug of tobacco.

Small But Complicated

So a Heet might look like a cigarette, but inside it’s a bit more complicated. This, and the fact they’re so small, means they’re also trickier to make; PMI had to do some creative rebuilding of some old but reliable cigarette-making machines to come up with something that would make Heets.

All this effort has paid off, though. It might be tiny, but a Heet will give as many puffs as a full-size cigarette. If you get the strength that suits you those puffs are just as satisfying, too. I had a few lingering doubts about iQOS after my first experiment with it in Poland last year, but using an identical device with Amber Heets was a totally different experience.

What’s most exciting is that, while iQOS isn’t the first generation of this technology, it’s still at a relatively early stage; there’s a lot of potential for development in there. I’m increasingly sure that HnB products like this have a very bright future in front of them.

If you are thinking of making the switch then please visit our online store today, click the banner below for more details. We sell everything you need to get you started and at a fantastic price too, come and try the future today!