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How dangerous are tobacco heaters?

20/2018, 18.05.2018

New study conducted with the involvement of the BfR shows that fewer damaging substances are produced than in conventional cigarettes

People who smoke expose themselves to great danger. In the meantime though, there are many products on the market which promise less damaging consumption, such as e-cigarettes and tobacco heaters. How are their health risks to be estimated? “The large number of new products on the tobacco and nicotine market is posing completely new challenges to risk assessment,” said Professor Dr. Reiner Wittkowski, Vice-President of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) on the occasion of a meeting of experts from the World Health Organization WHO at the BfR on the subject of tobacco and addiction. “A study conducted by researchers at the BfR and the Official Chemical and Veterinary Surveillance Institute Sigmaringen now shows that tobacco heaters produce fewer harmful substances, such as carcinogens, than conventional tobacco products.” Health impairments are still possible, however.

Link to the study: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00204-018-2215-y

With a tobacco heating system, the tobacco is not burned as it is with a cigarette, it is merely warmed up to about 350 degrees Celsius. With the help of a smoke machine, the research team compared the amount of toxic substances produced when operating a tobacco heating system with a conventional cigarette. It was shown that considerably fewer aldehydes (reduction of 80 to 95 percent) and volatile organic compounds (97 to 99 percent reduction) are produced.

In contrast, the nicotine content was comparable to that of a conventional cigarette, according to a scientific report in the journal “Archives of Toxicology”. Their conclusion: considerably fewer carcinogenic substances (carcinogens) are produced when tobacco is heated. The health risks should also be thoroughly researched over the longer term, however.

At the WHO meeting at the BfR, around 50 participants from 25 countries discussed how the addiction potential of tobacco products can be reduced. This included a reduction of the nicotine content as well as the question of how tobacco additives (e.g. sugar or menthol) can increase dependence. The meeting in Berlin paved the way for the 8th conference of the parties to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which is being held in Geneva in early October  2018 and will be dealing with the health risks of nicotine and tobacco additives.

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

The BfR is 15 years old. To mark the occasion, the Institute has published a jubilee brochure which can be downloaded or ordered free of charge at http://www.bfr.bund.de/en/publication/brochures-61045.html.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.

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