Skip to main content
Move the World.
Smokeless Cigarettes

Lead Image © Photo by Евгений Вершинин

Cigarettes are bad for your health — they cause multiple forms of cancer and are the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Bearing that in mind, the FDA has determined that Philip Morris's new smokeless cigarettes — in which tobacco is heated up, but not set on fire — may be less harmful, at least in some ways, than smoking.

The agency found that users were exposed to fewer harmful chemicals, although it did not say that this meant a lower risk of health problems.

The FDA finding clears the tobacco giant to begin marketing the products, known as IQOS, as a potentially better alternative to standard cigarettes — a move that could help some smokers reduce the health effects of their nicotine addiction.

Smokeless Cigarettes 101

Since 2009, it's been illegal in the U.S. to market a tobacco product as a healthier alternative to cigarettes without FDA approval.

To get that approval, a company must submit a "modified risk tobacco product" (MRTP) application, which Philip Morris did in 2016 for IQOS, its system for smokeless cigarettes.

Tobacco catches fire at about 1,110 degrees Fahrenheit, but the IQOS system heats it to just 660 degrees. That's hot enough to release nicotine-containing vapor, which the IQOS user can inhale to satisfy their addiction, but won't release as much tar and other carcinogenic chemicals.

On July 7, the FDA approved part of Philip Morris' application.

"Scientific studies have shown that switching completely from conventional cigarettes to the IQOS system significantly reduces your body's exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals," the FDA wrote in its announcement.

The studies found that IQOS releases fewer harmful substances — and that users who switched had fewer of these toxic chemicals in their blood.

Fighting a Nicotine Addiction

To be clear, the FDA is not saying that smokeless cigarettes are safe or healthy, in an absolute sense.

It's also not allowing Philip Morris to claim that IQOS actually reduces any health risks linked to cigarette smoking — such as cancer — just that it produces fewer harmful and potentially harmful chemicals. While it seems intuitive that less exposure leads to lower risk, the FDA said that the evidence wasn't strong enough to prove that switching would lead to better outcomes.

"Switching to IQOS is a better choice than continuing to smoke."

André Calantzopoulos

Still, this is the first time the FDA has granted any tobacco product an "exposure modification" order — and now that Philip Morris has that in its back pocket, it can start leaning into the marketing of its smokeless cigarettes to nicotine addicts looking for an alternative to smoking.

"Many of the tens of millions of American men and women who smoke today will quit — but many won't," Philip Morris's CEO André Calantzopoulos said in a press release.

"Today's decision makes it possible to inform these adults that switching completely to IQOS is a better choice than continuing to smoke," he continued.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

Dispatches
Unlike Smoking, Vaping Won't Mess With Your Microbiome
Unlike Smoking, Vaping Won't Mess With Your Microbiome
Dispatches
Unlike Smoking, Vaping Won't Mess With Your Microbiome
Smoking kills off good bacteria and upsets the balance of power your gut.

Smoking kills off good bacteria and upsets the balance of power your gut.

Biology of Addiction
Addict-Turned-Neuroscientist on Addiction and the Brain
Judith Grisel on addiction and the brain.
Biology of Addiction
Addict-Turned-Neuroscientist on Addiction and the Brain
In our interview with neuroscientist Judith Grisel, she discusses the state of research on addiction and the brain, as well as society’s view of addicts.

In our interview with neuroscientist Judith Grisel, she discusses the state of research on addiction and the brain, as well as society’s view of addicts.

Biology of Addiction
We May Have Found a Drug to Curb Meth Addiction
drug to curb meth addiction
Biology of Addiction
We May Have Found a Drug to Curb Meth Addiction
Meth addiction is on the rise, so this team of researchers is working to develop the first FDA-approved medication to treat the use disorder.

Meth addiction is on the rise, so this team of researchers is working to develop the first FDA-approved medication to treat the use disorder.

Public Health
Blood Plasma From Coronavirus Survivors Could Save Lives
coronavirus survivors
Public Health
Blood Plasma From Coronavirus Survivors Could Save Lives
A drug company is using the blood plasma of coronavirus survivors to develop a treatment for those still battling the disease.

A drug company is using the blood plasma of coronavirus survivors to develop a treatment for those still battling the disease.

Future of Food
What’s Not to Love About Lab Grown Meat?
Inside the World of Gourmet Lab Meat
Watch Now
Future of Food
What’s Not to Love About Lab Grown Meat?
A future of eating meat without ethical or environmental implications is more real than ever before. But will people eat it food grown in a lab?
Watch Now

A future of eating meat without ethical or environmental implications is more real than ever before. While plant-based alternatives are growing in popularity, the real black horse with game-changing potential seems to be actual meat… grown in science labs. The question at this point is not whether this approach is viable or scalable, but simply: will people want to eat it?

Dispatches
Finding a New Drug in One-Third the Time and One-Thousandth the Cost
Finding a New Drug in One-Third the Time and One-Thousandth the Cost
Dispatches
Finding a New Drug in One-Third the Time and One-Thousandth the Cost
How a pediatric cancer drug went from discovery to clinical trials in five years and just $500,000.
By Teresa Purzner

How a pediatric cancer drug went from discovery to clinical trials in five years and just $500,000.

Coded
Nico Sell on Recruiting Hackers for Good
Nico Sell on Recruiting Hackers for Good
Coded
Nico Sell on Recruiting Hackers for Good
Why we should teach kids how to hack and encourage them to use their new-found talents for good.
By Michael O'Shea

Why we should teach kids how to hack and encourage them to use their new-found talents for good.

Superhuman
The World's Most Advanced Bionic Arm
The World's Most Advanced Bionic Arm
Superhuman
The World's Most Advanced Bionic Arm
A fascinating interview with Michael P. McLoughlin, the chief engineer of research and exploratory development at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.
By Mike Riggs

A fascinating interview with Michael P. McLoughlin about bionic arms for amputees and the world of advanced prosthetics. McLoughlin is the chief engineer of research and exploratory development at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.