Will the FDA Approve Philip Morris’ Alternative Smoking Device?

By Victoria Kim 01/22/18
The tobacco giant is trying to break into the so-called "reduced risk" market.
woman smoking an e-cigarette

In a bid to transition out of the business of selling cigarettes, tobacco giant Philip Morris is hoping to bring the first FDA-approved “reduced risk” tobacco product to the U.S. market this year.

The Food and Drug Administration completed a preliminary review of the product, named iQOS, on Monday afternoon (Jan. 22). So far, the regulatory agency has deemed that the product “contains lower levels of harmful and potentially harmful compounds” compared to cigarettes, according to Reuters.

According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. It is responsible for nearly one in five deaths, or 480,000 annual deaths.

The proposed cigarette alternative heats rather than burns tobacco, much like early cannabis vaping devices. This differs from e-cigarettes, which vaporize nicotine-containing e-liquid rather than tobacco itself. 

The consideration of alternative, “safer” methods of consuming nicotine is in line with the FDA’s goal of “provid[ing] an opportunity for adults who want to get access to satisfying levels of nicotine,” according to FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

According to a 2009 law, the agency is able to regulate nicotine levels in tobacco products, short of removing nicotine altogether. According to the Associated Press, the FDA is embarking on a new quest to “drastically cut nicotine levels” in traditional cigarettes, and to approve safer tobacco products that will offer smokers a “satisfying” alternative method of consuming nicotine. 

Alternative products like e-cigarettes, and now the iQOS, are said to be safer than burning tobacco, by producing lower levels of tar and other potentially carcinogenic effects of traditional cigarettes. However, the research on whether e-cigarette is safer than cigarettes is divided.

Philip Morris’ product, if approved, would be the first “reduced risk” tobacco product to be given the green light by the FDA to enter the market. The iQOS is already marketed in about 30 countries, according to the AP.

However, anti-smoking activists aren’t as enthusiastic about these allegedly safer alternatives. They maintain that there is no safe tobacco product, and that smokers should be encouraged to quit, not find an alternative.  

The tobacco industry isn't exactly seen as honest nor altruistic. “Tobacco companies have, since the 1950s, made ‘safer’ cigarette claims—all later proven false,” said the AP. “In some cases the introduction of these products, such as filtered and ‘low tar’ cigarettes, propped up cigarette sales and kept millions of Americans smoking.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr