Heat not Burn takes off in South Korea

When someone mentions Korea most of us think of the mad regime in the North. That’s a pity, because South Korea is much nicer – and, if you’re a fan of Heat not Burn, it’s also a lot more interesting right now. South Korea is now an expanding market for the leading HnB products, so much so that a local company is planning to join in.

Unlike its bizarre Stalinist neighbour South Korea is an advanced industrial country, with a relatively low smoking rate of 19.9% – slightly lower than Germany, but slightly higher than Japan. It also has tough anti-smoking laws that make it illegal to light up in almost any public place. The government is pretty serious about persuading its citizens not to smoke.

Unfortunately it has a couple of serious problems. The first, and probably the biggest, is the army. The country has the world’s sixth-largest standing army and second-largest reserves; in total it can mobilise 3.7 million troops, and all South Korean men have to do an obligatory 21 months of military service. This is a great way to defend against insane, highly militarised neighbours, but not so good if you’re trying to stub out smoking.

Soldiers smoke, often because it gives you something to do while you wait for the army to decide what’s happening to you next, and lots of Koreans pick up the habit while they’re in uniform. That 19.9% smoking rate? It breaks down into around 5% of South Korean women, but about 40% of men.

At the same time, vaping hasn’t really taken off in Korea the way it has in the UK or USA. It is possible to buy e-cigarettes, and there are some local manufacturers, but it hasn’t made a big dent in the smoking figures. Now, major tobacco companies are wondering if Heat not Burn can do a better job.

Here comes iQOS

HnB products are very new to the South Korean market; Philip Morris released its popular iQOS device on 27 May, and now has two stores in Seoul (if you like Korean music you’ll be pleased to hear that one of them is in Gangnam). They’re also selling the iQOS through the CU convenience store chain, which has about 3,000 branches across the country.

Philip Morris say they don’t have any firm sales figures yet but are seeing “growing popularity”. That sounds about right; an employee at a CU store says, “They have been all sold out every day.” It wouldn’t be surprising if this is the case because iQOS continues to do very well in Japan; it took a 0.8% share of the cigarette market in the first quarter of 2016, but had climbed to 4.5% by the end of the year. PMI say it’s now at around 7%.

With the iQOS apparently doing well in South Korea, British American Tobacco are aiming to introduce their rival Glo device in August. Glo is a similar format to iQOS and BAT Korea say they’ll be selling it at a slightly lower price. If they can get the device and its NeoStiks into enough shops it’s likely to catch on too.

A home-grown rival?

The global tobacco companies can’t expect to have it all their own way, though. HnB devices are consumer electronics, and when it comes to developing and manufacturing these South Korea is one of the world’s giants. The country that’s home to companies like Samsung and LG isn’t likely to let imported electronics flood its home market, is it?

No, it’s not. Clearly impressed at the popularity of the new technology, one of South Korea’s own tobacco companies is already looking at moving into the market. KT&G (it stands for “Korea Tomorrow & Global”, but used to be “Korea Tobacco  Ginseng”) is the country’s largest tobacco manufacturer. It’s a major player locally, with 62% of South Korea’s cigarette market, and its Esse superslim brand is also popular in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Now KT&G want to release a HnB product to take on Glo and iQOS – and they’re not hanging around. According to the company they’ve been watching the heated tobacco trend since 2012 and want to have their own device on the market by the end of this year.

That’s quite an ambition. If they can pull it off, they’ll be in on the ground floor with PMI and BAT. The multinationals will have a bit of a head start, but not enough to let them build up real dominance, and that’s likely to be balanced by consumers’ familiarity with KT&G brands.

The real question is what will the product be like? Unfortunately KT&G haven’t released any details yet, but if they think they can get in on the shelves by the end of the year – even as a trial product – then its design must already be fairly advanced. A HnB device isn’t something you can just throw together; PMI have invested more than $3 billion in iQOS so far, and BAT can’t have spent much less on Glo.
iQOS is the latest version of a basic concept first trialled in 1998, as Accord, then redeveloped in 2007 as Heatbar.

 

So will it happen?

If KT&G are going to have any chance at all of getting a product on the market by December, it would need to be pretty much ready to go into production by this point. That means it would need to have been tested already, and probably tried by a good number of consumers to get their feedback on it. If this has been done, it’s been done unusually discreetly – we can’t find any details or images of a KT&G device anywhere.

Of course, South Korean companies are very good at keeping innovations quiet until they’re ready to start marketing them, so it’s very possible that KT&G really do have a product ready to launch over the next few months. If they do, it will be interesting to see how it compares to
iQOS, Glo and other existing devices. Hopefully we’ll know more about it – and whether it will be marketed outside South Korea – soon.

