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Everything you need to know about the FCTC COP8 junket

COP8

Understanding the FCTC Conference of the Parties.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s (FCTC’s) 8th “Conference of the Parties” (COP8) gets underway on October 1. It is a bizarre meeting whose format results from FCTC technically being an international treaty. Thus, it theoretically requires serious formal meetings of national officials who have the authority to negotiate and make commitments on behalf of their governments. In reality, the idea of treating FCTC’s deluge of position statements and vague policy recommendations as the law of the land, as would be the case with a proper treaty, is laughable. Functionally FCTC is really just an overfunded special-interest lobbying organization, and a rather dysfunctional one. The COPs are exactly what you might expect based on that: gabfests in which delegations of unserious people (few of whom could actually commit their governments to anything) hold a cheerleading session and enshrine their flights-of-fancy in “official international treaty” documents.

 

The COPs are notorious for their paranoid exclusionary policies, including banning of reporters and other observers from many of their sessions. Consumers have no seat at the table, let alone industry, which FCTC declares itself to be diametric opposed to (and as a result, ironically grants industry control over their actions). Perhaps most notoriously, the international law-enforcement agency, Interpol, which plays a major role in fighting cigarette smuggling, was denied observer status because they engage in the obvious tactic of cooperating with companies that also work to stop smuggling. As much as these exclusions arouse ire, they would actually make perfect sense if FCTC were a proper treaty. Trade treaties are negotiated by states (via empowered serious officials who speak for their government, of course, not a gaggle of loons), without any direct participation by the stakeholders, and some steps in those negotiations are not possible without confidentiality. Military treaty negotiations are even more secretive, and ISIS and the Taliban are obviously not allowed to observe the meetings.

 

Paper Policemen

Paper policemen.

The problem is that FCTC is a treaty in name only, and the COPs do not resemble negotiations about a treaty. They feel like what they really are: political rallies. When a political rally excludes the press and stakeholder observers, we immediately suspect that they are up to something nefarious, which is certainly true in this case. Moreover, WHO’s rhetoric about why FCTC exists is that the “treaty” is designed to improve population health. That goal would be best served by including the actual stakeholders (consumers and industry), rather than having a group of non-stakeholders engage in uninformed discussions about top-down approaches. But health has become a mere pretense for the FCTC, and this was already true before the “treaty implementation”.

 

Instead of having a nuanced and complicated humanitarian goal, like improving health, the participants live in a fantasy world in which they are protagonists in a simplistic modern-style fairy-tale (think: Star Wars). They are at war against evil, facing an a enemy (a fictitious monolithic construct they call The Industry) with no discernible motivation other than to do evil. This means there is no room for mutually beneficial arrangements and no possible strategy other than total war (see above link for more of my analysis on that point). As a result, they act as if COP chattering sessions are a secret military conference, not realizing that it is they who are playing the role of The Empire, the Taliban, or ISIS (which, incidentally, was praised by some people who will be at COP8 for its anti-tobacco policies).

 

Has it ever been about health?

If FCTC were really about health, they would embrace low-risk alternatives to smoking. As anyone familiar with tobacco control knows, they do not. FCTC documents devote at least as much attention to attacking low-risk products as they do cigarettes. Much of the rhetoric targeting low risk products these days is about flavors and other features that supposedly attract young never-smokers. One might have some optimism about what COP8 will say about heat-not-burn based on this. HnB products are plain-old-cigarette flavored, are not sleek and sexy, and their use is not much easier to conceal from parents and teachers than regular cigarettes. They seem like the dream product for someone who genuinely wants to help smokers lower their risks without attracting many new young users.

 

The problem is that the focus on flavors and such is mostly just hollow rhetoric. A large portion of participants at COP8 are anti-tobacco extremists, a term I coined as follows: If someone had the choice between magically eliminating the harm from tobacco products, such that people could still enjoy all the benefits without health risk, or magically eliminating all tobacco products from existence, they would choose the latter. A substantial fraction of tobacco controllers would prefer to deny people the pleasure of tobacco use, regardless of whether there is health risk. Combine this with the fairytale opposition to “The Industry” (HnB being entirely a product of that great evil empire, “Big Tobacco”), and there is little hope for good news.

