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What are “heat-not-burn” cigarettes?

A different type of tobacco product may land on American shelves soon if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves IQOS (I-Quit-Ordinary-Smoking), a type of “heat-not-burn” tobacco product by Philip Morris.

While the tobacco industry claims these products are less toxic than cigarettes, public health experts are concerned that they may be another way to addict people, especially youth and young adults, and promote the use of more than one tobacco product at a time. The devices could also be an attempt to re-normalize smoking, which has reached historically low rates among teens and is now at 6 percent.

IQOS e-cigarette

Here’s what you need to know about heat-not-burn products, the tobacco industry’s next big act.

What it is:

Heat-not-burn tobacco products are electronic devices that heat tobacco and produce an inhalable aerosol, instead of burning tobacco like traditional cigarettes. Heat-not-burn products are different from e-cigarettes because they use real tobacco, not the flavored liquid nicotine typically found in e-cigarettes.

The concept behind heat-not-burn is that it allows users to experience something that looks and feels like smoking a regular cigarette without inhaling combusted tobacco. Tobacco companies claim that heat-not-burn products are less harmful than cigarettes because when tobacco burns, or combusts, it produces more than 7,000 chemicals that are found in cigarette smoke. Many of these chemicals cause or can cause harm to both smokers and nonsmokers.


Currently, there is little research on the health effects of using or being exposed to heat-not-burn products, and no independently-verified evidence that they have a lower health risk. Most published research in the U.S. is led by Philip Morris scientists, who claim that smoking IQOS delivers reduced toxicity, lower levels of harmful and potentially harmful chemicals and minimal impact on lung or heart health (in animal studies) when compared with regular cigarettes.

Tobacco companies have a history of misrepresenting the harmfulness of their products, which is why public health experts—including Truth Initiative®—stress that it is imperative that independent researchers or the FDA verify the industry’s findings.


Heat-not-burn devices aren’t available in the U.S., but that may be changing soon. Philip Morris is seeking approval from the FDA to sell IQOS under its Marlboro brand.

The company submitted applications to the FDA for two different regulatory approvals: one to market the product as a new tobacco product (called a Pre-Market approval) in March 2017, and the other to market the product as less harmful than other tobacco products (called a Modified Risk Tobacco Product approval) in December 2016.  IQOS is already available in 26 other countries, and is currently being tested in the Japan and Switzerland market.