A Device That Heats Tobacco, But Doesn't Burn It, Can Now Be Sold in the U.S.

Jamie Ducharme, writing for TIME:

After a two-year wait, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday green-lit the sale of a new gadget that heats tobacco instead of burning it.

The device, which is called IQOS (pronounced EYE-kose) and made by Philip Morris International, works by heating tobacco-filled sticks, called Heatsticks, to produce a nicotine-rich aerosol. The FDA’s decision means the device may now be marketed in the U.S. — but even though IQOS has been shown to produce fewer of the cancer-causing chemicals found in traditional cigarettes, the FDA has not yet approved a separate application to call IQOS a lower-risk alternative to cigarettes. It’s also not entirely clear whether IQOS will help smokers quit.

Philip Morris USA and its parent company Altria will sell IQOS in the U.S., according to a company release, and it will first be introduced in the Atlanta area in 90-120 days, an Altria representative told TIME. Specific pricing information is not available, but the spokesperson said it will be “priced to incent” adult smokers “who are looking for alternatives to cigarettes.”

This device a bit like e-cigarettes—with actual tobacco leaf instead of liquid. But there is one significant difference:

While e-cigarettes may come with their own risks — some early research has linked them to heart problems, respiratory disease and DNA damage — and their long-term effects aren’t known, [Dr. Michael Siegel] says they have a safety edge compared to IQOS since they don’t contain tobacco. (E-cigs produce an aerosol by heating and vaporizing a liquid that usually contains nicotine.) So while IQOS could theoretically be good for public health if it helps cigarette smokers quit outright, it could do damage if it draws current or former smokers away from e-cigarettes and back to tobacco, Siegel says.

So on the harm reduction ladder, this is a step safer than smoking cigarettes, but less safe than vaporizing with e-cigs.