 

A few good men (or women.)

Of course, there will be non-extremists at COP8. There will be participants who really care about health, and even a few who actually care about people’s happiness. There will be those who understand how the world really works and recognize that their policies need to be realistic and will be useful only if there is stakeholder buy-in. But here is where the dysfunctional governance structure of FCTC comes into play. A real treaty negotiation would offer some possibility that the humanitarians and realists would prevail. Indeed, if delegations were comprised of real diplomats and other serious officials, there would at least be a bias in favor of realism. But instead the COPs function more like a student organization with a “there are no bad ideas” policy. It is a recipe for kakocracy, with the most extreme crazy people defining the agenda and policy positions. It might be that a majority of the “voting delegates” (again, since none of this is genuine public policy, neither membership nor voting really matters much) might think an extremist proposal is unrealistic or even loony, but they will not bother to vote against it, let alone speak out. What would be the point? In addition, they are (realistically) worried about being excommunicated from the club and losing access to the endless gravy train if they oppose extremist positions. Those with enough integrity to resist that pressure have already been excommunicated.

 

Anti-everything.

Thus, it is a safe bet that the “official” statements coming out of COP8 will be anti-HnB, anti-vape, and anti-snus. They will also find a little time to be anti-smoking, though worrying about smoking is just so 2005. Less snarkily, there is really not much for them to say about smoking that they have not already said. If FCTC were really a treaty, or even a policy analysis think tank, there would be a lot new to say about anti-smoking policies, particularly analyzing the actual nuts-and-bolts details. But FCTC does not do that. They offer flyover-level statements about what policies member states should implement, but without operationalizable details or program evaluation to assess whether they work (spoiler: almost none of them have any apparent effect).

 

Thinking again of a student-type organization, many of us can recall an experience from our youth of creating an organization and having twenty people show up and enthusiastically debate goals, philosophy, and language for weeks. After that is finished and it is time to start on practical tasks, only three of them ever show to do any real work. That is not a perfect analogy for the COPs (everyone goes home and does something to keep their lavish salaries flowing), but it is a pretty good metaphor (what they do is usually the functional equivalent of not showing up until the next political rally).

 

That is actually good news. There is a good chance that COP8 will issue some extremist condemnation of HnB, but this will be almost entirely cheap talk that has little impact. In only those few countries where WHO basically controls the health ministries (e.g., India), HnB might get banned as a result of a COP8 statement. In a few others where the loons have unfettered control independent of WHO influence (e.g., Australia, Finland), the same might happen, but it will not be because of COP8. The U.S. is a wild-card due to the unfettered power and arbitrary behavior of the FDA, but is not going to be influenced by FCTC. For most of the world’s countries, however, realism and humanity will probably prevail over COP8 statements, despite the signatures on the FCTC “treaty”.

 


 

Carl V Phillips PhD is a regular contributor on Heat Not Burn UK.

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The Lil Solid from KT&G – Exclusive Heat not Burn UK review!

Lil Solid

You probably remember that, a couple of months ago, the Heat not Burn UK team were very excited about the Lil from Korean Tobacco & Ginseng. As far as we know we did the first review of the Lil that wasn’t written in Korean, and I have to admit we were impressed by it. Maybe more than any other device we’ve tested, this was a genuine rival to the iQOS. Easy to use and pretty compact, compatible with Heets and delivering both decent battery life and a very good vape, the Lil is a really good package.

What really impressed us, though, was that by the time our Lil arrived a new version was already hitting the shelves in South Korea and racking up impressive sales figures. That’s a pretty quick product life cycle, especially for a major company. Vapers are used to products that come and go in a matter of a few months, because that market’s driven by small and medium independent companies that need to innovate constantly to stay in the game. I expect something similar to happen in the emerging independent HnB sector, with devices getting updated or replaced every few months.

