[Newsmaker] Tobacco firms rebut ministry’s claim that HNB cigarettes produce more tar

By Kim Da-sol
  • Published : Jun 7, 2018 - 17:04
  • Updated : Jun 7, 2018 - 17:04

Heated debate ensued after the announcement by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety of its safety results on recently popular heat-not-burn e-cigarettes on Thursday, which found the products to be equally, if not more, harmful compared to traditional cigarettes. 

“I have always thought a HNB cigarette is a better option for chain smokers like me. I have invested some 100,000 won ($93) for getting the device in the beginning, and now I’m thinking about reselling the device,” said 37-year-old Kim Do-hyung. 

According to the ministry, a single HNB cigarette stick used for a tobacco heating device released a similar amount of nicotine compared to a conventional cigarette (0.01~0.7 milligram). It, meanwhile, produced from 4.8 to 9.3mg of tar, while a conventional cigarette produced 0.1 to 9.3mg of it. 

It was also found to release some five types of carcinogens named by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Most of the nine World Health Organization-designated harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene and benzopyrene were also discovered from HNB cigarettes. 

The health authorities launched the probe in August last year into three tobacco heating devices -- IQOS by Philip Morris Korea, British American Tobacco‘s Glo and South Korean leading cigarette maker KT&G’s Lil. 

“We found that there was no ground to say that HNB cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes,” a ministry official said. 

E-cigarette manufacturers immediately fired back. 

Industry insiders said that the ministry’s method of measuring the amount of harmful chemicals in HNB cigarettes was obscure. 

“Since HNB cigarettes, which works by heating the cigarette stick up to 300 degree Celsius inside the heating device, release vapor, unlike conventional cigarette which creates smoke through combustion. It does not make sense to compare two different products which work in totally different ways,” a BAT Korea official told The Korea Herald. 

“Although their method for safety test – ISO and Health Canada methods – is credible, the ministry did not have a clear standard of comparing harmful chemicals produced from HNB cigarettes,” he added. 

Another industry insider argued it was not appropriate to “simply compare the total amount,” as the constituents of steam from HNB and smoke from conventional tobaccos are “qualitatively” different. 

Since the launch of HNB cigarette heating devices in domestic market last year, BAT Korea and Philip Morris have released several clinical tests which claim their devices produce lower levels of harmful chemicals compared with conventional cigarettes. 

The tug-of-war has been brewing between the tobacco makers and the government over the latter’s move to impose stricter regulations on the new HNB tobaccos, including its latest decision to have the HNB products carry the same graphic warning images and combustible tobaccos from this December.

The government has also been moving to raise various taxes on HNB cigarettes. 

Most recently the National Assembly in November last year passed the individual consumption tax for HNB cigarettes to reach 90 percent of those imposed on ordinary cigarettes. 

By Kim Da-sol (