Posted on

HnB UK Exclusive Review – the Lil from KT&G

KT&G Lil and Fiits

Last November we posted an article about an interesting new entry into the Heat not Burn market – the Lil, from Korean Tobacco and Ginseng. Since then we’ve dropped a few hints that we were trying to get our hands on one, and more recently that one might actually be on its way to us. Well, that turned out to be a longer process than we expected. In fact, when it comes to getting things out of Korea, it’s probably easier to get your hands on Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear secrets than a Lil. We did it in the end, though; the elusive device arrived last week, along with a supply of sticks for it, and since then I’ve been busy giving it a thorough test.

As you might remember from our first article on Lil – go on, read it; you know you want to – I said it seemed to resemble Glo more than iQOS. I was partly right about that, and partly wrong. It does rely on a fairly beefy internal battery, like Glo, whereas iQOS outsources most of its power storage to the charging case. Where I went wrong is in saying that it heats the sticks externally rather than using a blade like iQOS. In fact it doesn’t have a blade, but it does have a spike, just like the iBuddy i1 I tested a while ago, so it’s much closer to the iQOS in concept here.

The Review

Lil open box showing unitAnyway, the Lil arrived in a smart cardboard box with a magnetically-closed flip-up lid. Inside the first thing you see is the Lil itself, resting in the usual plastic tray. Lifting that out reveals a cardboard flap; underneath there’s a quick-start card and instruction manual, neither of which I read (not out of laziness – they’re printed in Korean only) and all the bits and pieces you need to get it running and keep it that way. Specifically, there’s a USB cable, a plug for it (presumably South Korean, but I stuck it in a German socket and nothing exploded), a pack of pipe cleaners and a rather neat little cleaning brush.

The Lil itself is quite a bit taller than the Glo, but not as wide. Unlike the iQOS you can’t hold it like a cigarette, which might be a problem for some

Lil plus accessories

people, but I found it fitted nicely in my hand. The body is made of hard plastic and feels rock solid. It’s in two parts; they’re held together by a handy sticker explaining (in Korean) that if you twist a used stick a couple of times in each direction before pulling it out, it won’t leave the tobacco stuck on the spike. I wish I’d known this before trying the iBuddy, but anyway, if you remove the sticker you can pull off the top of the body and partly disassemble the heating chamber for cleaning.

On first handling the Lil I thought the build quality wasn’t up to that of the iQOS and Glo. For example, the top of the body is a piece of copper-coloured metal, and it looks a bit tacky. A slot in it holds a round, very plasticky button which slides back to reveal the heating chamber. After playing with it for a week, though, everything seems solid and reliable; it just isn’t quite as polished as its rivals. The only other features on the body are a micro USB port at the bottom and an LED-illuminated power button on one side. A smart copper-coloured Lil logo on the front completes the design. One minor point is that you can’t stand the Lil on its base, which is slightly convex; if you try it will just fall over.

Testing!

Lil top view showing slider cover

Once I’d finished playing with all the bits in the box, I plugged the Lil in and left it to charge. The LED in the power button changes colour to show the charge level, with a deep blue colour indicating a full charge – which takes about an hour and a half from empty. Once I had the battery fully topped up it was time to start testing it, so I dug out the sticks that came with it and had a look.

KT&G’s sticks are branded as Fiit, and I had two packs of them to play with. One was Fiit Change Up with a name in Korean, and the other was Fiit Change Up with a different name in Korean. Externally a Fiit looks very similar to a Heet – I’ll come back to that – but the Change Up ones I got have a small plastic capsule embedded in the filter. Leave that alone and they’re plain tobacco; crush it by squeezing the filter and they instantly become menthol.

Like its competitors Lil is simplicity itself to use. Just slide the cover back, insert a Fiit into the chamber, then hold the power button down until the device vibrates. After that all you have to do is wait until it heats up to operating temperature. Here’s where I started to get excited; the Lil heats up very fast. In fact I had to time it a few times before I completely believed it; this thing is ready to go less than 15 seconds after you let go the button.

Online shop banner

The Lil Experience

Lil unitWith the Lil warmed up, now came the moment of truth: What does it vape like? Well, I can say that if you like the iQOS, you’re not going to be disappointed with the Lil. It’s at least as good as its better-known rival; there’s plenty of vapour, and it’s rich, warm and satisfying. Once the Lil is at running temperature it will keep going for four minutes or (I think) 14 puffs, whichever comes first. Ten seconds before it powers down you’ll get a warning buzz so you can grab another quick puff from it.

