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Pod Mod Review – The Vype ePen 3

Vype ePen 3

I’ve talked about pod mods a couple of times recently, and last month I reviewed the new iQOS Mesh from Philip Morris International. I have to admit that although I usually vape on complicated high-power devices that could give military smokescreen generators a run for their money, I do like these simple but effective new e-cigarettes. They’re small, and easy to carry around. They don’t dribble liquid into my pockets. They don’t need backed up by a pocketful of liquid bottles, massive spare batteries and recoiling kit. And they give a decent vape, too.

Anyway, I’ve spent the last week testing the latest pod mod from British American Tobacco – the Vype ePen 3. This follows on from previous Vape pod systems, and it’s pretty state of the art. Is it like JUUL? Not quite – that’s a unique product and, thanks to the EU’s idiotic laws on nicotine levels, is only available in the UK in a watered-down version that everyone is telling me doesn’t work very well. The ePen 3 was designed from the start to work within the restrictions imposed by our masters in Brussels, and that means BAT have taken a different approach.

What I’ve been playing with recently is an ePen 3 starter kit and three packs of refill pods, so let’s cut the waffle and see how it went.

The Review

The ePen 3 comes in a neat little cardboard box. Slide off the outer sleeve and open the lid, and you’ll find the device wedged into a couple of recesses in a plastic insert. Lift it out and underneath is a pack of two pods – one Blended Tobacco and one Crushed Mint. You can also open a flap at one end of the box and rummage around inside the insert; there’s a USB charging cable hidden in there. It’s not fancy packaging, but it works.

Getting back to the device, this is a sleek and lightweight unit. In fact it’s very lightweight. The body is entirely plastic, which makes sense in a pod mod. It doesn’t need the extra strength of metal to cope with heavy batteries or attaching an atomiser, so plastic both cuts costs and reduces weight. The ePen 3 is so light that I could slip it in my pocket and forget it was there. That doesn’t really happen with my usual Rouleaux RX200, which is approximately the same size and weight as a young elephant.

I’d call the ePen 3 cigar-shaped, except it isn’t. Well OK, it’s the shape a cigar would be if it was flattened into a rounded-off diamond profile. Again this makes it easy to slip in a pocket, and there’s no danger of it rolling off your desk either. It’s pretty simple, too; there’s a micro USB charging port in the base, and an open top end to plug in the pod. Apart from that the only control is a single power/fire button on the front of the device, with a nice embossed Vype logo below it.

The pods just snap into the open end of the device; they seem to work either way up, so there’s no chance of screwing up here. Each pod holds a TPD-compliant 2ml of liquid, and there’s a choice of three strengths – 6, 12 or 18mg/ml. Personally, with a relatively low-powered device like this I’d go with 18mg/ml every time, especially if you’re a smoker looking to quit, but if you really want the lower strengths they’re available.

You get a choice of seven flavours with the ePen 3 – Golden Tobacco, Blended Tobacco, Crisp Mint, Infused Vanilla, Dark Cherry, Fresh Apple or Wild Berries. As well as the starter pack that came in the kit I got packs of Blended Tobacco, Crisp Mint (although for some reason they actually said “Master Blend” and “Crushed Mint. Oh well; same thing) and Wild Berries.

Vaping the Vype

Anyway, after I got bored of fondling the ePen – which took a while, because it has a rather nice soft-touch finish – I plugged it in to charge. A full charge takes around two hours, but it arrived with the battery about half full. The LED in the power button glows red while it’s charging, so once that went out I grabbed a pod and went to work.

Actually getting a pod out of the packaging was the worst part of the ePen experience. They come in blister packs, and they’re pretty tough. I tried just pressing the pod out through the foil backing as usual, and I couldn’t do it. This wasn’t a case of weak fingers either; I shoot an English longbow as a hobby, so if anyone ever sets up a finger-wrestling tournament I’m probably in with a good chance there. These packs are just tough. I eventually took a knife to the foil and got it out that way.

Once you’ve managed to extricate a pod it all gets much easier. Snap the pod into the device – as I said, there’s no way to mess this up – then press the fire button quickly five times to power up. A green LED will glow for a few seconds to show you it’s switched on, and then all you have to do is press the fire button and take a puff.

