Heated Tobacco Products
To secure the tobacco industry’s medium to long-term future, in light of growing tobacco regulations and a rapidly shrinking cigarette market (particularly in high income countries), tobacco companies have been looking to develop and market so-called ‘Next Generation Products’ (NGPs), which include snus, e-cigarettes, and Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs). This overview page focuses on HTPs. It explains what these products are, summarises tobacco company investments in this product segment, and discusses the main public health debates around these products. This page does not include research updates on the potential health benefits/risks of HTPs.
- 1 Background
- 2 Heated Tobacco Product Technology Pioneered in 1980s
- 3 A New Take on an Old Idea
- 4 Harm Reduction: A Tobacco Solution to a Tobacco Problem?
- 5 HTP Adoption Rates
- 6 Threat to Implementation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
- 7 TobaccoTactics Resources
- 8 Relevant Link
- 9 TCRG Research
- 10 Notes
Unlike e-cigarettes, HTPs contain tobacco. According to tobacco companies, by heating the tobacco, rather than burning like conventional cigarettes, the formation of cancer-causing chemicals created at high temperature associated with combustion is significantly reduced. This tobacco industry reduced-risk claim has yet to be supported by independent scientific evidence, as discussed in the Harm Reduction section below. IQOS, produced by Philip Morris International (PMI) is the most widely available HTP, with by far the biggest share of the market, but the other big three transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) all now have HTP products. In 2017, the British Government classified HTPs into three categories:
- 1. Processed tobacco heated directly to produce vapour;
- 2. Processed tobacco designed to be heated in a vaporiser;
- 3. Devices that produce vapour from non-tobacco sources, where the vapour is then passed over processed tobacco to flavour the vapour.
The image gallery below shows examples of tobacco companies’ HTPs. Unless otherwise stated, images are screenshots from the manufacturers’ websites taken in February 2020.
Despite significant media coverage of the tobacco industry’s HTP pursuits, and the technology marketed as “a real game changer”, in 2018 HTPs represented only 2% of the value of the global tobacco market, according to market research company Euromonitor. Combustible tobacco (mainly cigarettes) continued to dominate the market with a 93% market share. Smokeless tobacco also had around 2%, and e-cigarettes 3%, of the market.
Heated Tobacco Product Technology Pioneered in 1980s
HTP technology is not new. It was first developed by tobacco companies in the 1980s to address concerns about second-hand smoke exposure. In 1988, American tobacco company RJ Reynolds (RJR) launched the first HTP, Premier, in several American cities. The company’s objective behind developing Premier was to “produce a cigarette which provided the enjoyment and satisfaction of other cigarettes, but without many of the perceived negatives”. Richard Kampe, then President RJR Development, said: “What it all comes down to is a cleaner smoke for smokers and those around them”. Premier was withdrawn from the market in early 1989 reportedly because smokers “did not like Premier’s taste or smell”.
In 1996, RJR started test marketing its second HTP called Eclipse, marketed to smokers under the slogan “imagine the unimaginable”. The company purported that Eclipse was a new cigarette “with nearly 90 percent less second-hand smoke”. This claim was refuted in 2002 by an independent study which found that Eclipse was at least as toxic as conventional cigarettes. The product was on the American market until 2014, apparently reappearing as Revo(see below).
In 1998, Philip Morris launched its first HTP called Accord under the slogan “the time is right”(see Image 5). The company commissioned Starcom Media Service to run a media campaign to create awareness of the product and communicate its perceived benefits, including reduced second-hand smoke, smoke odour and ash. Accord remained on the market until 2006, when it was discontinued due to poor sales. Consumers allegedly complained that the product was not as satisfying as conventional cigarettes. In 2007, PMI briefly rebranded Accord to Heatbar and trialled the product on the Swiss and Australian markets. It’s unclear when the product was withdrawn from these markets.
It appears as though none of the first and second generation HTPs gained commercial success, and none were marketed as potentially less harmful. A 2016 study by Dutra et al concluded that the tobacco industry’s early HTP pursuits were primarily driven by non-health related reasons, in particular to evade smoke-free regulations and to complement, rather than compete with, conventional cigarettes.
A New Take on an Old Idea
2014, marked the start of a phase of new HTP launches by tobacco companies. RJR launched Revo (allegedly a revamped version of Eclipse) under the banner “an unconventional cigarette”, PMI introduced IQOS (allegedly a revamped version of Accord) under the banner “this changes everything”, and BAT launched iFuse in 2015.
By early 2018, all transnational tobacco companies except Imperial Tobacco had HTPs in their product portfolio. PMI promoted them as part of its purported goal of a “smoke-free future” and BAT framed them as part of its “Transforming Tobacco” programme. In 2019, Imperial Tobacco (now Imperial Brands) also launched an HTP.
By 2019 BAT and PMI were testing carbon tip devices. In BAT’s case this appeared to be a version of an earlier Reynolds product (BAT acquired Reynolds in 2017). Both companies state that these products resemble traditional cigarettes.