First I tried a couple of Fiits without breaking the capsules. That delivered a very good tobacco flavour, pretty close to an amber Heet. The flavour did tail off a bit over the last few puffs, but I’ve learned to expect that. I crushed the capsules in the next few, and got a very cool, clear menthol vape. Sadly I never actually liked menthol cigarettes very much, so I left the rest of the capsules unsquashed, but at least I tested the concept. I don’t know what temperature Lil runs at, but from the taste and quality of the vapour I suspect it’s similar to the iQOS. I also checked a few sticks after use and didn’t find any signs of charring, like I did with the EFOS E1, so I don’t think there’s any risk of smoke being produced.

Incidentally, when I say I check these things I don’t just glance at them and think, “Yep, that looks OK.” I have a stereomicroscope, and I take sections of the stick and look at them under it. With the iQOS, Glo, iBuddy and Lil there really are no signs of charring. At HnB UK we take science seriously, and we’re happy to do a little of it ourselves.

Keeping the Lil running was also simple. The battery will heat about 20 sticks on a single charge, so if you’re not a heavy user it should get you through the whole day. Cleaning was simple with the supplied brush, and you also have the alcohol-soaked pipe cleaners to apply the finishing touches. A quick clean once a day will keep it in perfect working order.

Conclusions

Overall, despite some initial doubts about the build quality, I would say the Lil is an excellent device. It’s the equal of iQOS, with its higher battery capacity making up for the extra weight and bulk, and in my opinion it has a clear edge over the Glo, iBuddy and EFOS. The big disappointment is that it’s only available in South Korea.

If you do find yourself in South Korea, and you’re contemplating buying a Lil, I would say go for it. Don’t worry about keeping it supplied with Fiits. Remember I said earlier that a Fiit looks very similar to a Heet? It’s also pretty much exactly the same size, and the internal structure is much the same, too. Lil will work just fine with Heets, and I’m not taking a guess about that; I put two packs of Heets through it and they performed flawlessly.

Now here’s some more good news. Just six months after this impressive gadget hit the market, KT&G have already released the Lil 2. This is smaller and lighter, and also features an even easier cleaning system and upgraded heating element. Initial sales figures are impressive; KT&G say it’s sold 150,000 units in its first month, which is three times what the Lil did. With no signs yet of upgrades to its rivals, many Korean HnB users might be tempted to switch to the Lil 2 when their current devices need replaced.

As excited as we are to have been able to review the Lil, Heat not Burn UK are committed to bringing you the latest HnB news. That means brushing off my dinner jacket, ordering a large martini (shaken not stirred), loading my Walther PPK and going in search of the latest heated tobacco technology. As soon as a Lil 2 makes it out of Korea – and we’re already on it – you’ll read all about it on HnB UK.

iqos and 60 heets special offer

Posted on

BAT invests a billion dollars in Romanian HnB factory

HnB Factory Romania

There’s been a lot of talk recently from opponents of Heat not Burn – including, regrettably, some of the less intelligent vape reviewers – about how the technology has already peaked. Growth has slowed, they say; fewer smokers are switching to HnB, and the market is already saturated. It’s true that iQOS sales in Japan have slowed over the last quarter, but does this mean the great heated tobacco experiment is fizzling out?

Well, I’m not convinced. Has iQOS reached market saturation in Japan? It might have done. That wouldn’t really be a huge surprise. After all, iQOS is the first generation of HnB that’s really gone mass market. Maybe all the Japanese smokers who feel like switching have done so already, and sales are going to fall back to existing users replacing their devices. This happens when a new product disrupts an existing market.

What’s the good news?

Japan isn’t the only market for HnB, though – not by a long way. iQOS, the most widely available product, is now on sale in most of Europe as well as in Asia, but it hasn’t hit the huge US market yet. It’s still going through FDA approval, but if it gets there (and it probably will) millions more smokers are likely to switch. Then there’s Glo, which so far is only available in selected countries. Maybe KT&G will release their Lil outside South Korea – and I hope they do, because I have one on my desk right now and it’s excellent.