BAT’s glo – sneak preview

A couple of months ago we looked at BAT’s glo, their stick-fed iQOS rival that’s currently being trialled in Japan. It still hasn’t been released in other markets, and BAT haven’t revealed their plans for it yet, so it could be a while before smokers in the UK have a chance to try it. Just so you know what you’re waiting for, however, Heat Not Burn UK set out to track one down. It was a struggle, but last week one of our agents finally managed to get his hands on the elusive device.

Because of how our glo was obtained (no, we didn’t steal it) it didn’t come in its usual retail packaging, so that won’t be included in this review. It did come with a full pack of Bright Tobacco sticks to feed it with, so it was thoroughly tested as well as being poked, prodded and generally fiddled with. So what’s it like?

The device

The Glo is a neat, simple device. The silver oval on top slides to reveal the NeoStik socket.

The glo device looks like a small, simple box mod e-cigarette. It’s about the height and thickness of a pack of cigarettes, and maybe two-thirds of the width. The aluminium body is rounded on both sides, making it comfortable to hold, and it’s not too heavy. It does feel solid and well made, and the build quality looks excellent. The end caps are textured plastic, the metal body has a nice satin finish and there’s a laser-etched glo logo on the front.

Looking at the top, there’s an oval silver cover. On the bottom is a micro-USB charging port and a small cover that looks like it should open, but was left well alone in case it broke. After some discussion we think that’s the airflow vent; there has to be some place for air to flow into the heating chamber so you can inhale the vapour, and we couldn’t see anything else that might do that job.

The only actual control on the glo is a single button on the front. Its placement looks odd if you’re used to e-cigs; most box mods now have the fire button on one side, because that way it falls naturally under your thumb. However the glo’s button is just the on/off switch, and you won’t need to touch it when you’re actually using the device. The button itself is metal and surrounded by a ring of translucent plastic, which turns out to be LED-illuminated – but we’ll get to that.

The Tobacco

Like the iQOS, glo uses cigarette-like sticks which BAT call NeoStiks. Compared to PMI’s HeatSticks these are longer and slimmer – almost exactly the same size as a traditional cigarette. Instead of a filter there’s a hollow plastic tube, which makes sense – why fit a filter when there’s no smoke? The centre of the stick is filled with finely shredded tobacco. Actually it looks like the bottom is, too, but BAT say that’s not tobacco. It could be shredded cork or something similar.

In Japan the NeoStiks are priced about the same as normal cigarettes, as are iQOS HeatSticks. Industry gossip suggests the reason for this is that nobody’s quite sure how they’ll be taxed yet, so BAT and PMI are both playing it safe. If they end up being taxed at a lower rate the price may fall in the future.

Some of the stuff inside is tobacco. Some, according to BAT, isn’t.

How does it work?

Using the glo is very simple. The cover on top slides to one side, revealing a hole about the size of a cigarette. All you have to do is insert a NeoStik into this hole until it won’t go any further. This is quite simple, like the iQOS, as long as you don’t rush it.

Once the stick is fully inserted all you have to do is press the button to turn the glo on, then wait for it to warm up. Progress can be tracked by watching the surround on the button; this progressively lights up as the coil temperature rises, the glow of the LEDs advancing clockwise wound the circle, and when the whole thing is illuminated it’s ready to go. Just in case you miss that the glo will also vibrate with a faint buzz when it reaches operating temperature. Then all you have to do is take a puff.

So the big question is, what’s it like? The answer is that it’s very good. Our agent was lucky enough to try the iQOS and glo together, and thinks the glo is just as good at producing vapour and has a slightly better taste. This was a bit surprising, as it runs at a much lower temperature – 240°C, rather than 350°C for its PMI competitor.

Each stick gives about as many puffs as a traditional cigarette, and when the glo decides you’ve fully vaped it, the device will vibrate again and turn itself off. This seems to be aimed at making sure you don’t overheat the tobacco to the point where it starts producing nasties.

Looking at the used stick was interesting. The heat seems to be applied in a narrow ring, just below the end of the plastic tube. It’s hard to say how much of the tobacco is being affected by it. On the other hand it doesn’t matter much, because whatever the glo is doing, it works.

Conclusions

The overall concept of glo is very similar to the iQOS, but BAT have taken a different approach to the hardware. Our first impression is that this has paid off. Battery life is much better than the PMI device – although it’s hard to say yet if it lives up to BAT’s claims of a 30-stick life between charges, because we didn’t get that many sticks. The downside is that the device itself is much bulkier, and unlike iQOS you certainly can’t hold it like a traditional cigarette.

It does seem to do the job, though. There’s a satisfying amount of vapour and the taste is very good. The device itself is simple and well made, and disposing of used sticks is a lot less messy than emptying an ashtray. This is a very interesting product, and if it’s released in the UK we think it has a lot of potential.