So this was the moment of truth. How well does the ePen 3 actually vape, and is it good enough to act as a replacement for cigarettes? Well, as you’d expect this is no sub-ohm powerhouse, but does it work? Yes it does. Vapour production isn’t massive, but it’s definitely more than adequate. The vapour is dense and satisfying, much more like a good clearomiser than an old-style cigalike. The flavour was also excellent with the Blended Tobacco and Mint pods, although I found the Wild Berry a bit weak and artificial.

When a pod is empty the power switch blinks red and the device shuts down, telling you it’s time to wrestle with the packaging again and fit a new one. I got through about two pods a day, which at £3.49 a pack makes this a lot cheaper than smoking. Vype say a full charge on the battery will last a whole day. I think that’s a bit optimistic myself, but it does have a pass-through mode, so you can easily vape as you recharge.

One thing to be aware of is that the ePen 3 does like turning itself off. If you hold the fire button for more than eight seconds it turns off. If you don’t press the fire button at all for ten minutes it turns off. If the pod runs dry it turns off. You’ll probably find yourself clicking away at the button quite regularly, but this is a minor nuisance at worst; overall, vaping this little Vype is a pretty positive experience.

The Verdict

I have to say, I was impressed with the ePen 3. It’s compact and lightweight, simple to use and works well. If you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful pod mod that gives a good vape and a painless user experience, this one from British American Tobacco is definitely worth a look.

 

 

IQOS MESH BANNER

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The Switch – Heat not Burn UK exclusive review

Switch heat not burn device

I’m getting quite used to product reviews now. I have to admit, when I started writing for Heat not Burn UK it was a real struggle to find new material. There weren’t many devices around, they were mostly on sale only in restricted test markets, and they were as rare as rocking horse turds anyway.

Well, that’s all changed now. Over the last few months we’ve had a string of reviews, mostly on new HEET-based systems from China, and they’re still coming. I have two different devices on their way to me now – one HnB gadget and the latest Vype pod mod from BAT – so they’ll be getting tested over the next few weeks, but actually I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. Let’s focus on what’s sitting on my desk right now.

For the last few days I’ve been testing the Switch, a brand new HnB device from China. This is a very interesting little vaporiser, and I like it a lot. Like most of the ones I’ve tested so far it uses Philip Morris’s HEET tobacco sticks, which were developed for their own iQOS but now seem to have become the standard. That’s good news for anyone that fancies a Switch, of course; if you decide to get one, the consumables you need are now widely available.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s have a look at the thing and see what it’s like!

The Review

The Switch comes in the usual cardboard box. There’s a flap at one side secured by a couple of magnets, and lifting that and the top reveals the Switch. The device is fitted snugly in a moulded plastic tray; lift that out and there’s a box of accessories tucked inside it. In there you’ll find a pack of cotton buds for cleaning, a brush and a charging cable. All the accessories seem to be decent quality; the brush isn’t as nice as the ones that come with the iQOS or Lil, but it’s perfectly functional – and, let’s be honest; how often are you going to pull it out in the pub and say “Hey, look at my tiny brush!”? Yes, exactly.

Moving to the device itself, the Switch looks a bit like a long, slim lipstick holder. It has a squarish cross section and while it’s a good bit chunkier than the iQOS holder it’s only about half an inch longer. It isn’t much heavier either, which I like. I suspect pretty much the whole thing is plastic, but it feels pretty sturdy. Everything is nicely moulded and the body and top cap fit together well. It’s also very light, which with a device this small is a real plus for reasons I’ll get to later.

The Switch is a simple device. The body has a top cap that slides off for cleaning; a plastic cage inside this holds the HEET, and of course there’s a hole in the top. Inside, there’s a spike-shaped ceramic heating element. There’s only one control on the body – a square power button with an LED-illuminated surround. A micro-USB charging port on the base, and a nice Switch logo, complete the package. As I said, simple. Overall, after poking around in the box and playing with the Switch, I was pretty impressed and very keen to try it out.