It’s a bit different for the major tobacco companies, though. They have to be more cautious, because unlike a small engineering firm in Shenzhen they’re going to face major blowback if they get it wrong. That’s why products like iQOS and Glo spend a couple of years on sale in limited test markets before they get rolled out globally; the company has time to identify and iron out any issues, while limiting their exposure if there’s a problem.

KT&G don’t seem to be as cautious as other tobacco companies, though. We hadn’t even heard of the Lil until last October, and a few months later I had one in my hand. By that time its replacement was already on sale. KT&G might not be a global player, but they’re still a big company – and for a big company, releasing two generations of a product in less than a year is fast.

Anyway, back to the gadget. We said at the time that we’d get one for review as soon as we could, and now it’s here. In fact it’s been here for a few days, and now it’s been through our intensive Heat not Burn UK testing process. Read on to find out what’s new in South Korean heated tobacco products!

The Review

The new product is called the Lil Solid, and it comes packed in exactly the same neat cardboard box as its older brother. Strip off the plastic wrapping and lift the magnetically-closed side flap, and you’ll find the Lil Plus sitting securely in a plastic tray. That lifts out to reveal an instruction manual (which I didn’t read because a) it’s all in Korean and b) reading the instructions is for girls) and, under that, a flap which covers another tray packed with accessories.

After giving the Lil Solid itself a bit of a double take I pawed through all the extra bits, which are identical to what comes with the original Lil – a USB cable and plug, some alcohol-soaked cleaning sticks and a neat little brush. Everything feels high quality and does its job very well. So, finding no surprises there, I went back to the actual device.

I mentioned that I gave it a double take when I opened the box. That’s because we’d been led to believe the Lil Solid would be smaller and lighter. Well, it isn’t. In fact my first impression was that the only difference between the new Lil Solid and my old Lil was that the new one is blue.

On closer inspection this wasn’t quite the case. The Lil Solid is about an eighth of an inch shorter than its predecessor because the base, which was slightly convex on the Lil, has been flattened. That means you can stand it upright if you want. I was always trying this with the Lil and even succeeded a few times, but it falls over if you look at it funny. The new one is a lot more stable, which I like.

They’re the same size, but the blue one stands up.

Apart from that tiny difference, though, they’re exactly the same size. In fact, just to check, I swapped the top caps around and they fitted perfectly. So if you were hoping for a device that packed the Lil’s performance into a smaller package, this isn’t it. On the other hand that’s not a big deal, because it’s a pretty compact unit anyway.

Once I’d examined the Lil Solid in detail I found a few more small differences. The sliding button that covers the heating chamber is a lot less plasticky, for example. The power button now has a neat metal trim, and the LED indicator in it is hidden until it lights up. Overall it feels like a more polished product. The top plate is still stamped out of some copper-coloured alloy, but it’s neat enough and completely functional.

There’s obviously been some work done inside, too. One of the things I liked about the original Lil was how easy it was to clean (or remove tobacco plugs that had detached themselves when I removed a used stick). All you have to do is pull off the plastic shroud that surrounds the heating chamber, and the tobacco comes out with it. The Solid keeps this neat system, but while the Lil’s shroud will fit in the Solid, the Solid’s won’t fit the Lil. I’m not totally sure what the difference is, but KT&G clearly thought it needed a tweak.

iqos and 60 heets special offer

Testing!

Playing with shiny things is always fun, but the important thing is how it vapes. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect here. We’d heard that the Solid would have an upgraded heating element, but then we’d also heard it would be smaller and lighter; well, you already know how that turned out. Anyway I plugged it in to top up the charge – a full charge takes about an hour – then dug out some sticks and got vaping.

This time I had four packs of KT&G’s own Fiit sticks to play with. Three of them were different varieties of Change Up sticks, which have a breakable flavour capsule embedded in the filter. The names of the flavours were a bit unhelpful – Change Up, Change and Sparky – but I was able to guess what they were. Change is a fresh spearmint, Change Up is a classic menthol and Sparky seems to be a mint/citrus blend that really was very nice. The fourth pack, labelled Match, was a medium tobacco blend that tasted pretty similar to an Amber HEET.

