category factcheck
score Half-Truth 🟥🟥🟨🟩🟩
claim "IQOS misleading on nicotine content/yield"
author The Bureau of Investigative Journalism / Laura Margottini
tags ['linguistic-analysis', 'nicotine-addiction', 'undisclosed-coi']


TBIJ decries misrepresentation of addictiveness from misquantifying nicotine, and furthers the shallow understanding

The whole purpose of this article is trivializing tobacco addiction as resting solely on nicotine. It's precisely the same rhetoric PMI employed to lower the population risk misperception of TT hinging on nicotine. Notably that's the only substance in either combustibles or heatsticks not causing substantial harm. And this focus accomplishes nothing but furthering the appeal to spite and sustaining smoking. Neither of which seems undesired by this TBIJ masterpiece.

At best it's an investigation lost on how TTs supplant the delivery scheme with additives/amplifiers (aldehydes, MAOIs, minor alkaloids) in comparison to combustibles. But the authors are severely stuck or constrained with 80s science. It's absolutely hilarious how the dispute over nicotine contents and yield has now backfired though. Commonly it's TICs trying to equate e-cigs by embellishing the delivery though attributing only 1mg to combustibles. (E.g. ANU report saying 2-pack equivalent, but Banksi alternating her story to 8 or 13 depending on radio station.)

It's the harm projection onto nicotine that appears the main motivator for the article. And a bad faith argument could be made that the collaboration of TBIJ includes both VS and PMI alike.


Didn't garner substantial public nor academic interest:

So, not looked into how much of the academic papers went into reuse as PMI marketing material towards consumers. (And honestly, can't be bothered to come across as smoking/tobacco protectionist myself). I'm presuming the article at least rightly points out the misrepresentation of yield volume through various PMI channels.

study protocols

Article makes some absolutely crucial observations on the lack of better standards on toxicological measurement. Slow-moving ISO being slow moving and such. And it's historically prudent to demand more robust or significant measurement schemes. Showcasing the WHO as beacon of genuinity on this topic is going a little far. The overall point stands though, in particular if that's how PMI absolves all its "0.5mg" communication.

phrase check (cherry-picked)

