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Taking heat on heat-not-burn

June 09,2018
One out of 10 smokers in Korea opt for heat-not-burn cigarettes over conventional cigarettes. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety warns that despite what the ads say, these cigarettes, which heat tobacco without producing smoke, are as carcinogenic as ordinary ones and could even generate more tar than combustible cigarettes.

The ministry studied three heat-not-burn products sold in Korea — Philip Morris’ IQOS, British American Tobacco’s glo and KT&G’s lil — for 11 months. These products have become popular because smokers believe they are “more than 90 percent less harmful” than conventional cigarettes. However, the ministry discovered five carcinogens characterized as Group 1, the highest level, by the World Health Organization.

The formaldehyde content averaged 1.5 to 2.6 micrograms and benzene content 0.03 to 0.1 micrograms. Tar levels reached about 4.8 to 9.3 milligrams, much higher than the 0.1 to 8 milligrams found in ordinary cigarettes. Heat-not-burn products contain as much nicotine and are equally as addictive as conventional cigarettes.

The ministry concluded that the alternative option was by no means any less harmful to the body or helpful in quitting smoking. Manufacturers argued that focusing on a few substances in heat-not-burn cigarettes when ordinary cigarettes contain 7,000 types of harmful substances was unfair.

The study may require more thorough scrutiny, but the companies have committed a serious crime if they deliberately hid the harmfulness of heat-not-burn cigarettes. In less than a year since they hit store shelves, sales surged from 200,000 packs last May to 28.1 million this April. Its share of overall tobacco sales in Korea has reached 10 percent. False or exaggerated marketing must be investigated and punished.

Koreans are the world’s heaviest smokers, with a rate of 21.2 percent. (The rate is even higher among males, at 39.1 percent.) A stronger antismoking campaign is needed. The heat-not-burn cigarettes, like conventional ones, must carry graphic warning images. The sales tax should also be raised. Consumers should not face harm after turning to heat-not-burn cigarettes because of their innocent belief in lesser health risks.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 8, Page 30