With the battery fully charged and a Match in place, I held down the button until the device vibrated and then started my stopwatch. I was hoping that it would heat up faster than the Lil’s impressive 15 seconds, but it didn’t. In fact it took a couple of seconds longer, but I’m putting that down to my office being a hell of a lot colder than it was on those sweltering days in June when I reviewed the original. Just to verify that I tested the Lil too, and got the same result.

Anyway, 17 seconds after I pressed the button the Lil Solid vibrated again, letting me know it was at running temperature, and I took a vape. How was it? Well, it was exactly the same as the Lil, which is to say it was very good indeed. I’m going to repeat what I said about this device being at least as good as the iQOS. There’s plenty of vapour, and it’s warm, satisfying and richly flavoured. Interestingly, although I was never a fan of menthols when I smoked, I found myself really enjoying the Change Up sticks.

I soon found one change that’s been made to how the device works; while the Lil ran for four minutes or 14 puffs, the Lil Solid shuts down after three and a half minutes. That makes sense; by that time the stick is pretty much done anyway. Like the Lil it gives you a warning buzz ten seconds before it powers down, so you can grab a last dash of nicotine.

Battery life was pretty much exactly the same as the original Lil. A full charge was good for roughly one pack of sticks, which is respectable. Combined with its quick charging time, there’s no reason to be caught short during the day unless you’re a really heavy user. Of course I am a really heavy user, but I was testing it at my desk. Plugging it in for a few minutes between sticks kept the battery fully charged.

Cleaning was as easy as I’d expected. I did find the Solid a little more prone to pulling the tobacco out of used sticks as I removed them, but it’s so easy to clear the residue that I wasn’t really bothered.

Conclusions

After testing the Lil Solid I think I can see how KT&G managed to get it on the market so quickly. This isn’t really a new device; it’s basically the original Lil with the rough edges polished off. So is it worth getting one if you’re in Korea? Definitely! Yes, it’s a slightly tweaked Lil. That’s fine; the Lil is an excellent heat not burn system. The Solid is just as good, a bit more refined, and it’s still compatible with Heets. If for some reason the iQOS 2.4 Plus isn’t for you, this is a great alternative.

I might be the only person in the western world who can do this.
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We are now selling the new IQOS 2.4 Plus

IQOS 2.4 PLUS

We have been selling the excellent IQOS 2.4 for some time now but we are now very pleased to announce that we have now replaced that with the brand new all-singing and all-dancing IQOS 2.4 Plus.

There is of course nothing wrong with the 2.4 version that we have been selling for some time, it is just that Phillip Morris are always innovating so that they maintain their global position as the leading seller of quality heat not burn devices on the market today. Their dedication to improving an already superb product means that the IQOS 2.4 Plus is at the cutting edge of HnB technology.

IQOS 2.4 PLUS NAVY UNIT AND HOLDER

Here are the upgrades on the IQOS 2.4 Plus over its predecessor the IQOS 2.4:

  • The holder charges 20% faster.
  • The unit vibrates to alert the user that it is ready and vibrates again when you have 2 puffs or 30 seconds remaining.
  • Bluetooth enabled and can be linked to an App (Android only.)

Because of this upgrade we will no longer be selling the IQOS 2.4 but we are very happy to be able to say that we can sell this for the SAME PRICE of £79 for this new IQOS 2.4 Plus and 60 HEETS! This is a saving of £44 over buying them separately!

The iQOS is the result of major development from Phillip Morris in their quest to develop a reduced risk product for adult smokers to switch to and what we have here is a very nice well made device.

To read about what we personally think of the iQOS 2.4 Plus please take a read of our very thorough review that we did in October 2018.

When choosing HEETS we have 3 different flavours available, that is AMBER (Full), YELLOW (Smooth) and TURQUOISE (Menthol) or if you are not sure then why not go for the MIXED option and be sent 20 of each?

IQOS 2.4 PLUS SIDE PROFILE

For more information and to make a purchase please CLICK HERE to see our full iQOS range.

