How safe are tobacco vaporisers?

Rumours are circulating that tobacco vaporisers and other heat not burn products might not deliver on the reduced harm that justifies the products’ existence. Not all these health claims are new, of course – they’re as old as the products themselves. Heat not burn probably has more potential now than ever before, though. Earlier attempts to sell the technology failed, probably because it was just too different from what smokers were used to.

That’s all changed over the last few years. The popularity of electronic cigarettes has grown at a stunning rate, and despite the fake concerns of many public health charities almost all the people who use them are, or were until recently, smokers. The key point about that is that by any sensible definition e-cigarettes are far more different from traditional cigarettes than any heat not burn product is. E-cigs don’t even contain any tobacco, while heat not burn products do. In fact most of the ones in the pipeline just now include something that’s recognisably like a cigarette. The only exceptions are loose tobacco vaporisers like the excellent PAX 2. Phillip Morris’s iQOS uses cigarette-like tobacco sticks, while RJ Reynolds’ Revo looks just like a cigarette and even works like one; you simply put it in your mouth and light the end.

So the companies interested in heat not burn technology are gambling that if smokers are willing to switch to something as unfamiliar as a tank full of liquid with a battery to heat it, they’ll be even more enthusiastic about something that retains the familiar tobacco. They could be right; although vaping has become widely accepted among smokers there’s still a significant number who aren’t tempted.

The fear industry

The problem is that heat not burn is still at the stage where it’s very vulnerable to health scares. E-cigarettes have suffered badly from this; media coverage has been so bad, and misinformation from anti-vaping groups so vicious, that a majority of American smokers believe vaping is at least as harmful as smoking; the truth is it’s at least 95% safer. If so many terrifying rumours can be spread about vaping, though – where users are inhaling vaporised liquid – what can the fearmongers do with a product that contains actual tobacco?

It’s complicated by the fact that heat not burn is a much broader category of device than e-cigarettes. There’s an incredible variety of vapour products, but no matter how different they look, they all function in basically the same way. The battery heats a coil, which draws up liquid through the wick and vaporises it. Once you’ve shown that one e-cig is relatively safe to use, you can be pretty sure that your conclusions apply to all e-cigs.

Heat not burn is different. Some devices heat loose tobacco in a chamber, using an electric heating element. Others wrap the element around a paper tube of tobacco. Revo doesn’t have any electronics at all; it uses a charcoal pellet to generate heat. These devices share the same basic principle – heating tobacco to liberate flavoured vapour and nicotine – but they work in very different ways. That means conclusions drawn from studying one product don’t mean much for others.

The product that’s causing the most concern is Revo. How much of that is down to the fact that it looks just like a cigarette, it comes in packs just like a cigarette and it’s used just like a cigarette? Who knows? There are some legitimate reasons to worry, though. For a start, heat not burn isn’t an entirely accurate description of the Revo. The tobacco isn’t burning – in theory, at least – but the charcoal pellet that heats the whole thing certainly is.

How much burning is too much?

Burning charcoal is a notorious producer of carbon monoxide; lighting half a dozen disposable BBQ grills in a closed room is an increasingly popular way of committing suicide. The level of carbon monoxide emitted by a Revo is obviously much lower – but regularly inhaling small doses of CO is one of the most dangerous things about smoking cigarettes. The constant respiratory stress caused by the gas eventually damages arteries and leads to heart disease. The fact that Revo relies on charcoal has to be a point against it.

There are also questions about what exactly the Revo is vaporising, and even if vaporising is all it’s doing to the tobacco inside. Electronic devices, like iQOS, can maintain precise control over the temperature of the heating element. There’s almost no way an iQOS or PAX 2 is going to burn the tobacco you load in, unless you abuse it. Is the same true of the Revo? RJ Reynolds say so, but it’s hard to be sure. Because it does involve combustion, adding more oxygen to the process can raise temperatures. Take an unusually hard puff, or use it outside on a windy day, and the temperature could easily spike above the point where the tobacco is actually burned.

There’s no evidence that this is happening with Revo, but it’s certainly a theoretical possibility. Even in normal use the tip gets hot enough that many of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke can be vaporised. These include acetone and ammonia, as well as the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) that make tobacco smoke many times more addictive than pure nicotine.

