Heated Tobacco Products – Harm Studies

heat sticks

Credit: vaping360.com

We are often asked to provide detailed material on “heated tobacco products/tobacco heating systems.” Large tobacco companies create them. In advertising and promotion, they try in every possible way to distance themselves from the concepts of “cigarettes” and “smoking.” But is everything so rosy? Let’s investigate!

Heated Tobacco Products: History and Definition

What is it? This is a tobacco heating system. The abbreviation HTP = heated tobacco product may be encountered. I’ll make a reservation right away: iQos, Glo, Ploom, Lil – these are all tobacco heating systems. The principle of their work is almost similar.

The fact is that iQos is the most popular brand. Maybe one day it will become a household name like a Jeep and Xerox. For the sake of simplicity, I will describe everything with the term HTP or “heated tobacco products.”

Vapes/e-cigarettes work differently. There are also hybrids of electronic devices with HTP, in which you can use both tobacco and liquid.

It’s funny that the first prototypes appeared in the 1960s. Tobacco workers have long thought about how to make a “smokeless cigarette.” But the format did not fit the people.

Why do you need this incomprehensible thing when you have cigarettes? It’s funny that the FDA ended up classifying the first heated tobacco product as a drug. Of course, its production was quickly curtailed [1].

But the heating systems have waited in the wings. The whole world is now quitting smoking, a trend for a healthy lifestyle. Excise taxes are rising. Prices are getting higher. Pictures are getting bigger and worse. And then from under the floor, the tobacco giants take out a magic wand and begin to wave it.

iQos is manufactured by the tobacco giant Philipp Morris. Glo is the work of British American Tobacco. JTI, Japan Tobacco International manufacture a Ploom. Three global tobacco companies have a brand.

Principle of Operation

Heated Tobacco Products

HTP consists of three elements: a heater (aka a stick holder), a tobacco stick, and a charger. The heater has a heating element.

The element is made of a platinum-ceramic coating with gold and platinum tracks. Each manufacturer’s elements are structurally different, but the principle is the same.

The device heats up when the button is pressed. As soon as the light diode lights up and there is a vibration signal, you can smoke. The tobacco stick heats up and releases tobacco vapor or aerosol.

The most curious will ask: “What does a tobacco stick consist of?”

The Composition of Heated Tobacco Products

Divide the heated stick into 4 parts in your mind.

In the first part, we have reconstituted tobacco plus glycerin and propylene glycol. Cellulose fibers, guar gum (E412, by the way), and flavors can also be added. Slightly reminiscent of the vape liquid in which the tobacco was soaked.

The second part contains a hollow acetate filter. It lowers the temperature of the main aerosol jet and retains some of the volatiles.

The third part is made of polymer. Directly in iQos, it is polylactide. That is many, many molecules of lactic acid. Biodegradable, by the way. This filter piece continues to lower the temperature of the aerosol.

And the fourth part is again the acetate filter, our mouthpiece. The final barrier between the hot spray and the oral cavity. [2]

Heating Temperature


The bottom line is that the tobacco stick is heated to a temperature of no higher than 350 ° C [3]. Why is it important? In a regular cigarette, the most harmful is not nicotine, but combustion products. Of which there are a little more than a ton. And at least 69 are proven carcinogens. [4]

For comparison, the temperature of tobacco in a cigarette is 600-900 ° C. The higher the combustion temperature, the more wonderful products of this combustion.

At temperatures up to 350 ° C, we extract nicotine from the tobacco stick – that’s what the fuss is about. But to say that only nicotine is released and nothing else is impossible. The aerosol also contains glycerin, propylene glycol, tar, and some compounds found in regular cigarette smoke, such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein [5].

Of course, there are fewer combustion products, on average, 90-95% lower than in smoke. But this does not mean that smoking tobacco heating systems are 90-95% safer. This kind of math doesn’t work here!

Danger from Heated Tobacco Products

It’s about the same as with vaping. Insufficiently studied, there is not much information on health effects. There are no long-term studies yet. [6]

Since it contains nicotine, it forms an addiction. In any case, there are carcinogenic compounds in the aerosol. You cannot call it an absolutely harmless contraption with zero emissions. WHO is being careful.

In 2016, they stated that their manufacturers sponsor studies showing a reduced health risk when smoking heated tobacco products. [7]

That is clearly a conflict of interest. Some scientists generally believe that the harm from HTP is no less than from cigarettes. [7]

In 2020, the FDA granted permission to market iQos as a reduced exposure tobacco product. Let me emphasize that this applies specifically to the iQos brand and not to all heated tobacco products [8].

This, of course, frees the hands of the manufacturer. It gives the right to advertise iQos as an almost safe device. Yes, the numbers of numerous studies are not taken from the ceiling and indicate that the emissions are less. But there is still a carcinogenic and mutagenic effect.


heat sticks for welding

It’s simple enough: if you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoked and decided to switch to vape / iQos, you can switch. But no one guarantees super-risk reduction and silky hair on the back after smoking iQos. Science will study the long-term effects of these smokers.

On the other hand, I’m not going to persuade you. I respect you too much to run around, screaming, “Smoking kills.” This is the choice of everyone.

The text was supplemented by an employee of a large tobacco production, who wished to remain anonymous.


  1. ‘Smokeless’ Cigarette’s Hapless Start
  2. Сравнительные исследования компонентного состава сигарет и стиков “Parliament” для системы нагревания табака iQOS
  3. Tabakerhitzer als neues Produkt der Tabakindustrie: Gesundheitliche Risiken
  4. Tobacco – WHO
  5. IQOS: an examination of Philip Morris International’s claim of reduced exposure
  6. “Heat not burn” tobacco devices as new tobacco industry products: health risks
  7. “Further development of the partial guidelines for implementation of Articles 9 and 10 of the WHO FCTC” (PDF). World Health Organization. 12 July 2016. pp. 1–11
  8. FDA Authorizes Marketing of IQOS Tobacco Heating System with ‘Reduced Exposure’ Information

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