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.

The iQOS is the latest incarnation of PMI’s “HeatStick” concept. The basic idea is that a special short cigarette is inserted into one end of a small electronic device. The device heats the tobacco enough to release vapour – it runs at about 350°C – and you then inhale it by simply taking a puff. Previous versions didn’t do very well in testing but the iQOS has been given a big boost by modern batteries and USB charging systems; the technology has finally caught up with PMI’s ambitions for the concept.

It’s very clear that PMI have put a lot of thought into the design of the iQOS. The device itself is a very sleek piece of gear; smaller and lighter than an eGo-style e-cig, and pleasantly free of things that need to be adjusted, fiddled with and pressed. The vaping industry is working hard to open a gap between itself and tobacco; you could never mistake a modern e-cig for a traditional cigarette, and the user experience is very different too. That’s definitely not the case with the iQOS. This product is aimed squarely at smokers, and it seems that the number one priority was to keep it as close as possible to using an actual cigarette. There’s just one button to turn it on, and an LED to let you know when it’s warmed up. It also feels like a very high quality unit. The body is solid, and has a soft, comfortable rubberised finish.

HeatSticks – like a cigarette, but different

The real heart of the iQOS is the HeatSticks it’s fed with. These look like short cigarettes, complete with filter, and come in packs of 20. If you’re used to buying a pack of cigs every day you won’t notice much difference with HeatSticks, apart from them being a bit cheaper. Handling one, it feels exactly like a cigarette – so much that you’re tempted to just stick it in your mouth and light it. Don’t do this; it’s kind of missing the point, and they won’t burn properly anyway.

Instead, what you do is insert the HeatStick into the hole at one end of the iQOS. This looks like it could be quite fiddly, but it turned out to be simple. Once in it’s held snugly in place, so you don’t have to worry about it falling out into your lap either. Then you just turn the device on and wait for it to heat up to operating temperature. This takes under a minute and you don’t have to guess when it’s ready. As soon as you press the button to turn it on a green LED starts blinking; when the device is ready to go it stops flashing and glows steadily. After that, all you have to do is puff away.

Does it work?

So the big question is, what’s it like to use? Can the iQOS really replace traditional cigarettes? That boils down to whether the vapour it produces has enough flavour, throat hit and nicotine, as well as the quantity of the vapour itself. The answer, you’ll be glad to hear, is yes – it works.

It does need to be said that the test conditions weren’t perfect. So far there are four HeatStick options available. You can choose from either traditional tobacco or menthol, and they both come in either strong or mild. I never liked menthol cigarettes and preferred lethal, high-tar blends like West or Marlboro Red, so of course the only HeatSticks available to try were mild menthols. Obviously the experience of vaping the iQOS didn’t match up to the lung-blackening pollution belched out by my old favourites, but then with these sticks it was never going to. What I can say is that I smoked mild menthol cigarettes more than a few times when there was nothing else available, and the iQOS did match that experience very well indeed. Swap the minty milds for strong regular tobacco sticks and I think you’d get a suitably satisfying inhale from it. The vapour is rich and warm, but doesn’t leave a lingering tobacco smell.

Each HeatStick is good for about a dozen puffs or slightly more, so it’s roughly equivalent to a normal cigarette. You could probably take a few puffs and power the device down, then finish it later, but I’m not sure what effect that would have on the flavour. I found that, unlike an e-cig, it worked fine when used just like cigarettes; load a stick, fire it up and vape the whole thing.

What also deserves a mention is how familiar the experience is. Yes, you need to load the stick and wait for it to warm up, and the device is larger and heavier than a traditional cigarette. It’s not that much larger and heavier though – compared to any of my current e-cigs it’s a real featherweight. You can hold it just like a cigarette with no problems at all. The filter is also exactly the same as you’re used to, so there’s no need to adjust to a metal or hard plastic drip tip; that took me a while to get used to when I started vaping and it’s an issue with some HnB products, like the otherwise very popular Pax 2.

iQOS has another advantage over the Pax 2 as well. There’s no need to scrape cooked tobacco out of it when you reload; just pull the used HeatStick out and drop it in the ashtray. There’s no ash or mess; everything stays self-contained.

Everything about the iQOS feels well put together. The device itself comes in a neat little charging case, so you can keep its internal battery topped up while you’re on the go. The case itself can be recharged with the usual micro USB cable.

So what’s the verdict? I have to say I was very impressed with this. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever found to the experience of actually smoking, so if you’ve tried e-cigarettes and found they didn’t really work for you this could be just what you’ve been waiting for. It’s simple, efficient and pretty much fool proof. Right now the iQOS is only available in Japan, Switzerland and Italy, but when it rolls out globally it deserves to win a lot of converts.

If you’re not in one of those countries Amazon has an excellent selection of iQos products for sale.

20 thoughts on “iQos Review – How good is Heat not Burn anyway?”

