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Heated tobacco products (HTPs) are the tobacco industry’s newest way to keep people addicted to tobacco and attract new users, including young people. Tobacco companies have sought to market HTPs as "reduced risk" because the companies claim using the products does not involve burning or combustion, and they claim to market these products only to existing smokers. However, the industry has a long history of making false claims about the health risks of its products, most notably in the marketing of “light” and “mild” cigarettes that were no safer than other cigarettes. In addition, HTPs have been marketed around the world in ways that appeal to young people.

The use of HTPs does involve combustion, and asserting otherwise is an attempt to mislead consumers and policymakers about the harms of using the product. As agreed by the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, all tobacco product use is dangerous. Therefore, HTPs should be banned or strongly regulated to minimize their use and exposure to their emissions. Governments must resist tobacco industry lobbying to regulate HTPs less strictly than other tobacco products.

What are Heated Tobacco Products?

Heated tobacco products (HTPs) are tobacco products that require the use of an electronic device to heat a stick or plug of compressed tobacco. The stick (by definition, a cigarette) or plug is heated to a temperature high enough to produce an inhalable aerosol, but the temperature is below that which is required for full combustion. 


Each manufacturer’s HTP system is fully integrated; the heating device and heated cigarettes for each system must be used together. For more details about HTP systems, see Heated Tobacco Products: Definitions and Global Market. The heated cigarettes in each system come in a variety of flavors including menthol and fruit. HTP devices can be quite different from one another. For example, some devices allow users to control the temperature at which tobacco is heated as well as the aerosol and flavor emitted. 

HTPs are not e-cigarettes. HTPs produce nicotine-containing aerosol by heating tobacco, whereas e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, but use a nicotine-containing liquid to produce aerosol. 

HTP Global Market

First launched in 2014, HTPs are now available in at least 51 countries or jurisdictions. IQOS, manufactured by Philip Morris International (PMI), is the market leader and is sold in more countries than any other HTP. glo, manufactured by British American Tobacco (BAT,) and Ploom TECH, produced by Japan Tobacco International (JTI,) have the second and third largest shares of the global HTP market respectively, although both are far behind IQOS. Other available HTPs include lil by KT&G and Mok by China Tobacco. For more information on the global HTP market, see Heated Tobacco Products: Definitions and Global Market

HTP Marketing

Tobacco companies have mounted aggressive marketing campaigns to introduce consumers to HTPs. The heating devices are marketed as sophisticated, high-tech products that offer users a way to enjoy tobacco products that are "reduced risk" and "smoke-free." While HTP marketing generally emphasizes the devices, heated cigarettes often carry popular cigarette brands, tying these new products to familiar names. For instance, BAT’s heated cigarettes are branded as KENT neosticks and PMI’s are branded as MARLBORO HEETS. 

Branding and marketing the heating devices separately from the heated cigarettes can allow tobacco companies to circumvent tobacco advertising bans in countries where the heating devices are not defined as “tobacco products.” 

Marketing HTPs through social media has been a key element of HTP advertising. A 2020 study of IQOS marketing documents how PMI invests in branded IQOS stores and public social events targeting young people, hires influencers, ambassadors and coaches to promote and explain how to use IQOS, and markets the products through various social media platforms. Recent investigations published by Reuters and The Times examined how tobacco companies like PMI and BAT use young-looking social media influencers to promote HTPs and other tobacco products on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Industry Business Strategy and Claims

PMI internal documents indicate that the company’s motivation for creating IQOS and other so-called ‘reduced risk’ products was to maintain profitability in the face of an increasingly hostile environment for tobacco business as usual. PMI seeks to re-normalize tobacco, regain credibility in discussions concerning tobacco product regulation, and reshape the public’s perception of the tobacco industry.    

Each of the major multinational tobacco companies has revamped its strategic business platform to investors, the public, and regulators by offering a range of products based on their alleged reduced risk to users. PMI has embraced this concept most vigorously by claiming it seeks a "Smoke Free Future" while BAT asserts its “purpose is to build "A Better Tomorrow" by reducing the health impact of our business through offering a greater choice of enjoyable and less risky products for our consumers.” JTI classifies its reduced risk product line as one of its key "Sustainability Priorities." Imperial Brands claims it wants smokers to switch to products with lower health risks with the tagline "Something Better." However, despite tobacco industry claims about shifting how they do business, tobacco companies continue to derive the vast majority of their profits from the sales of conventional cigarettes.  

Health Risks Associated with HTP Emissions

HTPs emit many of the same toxic chemicals present in tobacco smoke. They contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance with serious adverse consequences for adolescent brain development and maternal and fetal health during pregnancy. Nicotine exposure also decreases immune response and likely increases risk of cardiovascular disease. HTP emissions also contain tobacco-specific nitrosamines and aldehydes, which are known to cause cancer, as well as carbon monoxide and acrolein which are toxic.  

For more information on the health harms posed by HTPs, see Heated Tobacco Products: Evidence. 

HTP Regulation

Governments should consider banning HTPs or applying tobacco control provisions, to both the heated cigarettes and the heating devices, that are fully compliant with WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. These include restricting use in public places, implementing graphic health warning labels, and banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship. If countries decide to permit the sale of HTPs, strict regulations must include high taxation of both the heating devices as well as the heated cigarettes. Heated cigarettes are generally sold at a price equivalent to premium cigarettes, so lower taxation on these products only increases tobacco company profits. Heated cigarettes should be taxed equivalently to conventional cigarettes.

For more information on HTP regulation around the globe, see Heated Tobacco Products: Regulation.

Last Updated May 26, 2020