 

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Dud or diamond? – The VCOT from Ewildfire

VCOT from Ewildfire

So, it’s that time again. The postman delivered a parcel from China last week, I’ve been playing with a new gadget since then, and now it’s time to give all you Heat not Burn fans the inside scoop on the latest and greatest (well, we’ll see about that) in tobacco vaporisation technology.

This time, my new toy is the VCOT from Ewildfires. It’s the latest product from Shenzhen, the Chinese industrial region that’s become the global hub of e-cigarette manufacturing and is now trying to grab a foothold in the HnB market as well. We’ve already reviewed a few devices from Chinese companies – the iBuddy i1, EFOS E1 and NOS – and a couple of them were pretty impressive. So how does the VCOT stack up?

The Review

The VCOT is brand new – so new that I’m not going to go through the traditional unboxing experience. The retail packaging hasn’t even been designed yet, so my review sample turned up in a plain cardboard box and a nest of bubble wrap, with no accessories. There wasn’t even an instruction manual; that arrived by email. It wouldn’t be fair to comment – or even speculate – on packaging and accessories that I haven’t seen, so for this review I’ll only be looking at the vaporiser itself.

As I said, the VCOT is brand new, and its designers have obviously tried to push the technological envelope a bit. Like the NOS we looked at a few weeks ago it’s a temperature-controlled device that lets you set the operating temperature to get the vape you want.

Bottom view of the VCOTApart from the temperature control feature, the VCOT is pretty conventional. It uses PMI’s widely available Heets, for a start. The body is basically rectangular with rounded edges and corners, and it fits nicely in the hand. You can’t hold it like a cigarette, as you can with iQOS, but it’s comfortable enough. It’s also very light. The body seems to be all metal and made in three parts; front, back, and a strip that forms the top and base as well as holding it all together.

So if the body is all metal, how come the device is so light? The answer is that the metal is very thin. The front and back are stamped out of sheet. I don’t know what the sheet is, but it isn’t steel – I couldn’t get my neodymium supermagnets to stick to it. It could be aluminium; the glossy, deep blue finish looks like it could be anodised.

Unfortunately, the thin metal gives the VCOT a slightly flimsy feel. If I squeeze the body between finger and thumb it flexes slightly and lets out a chorus of creaking and clicking sounds. Shaking it isn’t reassuring either; something – probably the battery pack – rattles around inside. That isn’t just an annoyance, because if things are free to move it increases wear and tear on wiring, so the device is more likely to fail (more on that later).

Top view of the VCOTMoving on, the VCOT has the usual Heet-sized (more on that, too) hole at the top, protected by a sliding plastic cover. The cover feels solid and has grooves moulded into its surface, so it’s easy to operate. The heating chamber itself is similar to the EFOS – there’s no spike or blade, and the heating element is built into the walls of the chamber. On the base of the device is a micro-USB charging port and an air intake hole that lines up with the heating chamber.

All the work is done at the front of the device, on an inlaid black plastic panel. At the top of this is the power button, and at the bottom the temperature up/down buttons and a blue LED to show current status. In between the buttons is a 0.7” OLED screen, which gives a nice clear, bright image.

So, on build quality, the VCOT isn’t really up to the standard of the other devices I’ve reviewed. Even the plastic-bodied EFOS has a much more solid feel to it. On the other hand the VCOT does pack in a 2,200mAh battery, which hints at good battery life, and it has the advantage of temperature control. If a gadget performs well I can easily overlook a creaky casing. So how does the VCOT stack up when it comes to actually vaping?

Vaping the VCOT

Putting a full charge in the VCOT takes about an hour, which is pretty reasonable, and you’ll know when it’s done – the LED on the front blinks brightly while it’s charging, and the battery indicator on the screen makes it easy to see how much progress you’re making. When the LED and screen switch off it’s fully charged and ready to go.

Loading the VCOT is pretty simple; all you have to do is slide the cover back and push the tobacco end of the Heet into the heating chamber. This has to be done carefully though, as there’s a bit of resistance for the last half inch. With no blade or spike to force into the tobacco, this turns out to be because the heating chamber is a tighter fit than the EFOS. Still, I managed to get all my Heets in without breaking them, so it’s not a major problem.

