Smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. While the risk of lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes smoked and the duration of smoking, it also decreases upon smoking cessation. The development of candidate modified risk tobacco products (cMRTP) is aimed at providing smokers who will not quit with alternatives to cigarettes that present less risk of harm and smoking-related disease. It is necessary to assess the risk reduction potential of cMRTPs, including their potential to reduce the risk of lung cancer. Assessing the lung cancer risk reduction potential of cMRTPs is hampered by (i) the absence of clinical risk markers that are predictive of future lung cancer development, (ii) the latency of lung cancer manifestation (decades of smoking), and (iii) the slow reduction in excess risk upon cessation and a fortiori upon switching to a cMRTP. It is, therefore, likely that only long-term epidemiology will provide definitive answers to this question and allow to first verify that a cMRTP reduces the risk of lung cancer and if it does, to quantify the reduction in excess lung cancer risk associated with a cMRTP. For this to be possible, the cMRTP would need to be available in the market and used exclusively by a large portion of current smokers. Here, we propose that a mechanism-based approach represents a solid alternative to show in a pre-market setting that switching to a cMRTP is likely to significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer. This approach is based on the causal chain of events that leads from smoking to disease and leverages both non-clinical and clinical studies as well as the principles of systems toxicology. We also discuss several important challenges inherent to the assessment of cMRTPs as well as key aspects regarding product use behavior.