June 16, 2019

Consumers confused over harmfulness of HNB cigarettes

PUBLISHED : October 11, 2018 - 16:04

UPDATED : October 11, 2018 - 16:04

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[THE INVESTOR] The harmful effects of heat-not-burn cigarettes over regular ones continue to confuse consumers here with government agencies and tobacco makers giving conflicting versions.

The government recently announced its inspection results on the harmfulness of HNB cigarettes, which was immediately refuted by tobacco makers like Philip Morris International, which launched its products here last year. 

According to a survey by local pollster Realmeter, 69 percent of the HNB cigarette smokers and 73 percent of conventional cigarette smokers said that the government’s announcement has only caused more confusion. Even 65 percent of non-smokers responded that the government has failed to clarify the questions on harmfulness of HNB cigarettes.

Different interpretations on tar contents

The inspection results found no evidence that HNB cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes. More significantly, HNB products like PMI’s IQOS were found to contain more tar than conventional products.

PMI has noted that the results are misleading as comparing tar that actually encompasses all elements -- except water and nicotine -- that are released when burning tobacco can mislead smokers. It has even created a new website called “Truth and Right” to explain its arguments on why it is wrong to simply compare the amount of tar.

However, the government is sticking to its guns and has countered back.

“PMI is the one focusing on tar since the results show that its HNB products contain a higher amount of tar,” a Ministry of Food and Drug Safety spokesperson told The Investor. He added that although the government cannot analyze specific proportion of elements that are included in tar due to the lack of related technology, it can still be meaningfully argued that HNB cigarettes are harmful by comparing the total amount of tar.

Is more data necessary?

Philip Morris Korea on Oct. 4 pushed things further by filing a lawsuit seeking the ministry to disclose information relevant to its recent analysis of HNB cigarettes.

“We cannot understand how they can argue that HNB cigarettes are not less harmful without knowing the elements in tar,” a PMI spokesperson said. He also added that the company is asking for more detailed information including its raw data through this lawsuit.

“If the issue over harmfulness of HNB cigarette prolongs, the only victims are smokers. They should be able to get correct related information and make a choice based on it. The cigarette makers and government should solve the issue as fast as possible,” said Lee Yeon-ik, head of smokers’ group I Love Smoking, while supporting PMI’s lawsuit.

Nevertheless, the issue will take a while to be resolved since the government is not willing to disclose any further information easily.

“We have not yet received any related information about PMI’s lawsuit, so we will have to look into that first. But we have already disclosed all the data that we could,” the ministry spokesperson said.

By Song Seung-hyun (

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