Singapore

Heated tobacco products just as bad as cigarettes: Amy Khor

Heated tobacco products just as bad as cigarettes: Amy Khor
TODAY file photo
Published: 9:25 PM, March 2, 2017
Updated: 10:26 PM, March 2, 2017

SINGAPORE —  Allowing the use of heated tobacco products here could draw a much larger group of users — especially among youth — and there is no compelling reason or practical benefit in allowing such emerging tobacco products, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor on Thursday (March 2).

Existing evidence suggests that heat-not-burn tobacco products are “not significantly different” from traditional cigarettes in terms of the risks posed to smokers as well as non-smokers, said Dr Khor.

She was responding to a parliamentary question posed by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera, who had asked about any evidence available of heated tobacco products reducing the overall risk to smokers and non-smokers, and if the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) had assessed such products.

Heat-not-burn tobacco is a smoking technology that employs the process of heating tobacco, rather than burning it as with traditional cigarettes.

Major tobacco companies have launched heat-not-burn products recently that claim to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes. 

Unlike electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) that deliver nicotine with flavourings in the form of vapour to users, heated tobacco products contain tobacco. 

The import and sale of e-cigarettes and products such as nasal snuff and oral snuff are not allowed in Singapore.

Dr Khor said the HSA has done preliminary tests on heated tobacco products, and found the nicotine content to be comparable to traditional cigarettes.

“Evidence from other countries suggests that heat-not-burn tobacco products are not significantly different from traditional cigarettes in terms of emissions,” she said. 

“While there have been claims that such tobacco products are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, these claims are made by the tobacco industry and, to date, there is very little independent evidence supporting such claims.”

There is no documented evidence of any “safe” level of tobacco use, and “there has been no claim by anyone that (heated tobacco products) can be used for smoking cessation”, she added.

“I think our concern, really, is with the fact that allowing the use of such products could attract a much larger group of users, especially among youths. That could be the gateway to nicotine addiction and eventually, smoking,” said Dr Khor.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported an increase of e-cigarette use among high school students of more than 10 times, from 1.5 per cent to 16 per cent, between 2011 and 2015, she noted.

“So in fact what we are doing is to adopt a very high and precautionary level of public health protection against known, as well as potential harm, of tobacco products including, of course, heat-not-burn tobacco products.”