  1. The global rollout is actually happening quite rapidly. In addition to Japan, Italy, and Switzerland it is also available in Romania, Portugal, Monaco, Russia, Ukraine, and (just starting now) Germany. If I remember correctly, PMI is aiming at 20 markets towards the end of the year. However, Japan, Italy, and Switzerland are the closest to something like a national rollout. I live in Geneva, and heatsticks are widely available in tabacs in urban areas, and I found much the same when I was recently in Italy. The other markets are much more limited: Lisbon in Portugal, Kiev in Ukraine, Moscow & St. Petersburg in Russia, etc. etc.

    I bought the iQOS recently and have been actively following its progress worldwide. I’m really look forward to the day when it’s available in all of Europe.

      1. Sorry to reply so late, only saw this now.

        In London, you can buy it at the IQOS store on Wardour Street.
        In Switzerland, you can buy the IQOS in most large cities typically at Kkiosk shops (can’t tell you which ones exactly, in Geneva it is sold at the one in the central train station and the one at the airport train station) or at the IQOS lounge at Zurich Airport. HEETs can be bought at a Kkiosk, Naville, Hubiz, and a variety of other stores like that. On top of that, both HEETs and the IQOS are available all over Switzerland through the online store.
        In Italy, I’m not sure, but I have bought Heatsticks at a small tobacconist in a town of 10,000 so I’m sure its available widely.
        In Russia, a wide expansion is underway spearheaded by opening flagship stores in major cities.
        In Ukraine, an expansion is planned but at the moment it’s only possible to buy the IQOS and Heatsticks at the flagship store in Kyiv or online (limited to Kyiv).
        I think the German market is also focussed on flagship stores.
        In Denmark, they are available at most 7elevens I’ve been to in Copenhagen.

        These are all the markets I have followed. I don’t know how it is elsewhere.

    1. PMI were also working on a HNB cigarette that would not need any electronic heating device and would still be lightened. Something in the vein of the Reynolds Eclipse and REVO. It is published on PMIscience website as platform 2 (PMI Reduced Risk Platform).
      Has there been any progress on such material?

      1. From the Investor Day presentations (available on PMIs website), apparently, a city test is due this year for them. And they will be called Marlboro TEEPs (much like the IQOS Heatsticks have been rebranded as Marlboro HEETS or just HEETs in most markets depending on regulations).

      2. Also, from the investor day material, they specified that once large rollouts will commence they will happen much quicker than with platform 1 because they will just leverage platform 1 infrastructure to deliver them to market (such as by manufacturing TEEPs in the factory that makes HEETs or by selling TEEPs in IQOS flagship stores). So I’m sure if they city test goes well, PMI will be able to start selling them very soon after.

    2. Just to update your information. iQOS is being consistently promoted all over Portugal. I live in north of Portugal and we have great access to iQOS (sold by reps) and heatsticks.

      1. Oh how interesting, thanks for sharing. All I know about IQOS is based on following social media and news and by having been to places where it is sold (Italy, UK, Denmark, Switzerland). Tell me, are Heatsticks still sold as Marlboro Heatsticks or have they been rebranded to HEETs? Also, have the health warnings changed? I know initially they came with the ones that use to be on cigarettes (Fumar mata), whereas usually heatsticks come with a specific message (This tobacco product may harm your health and is addictive). I’d be curious to find out.

  2. I am using it now for 6 months and nobody is talking about the side effects: makes you extremely thirsty during the night, causes stomach pain.
    Vape was terrible as the devices after some use often spit hot oil.
    I am now trying the next stage: quite smoking in all forms and shapes.

  3. my question is how much healthier is this kind of alternative smoking? to my mind it would be a good investment potentially, but I’ve haven’t seen any official scientific research so far that it’s actually indicating that it is a lot healthier! Philip Morris hasn’t published the clinical studies yet..and he claims that it is a healthier alternative..but that could mean that it is let’s say 5% healthier than regular smoking, which I don’t think it would worth the investment with that percentage! I’m just saying that the way it works, as healthier as it seems to be, cannot guarantee that it is actually healthier to the level we may imagine unless a research I haven’t found yet proves me wrong..Did anyone came across with any official clinical research so we know to what we are dealing with? Thank you

    1. Well, if you are convinced that smoking is unhealthy – it may really be for you! The only “way out” in this situation is to quit smoking I guess.

  4. I’ve tried IQOS and the only cigarette thats good is the menthol one, the rest gives you a burn taste after a while and you simply cannot smoke it. In the first place everything looks good but after smoking 10-15 packs of cigarettes … you have a bad taste of burn when you inhale it.

  5. I have been using IQOS for 1 month. I am sold on the idea of burn and no smoke. My lungs feels the difference. However not pleased with the quality and consistency of the heet sticks. I can tell when I push the stick in, some are really hard packed and some are loose. The loose ones are really fast to heet and gone in no time. Also I would suggest the device should be sold in pairs. A big fear is that my machine will malfunction and then I am hooped. Would be open to try another company’s product for the reasons mentioned above.

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