WHO notices Heat not Burn

Heat not Burn products are coming to the attention of a new audience – and that might not be good news. The World Health Organisation is gearing up for its latest tobacco control junket and, for the first time, heated tobacco products are on their radar. They haven’t attracted as much of the WHO’s dislike as electronic cigarettes yet, but this could be just a matter of time.

The WHO event is the Seventh Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is a bit of a mouthful. Unsurprisingly it usually goes by the less awkward title of COP 7. The previous one, COP 6, was held in Moscow two years ago and attracted quite a lot of bad press. The organisers, who include the UK’s Action on Smoking and Health, seem to be somewhat paranoid, and they claim to be terrified that the tobacco industry will somehow manage to sneak observers in to find out what’s happening. Last year they avoided this risk by first banning all members of the public, in case any were Big Tobacco spies, then banning all members of the press.

As COP is funded from taxpayers’ money not everyone was happy about the oppressive secrecy, especially as some hints of what was going on did slip out. Although it was supposed to be a conference to set tobacco control policy, the reality is that no dissent from the organisers’ position was allowed. It’s been alleged that the health minister of a fairly large country was physically forced back into his seat when he disagreed with one of the proposals. Obviously it’s hard to say if this really happened or not, because any potential witnesses had been locked out.

They’re paranoid, and they are out to get us

This year’s event will be held in India, and it seems the paranoia has got even worse since 2014. The organisers are talking seriously about banning representatives of any government that’s involved with tobacco sales in any way, which is most of them. The Indian government itself might be shut out, despite paying to host the event.

So what does this have to do with heat not burn? The agenda for COP 7 was released last week, but for a couple of weeks before that there has been a sudden increase in interest among tobacco control activists. Anti-smokers have been asking questions about heat not burn on Twitter, mainly trying to find out what e-cigarette users think of it.

Some people were puzzled about this. Why ask vapers for their opinions about heat not burn? Obviously there are connections – both are alternatives to smoking – but they’re very different products. Surely it would have made more sense to ask smokers what they thought, but there was no sign of anyone doing that. Of course that could just have been the usual dismissive public health attitude towards smokers, but was there something more significant behind it?

As it turned out, yes there was. One of the documents the WHO released last week was their new position paper on electronic cigarettes, and as well as e-cigs it mentions heat not burn products. It’s not a big mention, but it’s there – just a single sentence about how the tobacco industry “has launched alternative nicotine delivery systems that heat but do not burn tobacco”.

Bad attitudes

Unfortunately the WHO has been extremely negative about e-cigarettes right from the start, and the tone of this new paper suggests they’re going to be exactly the same about HnB. This probably shouldn’t be a big surprise – the organisers of FCTC lost interest in keeping people healthy long ago. Their priority now is attacking the tobacco industry every chance they get, and heat not burn is an obvious target. After all the leading products are all actually made by tobacco companies, unlike most e-cigs. They contain tobacco, and some of them have well-known cigarette brands. It’s pretty much inevitable that HnB is going to be painted as another evil tobacco industry plot.

So does this attention from WHO mean heat not burn is doomed before it even has a chance to get off the ground? No, not really. Look at what’s happening with e-cigarettes. Yes, the USA and EU have introduced tough new laws – but they haven’t actually banned them, and that’s what the WHO was demanding as recently as last year. There’s now so much evidence they’re safer than cigarettes that even the WHO can’t justify a ban.

It’s almost certain that the same will happen with HnB. Not much research has been done yet, but when the evidence starts coming in it’s likely to show that these products are much safer than conventional smoking. The FCTC crew will huff and puff, but governments aren’t likely to ban the products. They’ll get health warnings, and possibly plain packs, but they aren’t going to be banned except in a few totalitarian states.

Hints of positivity

Actually it could be good news that WHO seem to have been talking to tobacco control people about HnB. While a lot of them are driven by hatred of the industry, some of the more open-minded ones will be interested in anything that gives a safer alternative to smoking. One or two of those were among the ones asking questions, including the chief of an NHS stop smoking service. The same service was the first in Britain to start recommending e-cigs to smokers who wanted to quit; if HnB looks like being a real alternative – and with the current technology it certainly does – it could find supporters in unlikely places.

Sadly it’s a fact of life in today’s world that, whenever something new and enjoyable appears, a lot of people will instinctively want to ban it. Sometimes they succeed, worse luck. More often they manage to cause some problems, but the new technology goes on to eventually become widely accepted. Remember how mobile phones would cause sterility and brain cancer? Now everybody has one. Heat not burn will be opposed by people like the WHO, but the chances are it’s not going to go away. Technology has caught up to the point where it really works, and it’s just going to keep getting better.

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 they 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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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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