Debunking the myths – Five things you should know about smoking alternatives

Smoke-free alternatives can be a better choice for those who don't want to quit smoking.


While quitting tobacco and nicotine use altogether is always the best choice, the reality is that millions of adult smokers don’t. So, what are the alternatives to continued smoking?

Decades of research and development has resulted in the availability of less harmful alternatives for adults who would otherwise continue smoking. Some of these innovations include snus, e-cigarettes and more recently, heated tobacco products (HTPs).

“The harmful effects of smoking cigarettes are well known, but there is limited awareness around the main causes of harm related to smoking,” explains Buhle Binta, Head of Scientific Engagement at Philip Morris South Africa. “There is an abundance of misinformation and confusion around vaping, e-cigarettes, and heat-not-burn tobacco products.”

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She says that while the best choice any adult smoker can make is to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether, not everyone does. Smoke-free alternatives like heated tobacco products can be a better alternative for those adults who would otherwise continue smoking.

Binta addresses some of the most frequently asked questions:

1. How are smoke-free alternatives different to cigarettes?

“The absence of burning is the foundational difference between cigarettes and smoke-free alternatives,” says Binta. “Smoke-free alternatives don’t burn tobacco, which means that they are a better alternative for adults compared to continuing to smoke.”

She adds that when a cigarette is lit, the tobacco burns at temperatures of around 600°C and when a smoker takes a puff, the temperature rises above 800°C at the burning tip.

“By eliminating combustion, scientifically substantiated smoke free alternatives are designed to significantly reduce the levels of harmful and potentially harmful chemicals compared to cigarette smoke,” she adds.

Difference tobacco heated smoking
Picture: Supplied

2. Do smoke-free alternatives contain nicotine?

The short answer is that in most cases they do, says Binta. “All heated tobacco products that have been commercialised contain nicotine because it occurs naturally in tobacco.”

“Most vapes and e-cigarettes also contain nicotine, which is present in the vapour which is inhaled,” she explains. “Nicotine is one of the reasons people smoke, along with the taste and ritual.”

Binta notes that there is a misunderstanding surrounding nicotine. “Many people wrongly believe that it’s the primary cause of smoking related diseases, but while nicotine is addictive and not risk free, science tells us this is not correct,” she explains. It is the burning of tobacco that is the primary cause of smoking related diseases.

“Nicotine is one of the reasons people smoke, along with taste and ritual, but for adult smokers to fully switch from cigarettes to better alternatives,” she says.

4. Are all smoke-free products the same?

“There are a vast number of differences – and some similarities – between e-cigarettes, (also known as vapes, e-vapor products or Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), and heat-not-burn devices, also known as heated tobacco products,” she explains. “They are all smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes. But heat-not-burn products heat real tobacco within a specific temperature range, generally using an electronic heat-control system to prevent the tobacco from burning.”

E-cigarettes, she explains, by contrast, vapourise a liquid solution usually containing nicotine and flavours when a user draws on it.

Difference tobacco heated smoking cigarettes
Picture: Supplied

5. Why do we need less-harmful alternatives?

More needs to be done to reduce the smoking rate globally, she says. “According to the World Health Organisation’s own predictions there will still be more than one billion smokers by the year 2025.”

She adds that adults who would otherwise continue smoking should have access to accurate information about smoke-free alternatives.”

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