With a stick in the chamber you can now turn the VCOT on by pressing the power button five times. I think I’ve already vented my feelings about this; a single long press on the button is just as resistant to accidental activation, and these microswitches won’t last an infinite number of presses. Again, though, this isn’t a big deal.

Once the device turns on you’ll see the temperature readout on the screen start to rise. While it’s heating up you can use the up and down buttons to adjust it to the temperature you want. The temperature range is from 220-250°C, which seemed a bit on the low side; iQOS runs at 350°C, and when I played with the NOS a few weeks ago it was happiest between 320°C and 335°C. The VCOT seemed to be pitched a little low, but as it turned out this wasn’t really an issue.

Here’s something that was an issue; it takes forever to heat up. Our current champ in that respect is the NOS, which went from room temperature to 325°C in a mere nine seconds. The VCOT took just over a minute (61 seconds, to be precise) to show 250°C on the display, and that just isn’t good enough. Then it kept me hanging on for another 20 seconds before it buzzed to tell me it was ready to vape.

The vape’s OK, if you set it to 250°C.

A few little issues

A vaping session on the VCOT lasts for three minutes and 30 seconds. When your time’s up it simply buzzes and switches off; there’s no warning to give you time to grab a last puff. Then it’s time to take out the used Heet – and that’s where the fun really begins.

With most of the HnB devices I’ve tested (the Glo and NOS are honourable exceptions) I’ve had the occasional stick leave its plug of tobacco behind in the chamber. This is mildly annoying, but no big deal; you can easily take the top of the device apart and dig out the debris with a brush.

Burned and broken Heets – not a good sign.

With the VCOT, about half the Heets I used broke off at the joint between the tobacco plug and the hollow section above it. The first time this happened (which was also the first Heet I vaped with it) I found, to my annoyance, that there’s no way to dismantle the device for easier access to the chamber. I had to resort to digging out the tobacco with a bit of wire, then using a brush to clear the remaining debris.

Examining this debris, and the Heets I managed to extract in one piece, was interesting. The display might say 250°C, but the inside of the chamber is getting hot enough to char the Heet’s paper tube quite badly – and, a lot of the time, it’s burning it to ash. That seems to be why so many of them break; the paper disintegrates and lets the foil liner stick to the wall of the chamber. The actual tobacco isn’t burned, like it was with the EFOS, but I’m still not convinced this is really in the Heat not Burn spirit.

I also found that, sometimes, the VCOT just doesn’t work. I’d press the button five times, the display would light up, then the temperature readout would stick at either the high 20s or the high 40s. If I left it alone, an error message would flash up on the screen – “CHECK FPC!” – or it would just turn itself off. After some fiddling I found that sometimes pulling out the Heet would unblock it; the temperature would start to rise, and I could put the Heet back in and wait for it to reach operating temperature. Other times I had to plug in the charging cable briefly, which seemed to reset it, then I could power it back up again.

Conclusions

I’m conscious that this is a pre-release device, so I don’t want to be too hard on it. The VCOT has some potential. It’s compact and has decent battery life – a full charge will see you through a pack of Heets and maybe a little more. The vape is acceptable at the higher end of the temperature range. If it’s priced appropriately it could be a reasonable choice for those on a budget – as long as these points are fixed:

  • The heating chamber needs to be made slightly larger; it’s too tight. With no way to dismantle the device for cleaning, its tendency to tear the ends off used Heets isn’t acceptable.
  • Heat up time needs to be radically reduced, to 20 seconds or less. More than a minute is simply not good enough.
  • Reliability needs to be improved. I expect a device like this to work properly every time I switch it on. The VCOT doesn’t.
  • Whatever’s rattling around inside needs to be fixed in place. Any movement risks weakening, and eventually breaking, soldered joints. Is this the cause of its unreliability? Could be.

Deal with all these issues and, as I said, the VCOT might have some potential. It does have temperature control and its battery life is better than the NOS, so there are a couple of positives there. However, right now I just can’t recommend it. Get an iQOS instead.

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