15 December 2020
Although the term was coined during the World War I to distinguish clouds of microscopic particles present in the battle field, aerosols have been present in our environment since the world began: from a morning fog to volcanic ashes through those dust particles floating in the air of a room, they are all aerosols.
However, not all aerosols are as simple as they seem. There’s the smoke of a cigarette, full of carbon-based solid particles and harmful chemicals as a result of the combustion, a process that can be avoided by only heating tobacco. This way, an aerosol is generated that contains nicotine and fewer and lower levels of harmful chemicals than cigarette smoke.
So yes, smoke is an aerosol, but not all aerosols are smoke.
There are some things we eat or consume that need to be heated to release their flavors, change the texture or simply enhance the most interesting sensory properties.
Heating is what we do to release the aroma of a coffee, achieve the perfect fluffiness of a dough or boost all the nuances of a ramen. And to do this, one of the most important things you need to do is to control the temperature.
Does temperature control have an impact in the case of tobacco?
When we light a cigarette, a combustion process begins, and high levels of harmful and potentially harmful chemicals are produced which are the primary cause of smoking-related diseases. So, we should ask ourselves: is burning tobacco the only way to release nicotine and flavors? Applying today’s technology and science to tobacco allowed to develop other alternatives.
Heat-not-burn products, also known as heated tobacco products, only heat tobacco within a specific temperature range not exceeding 400 °C usually using an electronic heat-control system to prevent it from burning. The heating process generates a nicotine-containing aerosol. And since the tobacco does not burn, the levels of harmful chemicals in the aerosol can be significantly reduced compared to cigarette smoke. This, of course, has to be scientifically substantiated product by product.
Combustion requires three elements: a fuel source, like tobacco; oxygen, found in air, and heat to initiate the self-sustaining, heat-generating reaction. The combustion of tobacco in a cigarette results in the formation of smoke, heat, and ash. The high heat associated with combustion leads to the breakdown of the tobacco and the smoke created is composed of thousands of chemicals, many of them toxicants.
It seemed inevitable to burn wood in a fireplace to heat a room, but nowadays there are several alternatives to do it. In the same way, it is no longer necessary to burn tobacco to release nicotine and flavors as alternatives have been introduced. In the case of heated tobacco products by eliminating the combustion of tobacco, the levels of harmful and potentially harmful toxicants in the generated aerosol of these alternatives can be reduced significantly compared to cigarette smoke.
To achieve that the control of the temperature is critical in order to avoid burning tobacco. Of course, whether the levels of harmful and potentially harmful toxicants are actually reduced is subject to scientific substantiation for each product.
First came the flame and we received its power. But when we used it, we discovered that it entailed a severe consequence: the smoke, an unwanted byproduct of a chemical reaction called combustion.
Think about the exhaust pipe of a car, the chimney of a coal-fired power plant or a cigarette. They’re all about combustion.
In the case of a lit cigarette, the tobacco burns, and smoke is created containing high levels of harmful and potentially harmful chemicals, the primary cause of smoking-related diseases. Combustion can be avoided by heating tobacco instead. This way a nicotine-containing aerosol is generated that is not smoke. While it is true that smoke is an aerosol, not all aerosols are smoke. And what makes a real difference is composition. In the absence of combustion, the levels of harmful chemicals in the aerosol can be significantly reduced compared to cigarette smoke. This, of course, has to be scientifically substantiated product by product.
Nicotine is present in nature. Potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants contain nicotine in very small quantities. But it reaches its highest concentration in the tobacco plant. Since prehistoric times, people enjoyed inhaling the smoke created by burning dried tobacco leaves. Nicotine’s effects are reversible and temporary, and they’re related to the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, that is most commonly recognized for its sensorial role. Addiction, of course, goes beyond nicotine. The addictive properties of cigarette smoking are caused by a complex interaction of factors, among them ritual, sensory experience, and social experiences.
Nicotine is addictive and not risk-free, but it is not the main issue with cigarettes. Actually, the harmful chemicals largely formed during the combustion of tobacco are the primary cause of smoking-related diseases.
So we can say that nicotine is one reason, along with taste and ritual and other factors, why millions of people still smoke. While it can be difficult to quit, it’s the best choice a smoker can make, and millions of smokers do quit every year.
Nicotine is sometimes used in nicotine replacement therapies to help smokers quit. Nicotine can also make it easier for adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke to switch completely to smoke-free alternatives.
Smoke-free alternatives are only for adult smokers who would otherwise continue smoking. They are not risk-free and deliver nicotine, which is addictive. The best choice any smoker can make is to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether.