How safe are e-cigarettes?
Neuchâtel - GCC governments need to set standards for e-cigarettes to avoid misleading claims.
With an increasing number of experts saying that non-burning alternatives to cigarettes can help public health, GCC governments need to set clear standards for e-cigarettes and help avoid misleading claims about their reduced risk reduction potentials, experts have said.
The call has come from experts from a leading company, Philip Morris International (PMI), which claims to have the "most advanced science" in assessing health benefits for smokers switching to products with the potential to reduce the risk of combustible cigarette smoking.
Currently, there is a ban on the sale and use of e-cigarettes in countries like the UAE. However, there is a thriving community of "vapers" in the country, which mainly depends on unregulated sources that largely operate online.
In October 2015, Khaleej Times reported that the UAE was laying down regulations for e-cigarettes which may ease the ban on the sale of the product in the country.
While there is no update available on the move and the debate on the reduced risk in e-cigarettes continues, Ruwaida Bou Ajram, manager of communications and corporate affairs at Philip Morris Management Services Middle East, said the UAE is making a step in the right direction.
"We are glad that the country is taking the right steps to shape an environment that could benefit public health," she said. "Regulation can do this by setting clear standards for any cigarette alternative on the market, such as e-cigarettes, as well as developing standards for reduced-risk claim authorisation, providing consumers and the public with assurance that such Reduced Risk Products (RRP) claims are accurate, non-misleading and supported by rigorous scientific substantiation."
Reduced Risk Products
RRP refers to products that are alternatives to smokers who would otherwise continue smoking cigarettes.
Last year, 53 leading scientists and public health experts from around the world called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to embrace 'tobacco harm reduction' - the idea that the 1.3 billion people who currently smoke could do much less harm to their health if they consumed nicotine in low-risk, non-combustible form.
According Bou Ajram, developing less harmful products is actually driven by consumers' demand. "We believe that regulation should encourage innovation and thorough scientific assessment of the product risk profile. It should also allow product communication that encourages smokers to switch to reduced-risk alternatives."
During a recent visit to the R&D headquarters of the company in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Tommaso Di Giovanni, head of RRP Communications at PMI, told Khaleej Times the company has been investing in potentially reduced-risk alternatives to cigarettes for over a decade. "It is because it is the right thing to do, and because addressing the significant demand from smokers makes business sense."
He said PMI has invested about $2 billion and hired over 430 research and development experts for improving its RRP products. The annual production capacity of a new factory to produce the tobacco components of two of those products that heat tobacco without burning is expected to reach up to 30 billion units this year. And the company is looking for 15 per cent of its portfolio to be RRPs in five to 10 years.
The iQOS product they developed uses a ceramic blade to heat tobacco to no more than 280 degrees, whereas a burning cigarette operates at around 800 to 900 degrees. They have launched the product so far in cities in Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Romania, Portugal and Russia, with more expected in 2016.
Moira Gilchrist, director of Scientific Engagement, led a tour at the R&D headquarters named The Cube to show how the company is conducting extensive research, including both laboratory and clinical studies, on the perception of risk communications and studies of actual product use.
"We assess risk reduction compared to the health effects of quitting smoking," she said.
According to her, the company has completed a significant portion of advanced and comprehensive studies on iQOS.
"We have already determined that the aerosol generated by iQOS produces on average 90 to 95 per cent lower levels of harmful chemicals compared to a reference cigarette, and that the aerosol is on average 90 to 95 per cent less toxic than smoke from a reference cigarette," she claimed.
In a three-month clinical study recently carried out in Japan, the researcher said, the average reduction in 15 biomarkers of exposure to 15 harmful chemicals measured in smokers who switched to iQOS approached the effect observed in smokers who quit smoking for the duration of the study.