March 22, 2019

Korea vs. HNB cigarette makers

PUBLISHED : June 08, 2018 - 16:37

UPDATED : June 08, 2018 - 16:59

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[THE INVESTOR] The Korean government has ruled that heat-not-burn cigarettes are not less harmful than conventional cigarettes. The findings appear to run counter to what the tobacco makers say.

On June 7, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said that HNB cigarettes contain less toxicants compared to conventional cigarettes, but that they can still cause serious diseases including cancer, and therefore it is hard to say that they are less harmful.



In particular, it said that two of the brands -- Philip Morris International’s IQOS and KT&G.’s Lil -- release more tar than conventional cigarettes. The data showed that IQOS and Lil release 9.3 mg and 9.1 mg of tar on average,respectively, which is higher than the 0.1-8.0 mg of traditional cigarettes. British American Tobacco’s Glo releases 4.8 mg of tar on average, the ministry said.

It also said that while it’s impossible to compare the two types of cigarettes due to their limited sources, this also means considering that cigarettes contain more than 7,000 kinds of hazardous chemicals, HNB cigarettes may be even more harmful than meets the eye.

As of April this year, 9.4 percent of Korean smokers switched to HNB cigarettes, according to the ministry’s data. Philip Morris Korea is the biggest player with up to a 60 percent market share, followed by KT&G and BAT. Below are the response from the three HNB cigarette makers and some consumers.

Phillip Morris Korea: The ministry’s results are misleading. First of all, tar is a term that indicates all elements, excluding water and nicotine, that are released when burning tobacco. So it is not a synonym for “harmful component.” It also can’t be used as a measure for HNB cigarettes since they aren’t burned to be smoked. Moreover, the quality of vapor released by HNB cigarettes and conventional cigarettes are completely different, so it’s impossible to compare. 

BAT Korea: Tar is not synonymous with “harmful element.” It’s just a term used for all the combined components produced when burning conventional cigarettes. Just because it has more tar, it does not mean it is more harmful. The ministry should have indicated specifically what elements in HNB cigarettes vapor are more harmful. Furthermore, when comparing the nine harmful elements designated by the WHO, the ministry’s findings show that HNB cigarettes contain less toxicants.

KT&G: We will have to look into the ministry findings more closely. We are however, also concerned about the definition of tar, and how it should be interpreted in HNB cigarettes. 

HNB cigarette smokers:

Kim Gi-woong, a Lil user says, “I switched to HNBs thinking they would be less harmful. But now it seems like the cigarette makers duped us. I don’t know what to trust.”

Lee Joo-ho, an IQOS user says, “I got more confused. The government says that it is as harmful as traditional cigarette while also saying that it contains less amount of toxicants.”

Song Eun-suk, also an IQOS user says, “Since it’s hard to figure what to trust, I guess I will just continue to smoke IQOS just because they smell less.”

By Song Seung-hyun (

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