Then, of course, there’s the technology itself to consider. HnB has been around since the 1990s at least, but iQOS, Glo and Lil are the first generation of really effective devices. Compare that with e-cigarettes for a moment. The first really effective, widely available e-cig was probably the JoyeTech eGo. Now compare an eGo with today’s entry-level devices. There’s a bit of a difference, isn’t there? Well, iQOS and Glo are the eGo of heated tobacco.

Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and others are all working to improve and refine the technology that’s gone into their existing HnB systems. Over the next few years we can expect to see improved versions appearing – devices that will be even easier to use, come even closer to the experience of smoking a cigarette, and reduce the harm even more. A lot of smokers who weren’t quite convinced by the first generation of products will decide to switch once something even better is on the market.

Again, this is exactly what we saw with vaping. I found my first e-cig on a market stall in Kabul. It was an old-style three piece cigalike, and it was bloody awful. There was no way a device like that was going to replace my smoking habit, which seeing as 200 Marlboro cost a whole $10 in the PX was pretty heavy. On the other hand it did work just fine to keep nicotine deprivation at bay on my regular seven-hour flights home, so it was enough to keep e-cigs in my mind. Later, when I decided I really had to quit smoking, I found an eGo-C kit and that was actually good enough to do the job. What I’m using now, of course, blows an eGo – or a Marlboro, for that matter – right out of the water.

Growth to come

Anyway, I don’t think the market for Heat not Burn products has peaked, or even come close to its full potential. And, it seems, neither do British American Tobacco. I can say that pretty confidently, because BAT have just announced that they plan to spend a billion dollars upgrading one of their factories and turning it into their European centre for HnB manufacturing.

Romania was the first European market for Glo – and also an early one for iQOS – and BAT already have an established manufacturing capability there. The company’s market share in Romania is around 55%, and to support that they have a large factory at Ploiești. This is the factory that’s going to benefit from that billion-dollar investment over the next five years.

BAT’s plan is to roll Glo out across more European countries in the second half of this year, and to do that they need a reliable supply of Neostiks – ideally a supply that doesn’t involve shipping them from Asia. The plan is for Ploiești to become the sole European manufacturing and supply centre for Neostiks. The plant already supplies the European market with pods for the iFuse hybrid device, so it looks set to become a major centre for BAT’s reduced-harm products.

A bright future

If BAT weren’t anticipating strong sales of Glo in Europe, they’d be very unlikely to spend €800,000,000 on the infrastructure to support those sales. Clearly they’re confident, and I think they’re right to be. Glo will suit a lot of smokers who just didn’t get on with iQOS. Personally I think iQOS comes closer to the taste and sensation of a cigarette, but that has to be balanced against Glo’s huge battery capacity. Both devices have their strong points and I think Glo is going to do well as it hits new markets.

I’m not the only one who thinks that, either. The Times made BAT last week’s Share of the Week, citing the company’s investment in reduced harm products as a likely source of future growth. PMI might have seen their profit growth slow along with iQOS sales in Japan, but investors can obviously see a big market waiting to be tapped into.

Meanwhile, BAT’s Ploiești factory is going to get an extra 7,000 square metres of manufacturing space and plans to take on an extra 200 people to work on the new production line. PMI are also expanding in Romania, spending over $500 million to convert a cigarette factory near Bucharest into a HEET factory. I don’t expect these to be the last HnB projects launched in Europe.

Posted on

There’s a new HnB study – and you should ignore it

new HnB study

I’ve been involved in e-cig advocacy for years, so I’ve seen some truly awful studies. It takes a lot to surprise me these days because I’ve seen it all: Badly conducted experiments, tortured statistics, misrepresented data and straight-out bad science. It isn’t often I find myself shaking my head at just how crap something is, but step forward anyway South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, because you’ve achieved it.

After Japan, South Korea is one of the biggest markets in the world for Heat not Burn products. For South Koreans, conventional vaping is just a niche hobby; if you want to quit smoking you go with HnB. The country is also one of the most varied markets. As well as the now-familiar iQOS and BAT’s newer Glo, there’s an indigenous competitor, too – the Lil from Korean Tobacco and Ginseng. We’re still waiting for KT&G to send us a Lil, by the way, but when they do you’ll be the first to know what it’s like.

UPDATE: We now have the Lil! Read our detailed review of it here.

Anyway, lots of South Koreans like HnB. All three products are selling well despite recent tax rises on the tobacco sticks for them, and smokers seem to be switching in pretty large numbers. So, as you’d expect, people who make a living telling smokers to quit are getting annoyed that the tobacco industry is doing their job better than they can.

