Putrajaya urged to ban heat-not-burn smoking devices

An iQOS electronic cigarette, which heats tobacco sticks but does not burn them. (AFP pic)

PETALING JAYA: An anti-tobacco group has praised the government’s move to ban smoking at eateries but says allowing the sale of heat-not-burn (HNB) devices has put Putrajaya “two steps back” in its efforts to reduce the activity.

The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) also disputed the claim by companies which make these devices that they expose smokers to “significantly” less harmful chemicals than conventional cigarettes.

MCTC president Dr Molly Cheah said insufficient research has been done, and that even “alternatives” like HNB gadgets still use nicotine which is hazardous to health.

“It’s the same old story: tobacco companies come up with new products and tout them as being safer, but after further research they are found to be equally harmful,” she told FMT.

HNB devices consist of “heatsticks” which heat rather than burn tobacco refills. At the moment, only Philip Morris Malaysia’s IQOS device and its RM14 Heets refills are available in the market.

Although these refills contain nicotine, the health ministry has reportedly said that no pictorial warnings are needed on the packaging as is required of cigarettes. This is because they are not defined as such under the law.

According to the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004, cigarettes are defined as tobacco that is rolled up in one paper wrapper or more.

Cheah’s concern is that HNB devices may thus be more accessible and attractive to youth.

“We are worried that young people will find the HNB devices hip. The refills are cheaper and sold in smaller packets, and their use is less detectable as they produce less smoke.”

She acknowledged claims that these devices can help smokers kick the habit, but said there is no evidence of this, or that they are less harmful than cigarettes.

She urged the government to ban these devices pending the design of proper guidelines for their use.

“The government did the right thing by banning smoking in eating areas, but it has taken two steps backwards by allowing the sale of HNB products.”

Reuters previously reported that according to a study by the University of California, San Francisco, using HNB devices could lead to as much lung damage as traditional cigarettes.

Meanwhile, another study by the University of Bern, Switzerland, found that HNB devices also release some of the cancer-causing chemicals found in cigarettes.

According to reports, the Japanese government plans to restrict the use of HNB products on grounds that they contain nicotine and other cancer-causing substances, while in Hong Kong, officials have expressed their intention to ban HNB devices and e-cigarettes.

Singapore, too, has reportedly banned the use of HNB products.