Japan Tobacco International
In March 2010, JTI acquired a 27% share in San Francisco-based entrepreneurial company Ploom Inc., signing an agreement to commercialise Ploom’s HTP outside the US. Ploom’s HTPs heat small pods of tobacco. In February 2015, JTI and Ploom (later trading under the name ‘Pax Labs’) ended their partnership and JTI acquired the intellectual property rights for Ploom HTPs. One year later JTI launched an upgraded version, called PloomTech, with new products planned. By 2019, the company had three Ploom products in its portfolio.
- For more details see Next Generation Products: Japan Tobacco International
Philip Morris International
PMI first launched IQOS (reported at the time as standing for I Quit Ordinary Smoking) in the second half of 2014 in Italy, and later trialled the product in Japan. The electronic IQOS device heats tobacco sticks which are called HEETS. In 2018 IQOS was available in over 40 countries including Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Palestine, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and the UK.  By the beginning of 2020, PMI reported this number had risen to 52 countries, including the United States. In January 2020, PMI announced a new “collaboration” with South Korean tobacco company KT&G, to commercialize its range of “smoke-free” products globally, alongside IQOS.
PMI has been testing a HTP with a carbon tip device, called TEEPS, which it alleges is much closer to the look and feel of a conventional cigarette than IQOS. This device is likely to be similar to BAT’s Neocore (see below). As of February 2020, TEEPS did not yet appear to be on the market.
- For more details see Next Generation Products: Philip Morris International
British American Tobacco
BAT initially focused its NGP investment on e-cigarettes (for more detail see the page on E-Cigarettes: British American Tobacco). In 2015, BAT entered the HTP market with the launch of iFuse, a product that heats an e-liquid, with creates a vapour which is passed through a tobacco pod (similar to JTI’s PloomTech). In 2016, BAT launched glo which the company has claimed to be “a real game changer for consumers”.glo, like IQOS, uses a battery operated device to heat tobacco sticks (called Neostiks and sold under BAT’s cigarette brand Kent). According to BAT, glo is a simpler and more practical alternative to IQOS. In 2017, the product was sold in five countries, but BAT said that it aimed to launch glo in three times as many the following year. By 2019, glo was sold mainly in the large markets of Japan and South Korea, although the product was being rolled out in other countries, including Eastern Europe, Russia and Canada.
The company has also been developing a carbon tip device, under the name NeoCore. As of February 2020 this product, which seems to be based on Reynolds Revo/Eclipse device, did not yet appear to be on the market.
- For more details see Next Generation Products: British American Tobacco
At the end of 2017, Imperial Tobacco was the only transnational tobacco company not selling HTPs. The company’s NGP strategy had largely focused on e-cigarettes, and it had publicly dismissed HTP health claims made by its competitors, asserting “there’s no difference really between those products and traditional tobacco products” and “It’s probably better described generically as ‘heat and burn’ rather than ‘heat not burn’”. In 2015, Imperial Tobacco scientists published a study in the Environmental Analytical Chemistry journal that concluded that PMI’s IQOS released tobacco-containing side stream emissions, and as such, the scientists recommended that HTPs should be covered by smoke-free legislation.
However in early 2018, apparently under pressure from shareholders, Imperial announced that it was after all developing and trialling heated tobacco products. In May 2019, Imperial’s HTP Pulze was launched in Fukuako, Japan. The company said it was “evaluating other potential market launches for the brand”.
- For more details, go to Next Generation Products: Imperial Tobacco.
Harm Reduction: A Tobacco Solution to a Tobacco Problem?
RJ Reynolds’s executive Steven Alderman testified in an American court in 2016 that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ tobacco product. Yet, some tobacco manufacturers have marketed HTPs with direct and indirect claims that they are less toxic or less harmful than conventional cigarettes. BAT and PMI have set up dedicated websites (bat-science.com, pmiscience.com) to showcase their harm reduction HTP efforts, and have published their findings in scientific journals.  In December 2016, PMI submitted a ‘modified risk’ IQOS application with the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which if successful, would allow PMI to market IQOS in the US as ‘reduced risk’. BAT has indicated that it will undertake similar regulatory steps with glo. In January 2018, the Tobacco Products Advisory Committee (TPSAC) to the FDA, following careful scrutiny of PMI IQOS data, recommended against approving PMI’s application to market IQOS as ‘reduced risk’. The Committee concluded that the data had shown that IQOS users were exposed to lower levels of harmful chemicals, but had not demonstrated that this would translate into a measurable reduction in death and disease.
Since PMI and BAT launched their science websites, Imperial Brands and Japan Tobacco International have also created sites pointing to their product research and publications on harm reduction (Imperialbrandsscience.com and jt-science.com).