claim qs desc
is touted as a better alternative to cigarettes for smokers 🟧 Rightly so.
heated tobacco products, developed by the company as a “better” alternative to cigarettes 🟥 Quoting here tries to insinuate no benefit to switching. No reputable scientist would equate the risk profile of TT to CTs.
claimed there is 0.5mg of nicotine in each tobacco stick 🟪 The whole premise; which almost no-one was aware of until TBIJ gave it prominence.
new research conducted by the Bureau 🟨 Tell us more about your lab. Or if the conduction was more of a collab.
more than 2.5% of sales of all tobacco products across the EU 🟨 Agreed, too low. But it's uncertain the EUs low tech-affinity could make TT prevalence ever rival that of Japan.
are distinct from vapes or e-cigarettes, which usually contain nicotine but not tobacco. 🟩 Can't believe you're allowed to concede that.
Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs in the world alongside heroin and cocaine, 🟥 Plz stahp. This can't reasonably be a comprehension woe.
0.5mg figure appears to be derived […] ISO regime measures the nicotine in a cigarette’s emissions […] substantially lower than the total nicotine a cigarette contains. 🟪 Coincidentally the only measurement that's relevant clinically. Just not for propaganda campaigns.
testing found that each stick releases more than double this: 1.2mg 🟩 Very relevant. Article is correct that this should be communicated. Noteworthy similar to CT.
we could not find any evidence that it has ever used this figure in any public communications 🟩 Again would add so much credence, if this was the actual focus of the article.
PMI accused the Bureau of conflating nicotine emissions and nicotine content. 🟩 Can't honestly disagree.
PMI: the nicotine content of both heated tobacco sticks and cigarettes “is of low relevance to consumers” 🟪 Not true. It has no consumer relevance, yes. But the harm misattribution on nicotine very much impacts use patterns and quit attempts.
researchers say it is “inadequate for the purposes of product regulation or consumer information”. 🟡 Citation needed.
PMI may not contravene any laws […] does continue to promote the misleading 0.5mg nicotine figure 🟩 Again, perfectly valid article conclusion. (Only since the legal obligations were mentioned, though.)
The 0.5mg figure was cited in response by staff in 11 countries 🟧 Staff or call center staff? (Limited bearing, but you know, when futzing about accurate communication.)
told the Bureau it would not respond to an organisation that was “writing funded content” and was funded by “a special interest group”. 🟨 You know, they're not wrong.
supporters have no editorial say or advanced sight of stories. 🔴 Would be more believable if the origin tip or publication that triggered this topical dive had been disclosed.
Heller/ISO The industry can pay to always send its representatives to meetings, while public research organisations cannot. 🟨 Understandable aggravation of "public health" advocates from non-FCTC-ratifying countries not being able to weasel their way into every backroom meeting.
How addictive is heated tobacco? 🟧 Inquiring minds want to know, but instead conflate toxicology into this section. (Surprising overlap with contract journalism.)
Because heated tobacco is a relatively new product, its long-term health impacts are largely unknown. 🟪 Both true and misleading. The impacts of discontinued smoking are readily assessable without exact quantification of remaining harms.
with the FDA in the US, when the review found evidence that using Iqos produces fewer harmful chemicals 🟨 An obvious finding. It's not just industry-funded research, as the article implies.
(ISS) […], concluded that there are 80 substances present either only in Iqos emissions or in much higher concentrations than in cigarettes 🟧 Citation needed. Because the PR drivel doesn't look good - There would be a valid debate on how much toxin reduction translates into lessened health harms. But stating presence sans quantification won't do.
suggests that Iqos may be similarly addictive to cigarettes 🟨 Would match their intended purpose. Not a quitting aid, but a smoking replacement.
it is twice as efficient at delivering the chemical in its emissions. The amount of nicotine a person inhales is largely the same. 🟦 This would have been a worthwhile subject to get into. The authors didn't.
National Cancer Institute in Milan said that the high concentration of nicotine in Iqos suggests it can cause high levels of addiction. 🟧 Who recommended these sources?
Iqos users are left in the dark about just how addictive the products are. 🟥 Not sure the article helps in that regard.
The Italian woman: But now with Iqos I find myself smoking more. 🟧 Given the prevalence of self-titration among former smokers, this might be a hint. As well as use patterns not being all-chemical for each dependency profile. (Alacrity/dosage/decay doesn't account for ingrained habit/throat satisfaction.)
SM: Is heated tobacco a better alternative to cigarettes? 🟫 Yes. Since that has little to do with nicotine content.
SM: PHILIP MORRIS MISLEADING THE PUBLIC ABOUT NICOTINE IN HEATED TOBACCO 🟪 Just holding the opposite extreme doesn't make you more credible.

So, got boring quick. The crucial point being that nicotine was mentioned 35 times. And the authors seemingly ran across academia-adjacent folks and almost got a hint - which apparently fell short when transposing it into the article. Btw, nice setup Aurelie had there. Still funny how the outro once more missed exhalants being measured, not content.

repost credence

Article reposts on social media from well-known masterminds can reasonably serve as credibility indicator.

vested interests TobaccoFreeKids, CTFKGlobal, TobaccoFreeFin, KETCA254
media strategist VitalStrat, TI
luminaries Dr Olivia Doll, Ziauddin Islam, Prof. Dr. Toker Ergüder, BlauesKreuzBern, Tobacco Free Aust, drazaidaroam, Tahir
special place in my heart Yul Dorotheo MD, SEATCA

Interestingly, even TI shied away from this one. (One like on VS post.) - Overcome by... events.

undisclosed funding slant

TBIJ covers its funding with a bare minimum acknowledgement, yet alleges zero influence. It notably fails to inform readers (but let's be honest, the main audience are TICs) that BP bought a stake in VitalStrat for one and only one reason: misinform the public on relative risk profiles of different tobacco/smoking alternatives. With a documented history of NDAs from Bath/Union/BP, it's also no wonder TBIJ won't expand the disclosure with embedded structured data, despite the preexisting social media tag spam.


So this could have easily been a "Mostly True" article. And whilst appreciating the verification work and PMI misrepresenting yield lends validity to the topic, it's also remarkable how many ANTZ argument patterns are present. It's not conceivable how an article on documenting misinfo relies on adding more atop. And you have to conclude an incentive was present for the overall spin. The authors are trying way too hard to deflect.

Trivializing tobacco as nicotine addiction remains an industry trope. Albeit the motivation might diverge, that's what TBIJ is doing here. Balancing the findings against the falsehoods, it nets a "Half-Truth".

autodetected issues in article

  • popcorn-news (false-positive; could be incidental, but doesn't apply)