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PMI defends heat-not-burn tech

Tobacco company released new data as controvery continues

Nov 15,2017
Philip Morris Korea disclosed additional data from its internal research center Tuesday that reaffirmed that its heat-not-burn cigarette IQOS contains 90 percent fewer harmful compounds than conventional cigarettes, even when compared to low-tar products popular in Korea.

The announcements from the American tobacco giant came amid rising concerns over the dangers of heat-not-burn cigarettes, which became popular in Korea this year. Controversy re-ignited last week when KT&G did not give details of the toxic substance content of its heat-not-burn cigarette lil, which was the third to enter the domestic market.

The data released on Tuesday included test results from comparisons of IQOS and Korean cigarettes, which generally contain less tar, and findings from one-week to three-month long clinical tests.

In the research, IQOS contained 90 to 95 percent less of 58 hazardous or potentially hazardous compounds, said Mikael Franzon, senior medical adviser to Philip Morris International. The list includes substances labeled “toxic” by the World Health Organization, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada.

The comparison results against Korean cigarettes was a rebuttal to criticism that Philip Morris’ results released in May - which also said IQOS produces 90 percent fewer toxic substances - were based on “3R4F reference cigarettes,” a global standard for smoking-related experiments which contain much higher tar than Korean cigarettes.

“Korea has the cigarette market with the lowest tar rate,” said Franzon, adding that the company collected 88 domestic brands for the experiment. The company’s explanation was that IQOS lets out less toxic substances because they are not burnt - the process in normal cigarettes responsible for producing substances harmful to the body.

In clinical tests conducted in the United States and Japan, participants that shifted from smoking conventional cigarettes to IQOS were observed from one week to three months inside hospitals or through regular checkups. The research showed that 15 substances including benzene and carbon monoxide had reduced inside their bodies to a level similar to that of smokers who quit smoking during the study.

Being less hazardous to the human body was a core advantage that all three heat-not-burn cigarettes in the local market - IQOS, lil and British American Tobacco’s glo - promoted upon launch.

IQOS and British American Tobacco - which released their models first and second on the Korean market - both shared test results with the public. However, there were doubts over their credibility as they were the product of internal or commissioned research centers.

As the product itself is new to the market, there is a lack of international or domestic standards that officially approve the research methods used at these institute or their results.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety launched an investigation in August to look into the health-related effects of heat-not-burn products. It said the experiment would especially put a focus on tar and nicotine content. The ministry plans to release results this year but industry insiders say the process may take at least a year.

But Philip Morris tried to turn the tables, claiming that IQOS was not designed for smokers who intend to eventually quit - a motivation for many Korean consumers. IQOS also contains nicotine in order to replicate the sensation of smoking.

“We constantly say quitting smoking is the best in terms of health. But for those who find difficulty in doing so, it’s better to provide them with a less harmful alternative,” said Kim Byung-chul, Philip Morris Korea’s corporate affairs director.


BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]


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