So the knives are out for HnB in South Korea, and the Ministry of Food and Drugs just decided to have another go. This time their weapon of choice is an “independent” report by a group of Korean researchers that claims HnB isn’t less dangerous than smoking. At this point I’m going to stick in a disclaimer and say that there’s no formal evidence that it is less dangerous than smoking. That’s going to take decades of research and data collection, and with the products being so new we obviously don’t have that yet. What we do know is that, according to absolutely everything we understand about toxicology, it would be very surprising indeed if they weren’t significantly safer.

The shocking details

So what does this report say? Well, nothing good. It’s basically a toxicological analysis of the sticks for all three of the devices on the market. The media aren’t reporting any details of the study – such as the methods it used or even who conducted it – so there’s no way to tell what sort of science is behind this, but going by the results it’s extremely poor.

The headline conclusion is that HnB is no safer than smoking because it has nasty chemicals in it. This is in fact true; HnB sticks – and the vapour they produce – do have nasty chemicals in them. The problem is that, while true, this isn’t actually very informative. As any toxicologist will happily tell you, almost everything has nasty chemicals in it. If the mere presence of nasty chemicals was actually a problem, none of us would live long enough to be born.

What matters is how much of those chemicals is present. This is often expressed as “The dose makes the poison,” and it isn’t exactly a radical new concept that the “independent researchers” weren’t aware of yet – it goes back to Paracelsus, and he died in 1541. Some public health activists might claim there’s “no safe level” of whatever they’re attacking this week – second-hand smoke, alcohol, sugar – but they’re talking rubbish. The fact is that there’s a safe level of anything – arsenic, cyanide, even plutonium. That safe level might be extremely low, but it does exist. No matter how toxic or carcinogenic something is, there’s a level below which it just isn’t going to do you any harm.

Obviously, if it’s above that level there is potential for harm, but it isn’t a simple harm/no harm binary. If you swallow slightly above the safe level of arsenic you might feel a bit ill, but you’re not going to die. Similarly, if you inhale slightly above the safe level of some of the chemicals in cigarette smoke your risk of some cancers may rise slightly, but it’s not going to skyrocket like it would if you were firing up 20 Bensons every day.

And the authors of this shoddy study totally ignore that fact. They accurately picked up on the fact that HnB tobacco contains some of the same carcinogens as any other tobacco, but they totally ignored the relative concentrations in the vapour – and that is the only thing that matters. If they’d done their job properly they would have analysed the relative quantities and estimated a relative risk for that; instead they just found some nasty stuff and said “Yep, just as bad!” Sorry, but there’s no excuse for that – and their own data blows their argument to bits.

According to the report, analysis of HnB tobacco sticks found that they contained “up to five” human carcinogens. Just to put that into perspective, cigarette smoke contains at least 33 and even a humble carrot has over a dozen. If this report shows anything it’s that using an HnB device is, at least in terms of cancer risks, about as dangerous as eating salad.

Grasping at straws

The team also looked at two other components of both smoke and vapour – nicotine and tar. This is where they really lost contact with reality. They claimed that two of the products they tested produced more tar than an actual cigarette. This is where I would really like to know how they carried out the experiment, because in normal use there is just no way this is true. Tar is a mixture of combustion products, produced when tobacco burns – and HnB devices don’t burn the tobacco. It’s easy to see this by comparing the filters of a used Heet and a smoked cigarette; it’s tar that turns cigarette filters brown.

As for nicotine, their complaint about that was that all three products contained as much nicotine as a cigarette. Yes, they do. They’re supposed to, because if they don’t the devices won’t do what they’re supposed to do – give smokers an acceptable alternative to cigarettes. Any alternative to smoking depends on delivering enough nicotine that smokers are satisfied and don’t reach for a cigarette to deal with their cravings. Basically, the study is criticising HnB for being fit for purpose.

So does this study raise serious concerns about the risks of heated tobacco? Well, I think you can already guess what I’m going to say about that, can’t you? No, of course it doesn’t. It’s picking up on something that we already knew – that HnB vapour does contain some carcinogenic substances, although fewer of them and at lower levels than smoke does. It’s a reduced harm product, after all. The whole point is that, even if the harm isn’t totally eliminated, it’s much lower than continuing to smoke. That’s what basic toxicology tells us – and any study that conflicts with basic principles of science is wrong.