Heat-not-burn refills shouldn’t be dodging tax, health requirements

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

PETALING JAYA: A former health ministry official and a think-tank have called on Putrajaya to treat heat-not-burn (HNB) smoking refills as cigarettes and subject to the same regulations which govern tobacco products, amid reports that Putrajaya is developing a law on e-cigarettes, which include HNB products.

Speaking to FMT, the Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control and Health (MyWATCH) said HNB refills fulfilled the definition of a cigarette under the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004 (CTPR), even though tobacco companies might intend that the refills be consumed using a device known as a “heatstick”.

“The CPTR defines a cigarette as cut tobacco leaves rolled in a piece of paper. It does not determine how that product will finally be consumed, whether burned or heated,” MyWATCH medical director Dr Zarihah Zain told FMT.

Previously, The Sun reported the health ministry as saying the tobacco refills did not need to carry pictorial warnings on the packages like cigarettes as they were not defined as such under the law.

Zarihah, who was a pioneer officer in the health ministry’s Tobacco Control Unit, said
HNB refills should be subjected to the same requirements as cigarettes, including compliance with requirements for graphic and text health warnings, packaging size, prohibitions on advertising, and a ban on sales to minors.

HNB products, she added, should not be consumed in designated areas where smoking was banned.

The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, meanwhile, said amendments to the law were needed so that HNB refills were subject to excise duties and health regulation requirements.

The think tank’s CEO Azrul Khalib said refills contained nicotine which was classified as Group C poison under the Poison Act 1952, and that they should only be allowed to be sold through pharmacies just like nicotine patches.

From a health perspective, Azrul said studies by the US Food and Drug Administration and another by South Korea’s National Tobacco Control Centre respectively provided evidence of health risks and contradicted the claim that cigarette smokers would switch to HNB products.

“The available evidence suggests that the devices are just as harmful to the lungs and immune system as traditional cigarettes.”

In the South Korea study, he said, current I-Quit-Ordinary Smoking (IQOS) users were found to be more likely to also smoke conventional cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

He added that non-HNB users could also still be exposed to harmful substances through secondhand smoke.

“It is important to emphasise that not enough is yet known about the safety of heat-not-burn tobacco products compared with smoking conventional cigarettes, but allowing the sale of HNB sends a contradictory, and confusing signal regarding the government’s stance on tobacco products.”

Recently, the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control, in urging Putrajaya to ban HNB products, voiced concern that these might be more accessible and attractive to youth, owing to the cheaper prices of refills, smaller packaging and being less detectable as they produced less smoke.