BAT has begun selling heat sticks made from nicotine-infused substances such as rooibos tea to counter an incoming EU ban on flavored heated-tobacco products, according to Reuters.
Health experts have warned that the safety of the new products is unclear.
BAT has launched heat sticks containing nicotine-infused rooibos tea rather than tobacco in nine European markets, including Germany and Greece. The company plans to roll the product out globally.
BAT stated that the move will provide “adult nicotine users and smokers with the widest possible range of reduced-risk products.”
“Anything that burns or is vaporized … and inhaled into the lungs, probably will cause some effects,” said Erikas Simonavicius, a research associate at King’s College London, of the unknown risk factors of the tea-infused heat sticks. Tobacco companies have not yet published any research showing the health implications of rooibos or other zero-tobacco heat sticks, said Simonavicius.
BAT is the first big tobacco company to publicly state what its zero-tobacco sticks are made from. The company declined to comment on whether it had conducted research on the health implications of the product.
Sales of herbal tobacco-heating products have been growing in Europe.
Philip Morris International plans to roll out a zero-tobacco stick later this year, according to statements made during the company’s investor day in September. PMI declined to comment on what the product is made from or its health implications.
According to Jacek Olczak, PMI CEO, the company’s product could avoid the regulatory scrutiny of tobacco products.
According to BAT, its new zero-tobacco heat sticks are not subject to EU tobacco rules, meaning the company can sell its sticks in flavors even after a ban on flavored heated-tobacco products is implemented later this month.
“The obvious advantage these new products should provide is a way to keep menthol and flavor varieties on the EU market,” said Owen Bennett, a Jefferies analyst.
Experts do not think the regulatory advantages will last long, however, according to Bennett and Phil Gorham, senior equity analyst at Morningstar.
“The next generation of regulation is going to target nicotine,” Gorham said.