Heated Tobacco Not Safer: FDA Panel

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Heated Tobacco Is Not Safer Than Smoking: FDA Panel

Efforts by tobacco giant Philip Morris to convince people that heated tobacco is a safer alternative to smoking have fallen flat — at least for now — after a after a Food and Drug Administration panel disagreed with the Marlboro maker’s claim.

Philip Morris had hoped to be the first tobacco firm to gain FDA approval for its IQOS device that heats tobacco instead of burning it. The company told the British public, by way of full-page newspaper ads in January, that it plans to stop selling cigarettes in the UK. The product is already on the market, but Philip Morris wanted an official stamp on its assertion that using IQOS would be better for people’s health than smoking cigarettes.

The company claimed to the FDA panel that “scientific studies have shown that switching completely from cigarettes to the IQOS system can reduce the risks of tobacco-related diseases.” The advisory committee could find no evidence for the assertion, however, and rejected it in an 8 to 1 vote. The FDA will now consider the panel’s decision as part of an overall application by Philip Morris to have IQOS placed in the agency’s “modified risk” category.

Scrambling for a Solution

These are among broader moves by the federal government to encourage the development of safer alternatives to tobacco smoking, which continues to take a heavy toll around the United States every year. More than 480,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses in the US annually. That figure includes people who never smoked, but inhaled the toxic fumes created by others — a number put by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at over 41,000.

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“If smoking continues at the current rate among US youth, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 years of age are expected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness. This represents about one in every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger who are alive today,” it says.

It represents the single biggest cause of preventable deaths in the US, and the effects ripple right out across society and the economy. At least $156 billion is lost in productivity each year because of premature death from smoking, including secondhand-smoke exposure, the CDC says. The annual medical care tab for those with tobacco-related illnesses? Almost $170 billion, the health agency says.

Vaping as the Way Forward?

The reason big tobacco is terrified of going out of business, as their cigarette markets threaten to dry up — in the informed, Western world in particular — is because people now have an effective way of giving up deadly cigarettes for good. It comes in the form of the electronic cigarette, and as the British health authorities have recently pointed out, it’s one of the best ways to stop smoking.

“E-cigarettes are particularly effective when combined with support from local stop-smoking services — people who choose this route have some of the highest quitting success rates,” the British National Health Service advises people. What’s more, it seems to be working. Official figures show that rates of smoking in the UK are on a steep decline, falling from 26% to 19% in just over six years.

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This comes as people are increasingly using electronic cigarettes — often with a starter kit, such as the popular PHIX Vape brand — to kick the habit. Now in the UK, around 3 million people are vaping, many of them taking up the habit to stop smoking. Meanwhile, it has emerged that the CDC director, Brenda Fitzgerald, has quit the post after humiliating reports that she held stocks in a number of big tobacco firms. The CDC’s mission, after all, is to help protect lives, especially from tobacco — not keep cigarette companies in business.

If the FCA acts on its panel’s recommendation, heated tobacco may have a lot of warming up to do.