If you listen to the manufacturers, everything that we see on supermarket shelves contains neither palm oil, nor trans fats, nor preservatives, sugar, GMOs, pesticides, hormones, and in general health benefits only. But any big claim of usefulness is worth double-checking.
Today we will deal with the sensational novelty for smokers – IQOS. Official information from the manufacturer – at iqos.com.
IQOS is an electronic tobacco heating system from Philip Morris International. Positioned as a less harmful and more hygienic alternative for smokers. We will explore if this is so, where the catch lies and what the research says on this topic. Let’s go straight to the issues that cause the most discussion and controversy.
1. There is nicotine. True?
It’s true. Whatever you do with tobacco – burn it, gray it, soak it in water – it still contains nicotine. And nicotine is addictive. Moreover, nicotine overdose adversely affects the cardiovascular system. Nicotine is especially dangerous for pregnant and lactating women, for people with heart disease and high blood pressure. But it is important to understand that most of the diseases associated with smoking are not caused by nicotine, but by combustion products.
“Disease and death are mainly caused by toxins and carcinogens in cigarette smoke, not nicotine,” – U.K. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
In the process of smoking a cigarette, about 6,000 different chemical compounds (tar, carbon monoxide, ammonia, etc.) are released. It has been proven that at least 1% of these substances can cause disease.
There are no combustion products in IQOS. The device heats tobacco up to only 300-350 ⁰С (in a cigarette, the combustion temperature reaches 800 ⁰С). This is enough to extract the flavor and nicotine from the tobacco, but not produce harmful combustion products. The tobacco heating technology in IQOS can reduce the amount of harmful substances emitted by 90–95%.
2. The tobacco inside the sticks looks suspicious. Is it tobacco in general?
If you break the stick for IQOS, then inside we will see tobacco, such as in the photo below. It doesn’t look like cigarette tobacco. On a whole tobacco leaf – too. We probed the Internet to find out where this tobacco comes from, and whether it is better or worse than what is in cigarettes.
For IQOS sticks, they take natural tobacco leaves and finely chop them, like in a blender. The resulting powder is impregnated with glycerin and propylene glycol. These substances are added in order to ensure evaporation. By itself, dry tobacco leaf will evaporate slightly when heated. For an experiment, you can try to heat any dry leaves in a pan – it will take a long time to heat until the smell appears. But if you wet the leaves with water, the aroma will begin to be felt very soon.
The tobacco-glycerin gruel is rolled out, dried and cut into slices. These are the plates that we see inside the sticks.
3. Why add glycerin and propylene glycol? It’s chemistry!
Okay, the tobacco might not be suspicious. But the substances with which it is impregnated are alarming. It turns out that when using IQOS we inhale glycerine aerosol with nicotine and tobacco flavor. Glycerin is also the main ingredient in vaping and e-cigarette liquids. Is it safe to inhale? The exact answer to this question is not indicated anywhere. Therefore, we will conduct our own investigation.
Glycerin is widely used in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food industries. It is found in many creams and moisturizers. In medicine, glycerin is used to soften mucous membranes. For example, in cough syrups or inhalation liquids.
We could not find an exact conclusion on whether it is harmful or beneficial to inhale glycerin evaporated from tobacco or vaping liquid. But even if doctors prescribe to inhale glycerin fumes from an inhaler for medicinal purposes, then this, at least, does not harm.
Propylene glycol is a basic ingredient in the tobacco industry. It is used as a tobacco humidifier in regular cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco. Thanks to the addition of propylene glycol, the tobacco does not dry out longer and retains its flavor.
We did not find any studies on the harm / safety of propylene glycol. Therefore, the question remains open.
4. Grains of tobacco remain inside. Can they catch fire?
They cannot catch fire. The temperature for combustion is categorically insufficient. We did not find any official manufacturer’s statements about the jam of tobacco crumbs. But a University of California study found that tiny particles of tobacco remain inside the IQOS holder after the stick is removed. Especially if you get the stick wrong.
With repeated heating of the tobacco particles, the pyrolysis process can begin. That is, under prolonged exposure to temperature, the solid will begin to split into gaseous components. But at the same time, the University of California did not find evidence of the harmfulness of these substances. Maximum – users note that poorly cleaned IQOS tastes bitter.
So the only thing that can be recommended is to clean your IQOS thoroughly. And if for a long time of use it becomes very dirty, take it to the company store. They do professional cleaning of the device for free.
A short summary of our research for those who want to read the most important at once:
1. Sticks for IQOS are filled with natural tobacco, but due to the different processing technology it looks different from ordinary cigarettes. During processing, it is crushed and impregnated with glycerin and propylene glycol to ensure the evaporation of nicotine when heated.
2. IQOS does not produce combustion products. The scariest ingredient in cigarette smoke is not nicotine. The biggest harm to health is caused by combustion products (carcinogenic resins, ammonia, carbon monoxide). Since IQOS heats the tobacco rather than ignites it, no harmful combustion products are released. And the total amount of harmful substances is reduced by 90-95%. The FDA (American Food and Drug Administration) Advisory Committee has confirmed that IQOS emits significantly less harmful substances than cigarettes.
3. Inhalation of glycerin, which is impregnated with tobacco, does not seem to be harmful. It is used in inhalers for respiratory diseases, in cough syrups, and in creams.
1. Nicotine. Any tobacco contains nicotine. Therefore, when using IQOS, you absorb approximately the same amount of nicotine as from cigarettes. And nicotine is addictive.