In Win-Win Decision, FDA Approves Innovative Harm Reduction Technology

By / 4.30.2019

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be complimented for following a data-based approach to innovation and clearing the sale of heat sticks. These are new electrically heated tobacco systems that slowly heat tobacco, rather than burning it, with much fewer harmful chemical byproducts. The agency took almost two years to rigorously analyze the health impact of the innovative product, with the trade name IQOS, including the effect on the young. The goal: To give current smokers a safer alternative to health-destroying cigarettes—a “harm reduction” strategy.

A harms-reduction approach is appropriate. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 34.3 million adults smoke in the United States, with a public health cost of approximately $300 billion annually.

As PPI has written in the past, a harms-based regulatory approach, like the FDA took on heat sticks, is imperative to achieving advancements in both public health and economic growth. By contrast, a regulatory approach based on precaution inherently fails to maximize economic and social benefits.

Indeed, we also applaud the FDA for paying attention to social benefits and costs. For example, with recent concern over rising youth smoking in the U.S., the FDA rightfully placed restrictions on how heat sticks are marketed to youth. The restrictions limit how heat sticks are marketed via websites and on social media by requiring advertising to be targeted to adults. Heat stick manufacturers must also notify the FDA about how they plan to restrict youth access and limit youth exposure to the products’ marketing.