It’s still pretty safe

On the other hand, while these worries are real, they probably aren’t very significant. It still seems to be a no-brainer that, because the tobacco inside isn’t being burned to ash like it is in a cigarette, Revo is going to be much less dangerous than a traditional smoke. There is also a spectrum of risk with heat not burn products. Electronic devices are likely to produce a far cleaner vapour than anything that involves combustion. Are they as safe as e-cigarettes? Because they contain tobacco, probably not. Are they safer than burning anything and inhaling the result? Yes, they almost certainly are.

So far there’s no evidence that even begins to suggest smokers shouldn’t try heat not burn. Even a Revo is going to be a lot safer than a normal cigarette; iQOS should approach the safety of a typical e-cig. If you’re already a smoker, and thinking about giving heat not burn a go, safety is not something that should affect your decision. Compared to smoking they’re safe enough; that’s what matters.

iQos Review – How good is Heat not Burn anyway?

Heat not Burn products haven’t gone mainstream yet, but that moment is steadily approaching. Several products are now going through market trials and the most promising of these is Philip Morris’s iQOS system. We’ve looked at this before, but because it’s only on sale in a few countries it’s been surprisingly difficult to get hold of one to actually try it out. However Heat not Burn UK don’t give up easily, and at last month’s Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw the elusive iQOS was finally run to ground and given a thorough trial.

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Big Tobacco and Heat not Burn – friend or foe?

Right now the big tobacco companies are major players in the Heat not Burn market. Apart from loose-leaf vaporisers like the PAX series, all the products that are set to go global this year are produced by cigarette manufacturers. At first glance that makes sense; after all they already sell tobacco products, and HnB is a logical addition to their range.

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Does a good vaporiser have to be expensive?

Unless you live in one of the markets where the tobacco companies are trialling their Heat not Burn products, the best way to start vaporising tobacco right now is to get yourself something like the PAX 2. These devices aren’t cheap though, so it’s natural that many people would like to see something cheaper. It’s just as natural that there are cheap alternatives on the market, many of them made in China.

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How safe is Heat not Burn?

One of the things you’ll hear a lot from anti-smokers is that 70% of smokers want to quit. If you actually talk to smokers you’ll probably hear a very different answer. Most of them don’t want to quit at all, because the truth is enjoy smoking. They know they should quit, because smoking is undeniably bad for your health, but that’s not quite the same as actually wanting to. If scientists announced tomorrow that they’d got it all wrong and smoking was completely safe you can bet nobody’d be interested in quitting. The appeal of Heat not Burn products is that, potentially, they can offer the enjoyment of smoking without most of the health risks. That raises a crucial question: How safe are HnB products really?

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Ploom TECH – A new look for HnB pods

We recently looked at the PAX 2 loose tobacco vaporiser by Ploom. This is a popular device, but the company’s original product used proprietary tobacco cartridges. That technology was bought by Japan Tobacco, who’ve now refined the design and brought out a new model – Ploom TECH.

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Heat not Burn and e-cigs – what’s the link?

It’s been said a few times that the amazing rise of e-cigs is what’s opened the way for Heat not Burn technology. The concept has been tried before, and failed every time – but not because there was anything wrong with it. The idea was just too different, and most smokers were happy enough with what they had. If you wanted to inhale nicotine you lit a cigarette – it was that simple.

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Loose leaf vaporisers – the PAX 2 by Ploom

Heat not Burn products often get compared to electronic cigarettes, and in many ways it’s a good comparison. After all they’re both alternatives to smoking that work by letting users inhale a flavoured vapour instead of actual smoke. There are some differences though. All e-cigarettes work in the same way; they have a battery, heating coil and liquid reservoir. The shape and size of the parts might vary, but they all have the same basic parts – even the disposable cartomisers that some models use contain the coil and liquid.

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Heat not Burn – Can it help you quit smoking?

The technology that goes into a Heat not Burn device is interesting, and so is the history behind them. It’s easy to forget about why they were developed in the first place, though. Heat not Burn exists because cigarettes are dangerous – but people smoke them anyway. The whole idea behind the technology is to offer smokers an alternative, one that will simulate smoking but without the actual smoke.

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A history of Heat not Burn

Heat not Burn, or HnB, is being hailed as the latest alternative to smoking. A range of new products are already on the market; more are in consumer trials and should be rolled out soon. By keeping the flavour and nicotine content of real tobacco, but taking away the toxic substances created by burning it, the aim is to keep the pleasure of smoking but eliminate most of the risk. The tobacco companies believe the popularity of e-cigarettes have opened the door; suddenly, for the first time, long-term smokers are willing to try new ways to get their nicotine. It hasn’t always been like this.

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