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.

Avoiding smoke is the key. There’s a widespread belief that nicotine is the problem, but this is just wrong. Unfortunately it’s not being helped by various anti-smoking groups who, in response to the rise of electronic cigarettes, have subtly reframed their goal from “ending smoking” to “ending nicotine addiction”. This is dishonest. Nicotine itself is about as safe as caffeine, and so far only a few extremists are demanding an end to the evils of coffee. What matters is stopping smoking, because cigarette smoke is loaded with chemicals that either cause cancer or are poisonous. It’s possible to keep using nicotine, and even tobacco, in ways that eliminate almost all the risk.

The idea behind HnB is that, by giving smokers a way to use nicotine that’s as satisfying as a cigarette but doesn’t involve toxic smoke, they can reduce the health hazards without going through the drama of quitting. Giving up smoking isn’t easy for a variety of reasons; it takes a lot of motivation, and most quitters just aren’t motivated enough.


There are three reasons why it’s so hard to quit smoking, and it’s worth looking at them in a bit more detail. Here they are:

Nicotine addiction

This is the one everyone knows about – but it’s not as simple as people think. Nicotine is a mildly psychoactive drug and it’s possible to be addicted to it, but it’s far from clear that it’s possible to get addicted to it. Confused? It all comes down to tobacco smoke and the thousands of chemicals it contains. Among those substances are a group called monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs. They’re not very addictive.

Pure nicotine doesn’t seem to be very addictive either. Scientists have tried to get rats addicted to it, and it doesn’t work. Doctors have investigated nicotine as a treatment for a form of dementia; their test subjects wore high-strength nicotine patches every day for six months, and none of them became addicted. The claim that nicotine is “as addictive as heroin or cocaine” is just wrong.

On the other hand a combination of nicotine and MAOIs is extremely addictive, and that’s exactly what tobacco smoke delivers. It’s very easy to get hooked on smoking – but once you are, nicotine on its own is enough to deal with the withdrawal symptoms. That’s why the most commonly recommended way to quit is by using a nicotine replacement product like patches or gum. Which don’t work. Why not?

Physical activity

Smoking keeps your hands busy. When you’re not lifting a cigarette to take a puff you have packets, lighters and ashtrays to play with. When you can’t smoke for a while you probably find yourself playing with pens or just generally fidgeting. The physical aspects of smoking are hard to get away from – this is why patches and gum have such a dismal failure rate. They might supply nicotine to handle that addiction, but they don’t give your hands anything to do.

Most quitters fail, and the reason they fail is that there’s a noticeable gap in their life where smoking used to be. They might not want to smoke anymore, but even so there’s that sense of something missing. Many people try to find something else to fill the gap, but smoking is a very reliable way to do it and it’s easy to slip back.

The drug companies who make patches and gum are aware of this problem and they’ve tried to solve it by creating inhalers like the Nicorette Inhalator. Unfortunately these don’t work very well either. That’s because there’s a dirty little secret that anti-smokers prefer not to talk about:

Smokers enjoy smoking

Whenever health experts carry out a survey about two-thirds of smokers say they want to quit. Most of them don’t really mean it. They know they should quit, because smoking is dangerous, expensive and increasingly treated as antisocial, but they don’t actually want to. Public health propaganda describes smokers as helpless self-loathing addicts, pathetic creatures trapped by their craving for nicotine. A visit to the typical pub since the smoking ban tells a very different story. Unless the weather’s bad, inside you’ll usually find a couple of families having a meal and a thin scattering of solitary drinkers. Meanwhile, out in the smoking area or beer garden, there’s a crowd of happy people enjoying themselves.

It’s very hard to give up smoking when, deep down, you don’t really want to. Addiction definitely plays a part, but smoking is enjoyable a lot of the time. Patches and gum, or the foul-tasting tampon-like inhaler, are anything but. That’s why e-cigarettes have become so popular as an alternative. They taste good. You can customise them and play with them. They’re designed to look like high-tech lifestyle accessories, not bland medicinal products.

Of course electronic cigarettes aren’t for everyone, and that’s where Heat not Burn comes in. An HnB product might be an updated carbon-tipped cigarette, or it might be a sleek electronic gadget with blue lights and buttons you can press. What it’s not is a boring piece of plastic that delivers pathetic puffs of nicotine-laced menthol chalk. It’s not a medicine prescribed by your doctor, or recommended by a pharmacist, because you’re a pathetic, sick addict; it’s an exciting new product that you’ve bought because you like it.

A modern Heat not Burn device tastes very like a real cigarette – often better, because you’re avoiding harsh-tasting combustion products. If you opt for a disposable hybrid cigarette like the Revo the rituals are just like a normal cigarette except you don’t have to worry about getting ash everywhere; an electronic device like the iQOS gives you lots of new things to play with. You’re still getting the nicotine your body’s got used to, without most of the other stuff in cigarette smoke. Perhaps most importantly there’s the feeling that you’ve upgraded to something new and better, instead of giving up something that you’d really rather keep. For all these reasons HnB could turn out to be a great way to quit smoking.

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