Public health advocates have cautioned that the short and long-term effects on the health of the consumer of HTPs remain unclear, and that due to the tobacco industry’s long history of deceit over the health risks of smoking, there is an urgent need for independent evidence.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
- “this generation of HTPs has not been on the market long enough for potential effects to be studied. Conclusions cannot yet be drawn about their ability to assist with quitting smoking (cessation), their potential to attract new youth tobacco users (gateway effect), or the interaction in dual use with other conventional tobacco products and e-cigarettes. Future independent studies should address these effects, as well as the safety and risk of HTPs.”
A new body of evidence is emerging that suggests that HTPs may be more harmful to health than tobacco companies would like us to believe. In May 2017, Auer and colleagues published a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine which challenged PMI’s claim that IQOS heats tobacco “without combustion fire, ash, or smoke”, and accused the company of “dancing around the definition of smoke to avoid indoor-smoking bans”. According to the authors, PMI has misappropriated the popular, yet scientifically incorrect, perception that combustion releases harmful chemicals and creates smoke. Rather, the authors argue, it’s incomplete combustion (a chemical process known as ‘pyrolysis’) which produces cancer causing chemicals. Importantly, the authors demonstrate that pyrolysis occurs in IOQS.
In addition, in December 2017 a number of former PMI employees and contractors described to Reuters “a number of irregularities” involving clinical trials that underpin PMI’s application to the FDA. Tamara Koval, who worked from PMI from 2012 to 2014 and who was directly involved in these clinical trials, told Reuters that she questioned the quality of the researchers and laboratories contracted to carry out the experiments, and that when she had highlighted an irregularity in one the studies, PMI excluded her from meetings. Reuters’ own investigations found that PMI had dropped one particular experiment because the basic procedure for obtaining informed consent from trial participants had not been followed. Speaking to the investigator in charge of that particular experiment, Reuters was told that he “knew nothing about tobacco”. Reuters also reported that, according to two former employees, a second investigator had submitted urine samples which exceeded what a human is capable of producing, and a third had told Reuters that he “doesn’t hold such company-sponsored clinical trials in high regard, describing them as ‘dirty’ because their purpose is more commercial than scientific”. PMI’s response to the Reuters report was that “all studies were conducted by suitably qualitied and trained Principle Investigators”, and that PMI had “taken steps to address any reported irregularities in our studies”.
HTP Adoption Rates
BAT, PMI and JTI have used Japan, and to a lesser degree South Korea, as a trial market for their HTPs. Initial reports by the tobacco companies and industry analysts showed strong adoption rates in these countries, particularly Japan. According to PMI, by March 2017 the tobacco company sold three million IQOS devices in Japan, and “demand continues to outstrip supply”.
While, by the end of 2019, IQOS had expanded to over 50 markets, the Japanese experience has not been replicated elsewhere. Reuters suggested that HTPs success in Japan might be connected to restrictive e-cigarette legislation, arguing that “e-cigarettes, which use nicotine-laced liquid, are not permitted under the country’s pharmaceutical regulation”. President of BAT Japan, Roberta Palazzetti, described Japan as “the first battleground for heated tobacco products”, explaining that BAT had chosen Japan because “Japan’s consumers are highly receptive to innovation”. In addition, others have suggested that the Japanese success of HTPs may be linked to the Japanese values of discretion and social politeness, which do not necessarily apply to other markets. The market in South Korea is dominated by Korean tobacco company KT&G. It remains to be seen how much PMI’s distribution deal with the South Korean company affects its own market share, and that of its competitors, in South Korea and globally.
In Europe, Italy was at the forefront of HTP developments. PMI chose Milan to trial IOQS reportedly due to beneficial tax treatment of the product by the Italian government. BAT Chief Executive Nicandro Durante reported in July 2017 that BAT had seen “no success whatsoever” with glo in European markets like Italy and Switzerland. However, PMI continues to launch IQOS in Western European markets, as well as expanding into Eastern Europe and Russia.
Threat to Implementation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
The WHO and the Secretariat to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) have warned that the tobacco industry’s HTPs are addictive, that “all forms of tobacco use are harmful, including HTPs”;  and that they should be subjected to the same policy and regulatory measures applied to tobacco products, in line with the FCTC. It has also stated that the tobacco industry’s NGP strategy is primarily “in pursuit of profit rather than public health”,
In March 2019, the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC released a statement urging governments to remain vigilant, stating that:
“novel and emerging nicotine and tobacco products…are creating another layer of interference by the tobacco industry and related industries, which is still reported by Parties as the most serious barrier to progress in implementing the WHO FCTC”.
It also reminded Parties of their obligations under Article 5.3 to protect tobacco control policies and activities from all commercial and vested interests.
- Harm Reduction
- Next Generation Products
- Next Generation Products: Japan Tobacco International
- Next Generation Products: Philip Morris International
- Next Generation Products: British American Tobacco
- Next Generation Products: Imperial Tobacco
- World Health Organization information sheet Heated Tobacco Products
- World Health Organization HTP market monitoring information sheet
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