 

Vaping the Switch

I have no idea about the Switch’s battery capacity but obviously, given the size of the device, it wasn’t going to be enormous. The benefit of that is a quick charging time; a full charge takes less than 45 minutes. Once the red light behind the power button changed to blue, I broke open a pack of my favourite Bronze HEETs and slotted one into the hole at the top.

To activate the Switch you just need to hold down the power button; after three seconds the device vibrates and the button lights up with a nice pulsing glow. It took bang on 20 seconds to heat up to operating temperature, which is nothing special compared to the Lil or NOS but definitely acceptable; when it gets there it lets you know by vibrating again, and the pulsing button changes to a steady glow.

The Switch has a two-level temperature control function. Any time it’s powered up you can switch between modes with two rapid presses on the power button. When it’s in normal temperature mode the button glows blue; switch to high temperature and it changes to purple.

Anyway, how does it vape? Pretty well! I tried it in both temperature modes. At the standard setting there was plenty of vapour and the flavour was excellent. It isn’t quite as good as the iQOS, but it’s very close. The vapour is also warm, and both quantity and flavour hold up well until the end of the session – the Switch shuts off automatically after four minutes or (I think) twelve puffs, with a warning vibration when you have 20 seconds or two puffs to go.

Changing up to the high temperature setting, I personally found the vape more satisfying, although I did smoke fearsome high-tar German cigarettes. On the down side both flavour and quantity of vapour started to fall off noticeably towards the end of each session, so I’d suggest that for most people the standard mode is the way to go.

 

I mentioned that I liked the Switch’s small size and light weight. I’m a writer, and I can write a lot faster and more accurately when I have both hands free. That means I have a slight problem with larger devices, in that I can either try to type one-handed until I’ve finished a HEET, or I can put the device down between puffs. The problem with putting it down is that, at least half the time, I promptly get caught up in what I’m doing and forget about it until a buzz reminds me that I’ve just wasted most of a HEET. That’s one reason I love the iQOS so much; I can leave it dangling from my lip like a real cigarette and puff away freely while I write.

Well, the Switch is just small and light enough that I can do the same with it. A couple of times the device ended up in my lap while the HEET stayed in my mouth, but in general it worked pretty well. As of now, if iQOS disappeared from the face of the Earth tomorrow the Switch would probably become my main HnB device.

On the down side, that small size comes with a major penalty – battery capacity. iQOS gets round this by using the PCC to recharge between sessions, but with Switch you need to plug it in. Unfortunately you’re going to have to do that pretty often, because the battery only holds enough juice for nine HEETs before the power button turns red. It does recharge quickly though, so carrying a small power bank and topping up from that between HEETs should get you through the day.

Apart from recharging, care of the Switch was pretty easy. Because the element is a spike rather than a blade you can give used HEETs a twist then pull them out; alternatively just slide the top cap off and the HEET will come with it. Cleaning was easy, thanks to the nice big heating chamber, and the supplied brush worked well.

The verdict

Overall I was very impressed with the Switch. Its big drawback is the short battery life, but that’s only to be expected from a device this compact. There’s a direct correlation between battery capacity and size, and if you want a small device you have to settle for a small battery. Apart from that, though, it’s great. The vape is good, it seems well-made and durable, and the complete package is by far the most compact HnB device I’ve seen yet. Yes, the iQOS holder is smaller, but it lives in the PCC. The Switch is a standalone device that isn’t much bigger than an iQOS holder, and I think that alone makes it an attractive option.

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A chorus of idiots

Hold my light

Personally I’m a fan of Philip Morris International’s “Hold My Light” campaign. I’ve been advocating for tobacco harm reduction for years, and it’s good to see PMI throw their weight behind the same cause. Campaigns like this have the potential to make a huge difference, and I think they should be encouraged.

If you missed it, Hold My Light is a multimedia campaign aimed at encouraging smokers to give up and switch to reduced-harm products. The centrepiece was a four-page advert in the Daily Mirror, backed by a website, video and other promotional material, and the theme was the simple message that if you smoke, it’s better to quit. You wouldn’t think that would be at all controversial, would you? Well, you’d be wrong.

Despite Hold My Light saying exactly the same thing as they’ve been saying for decades, anti-tobacco activists have greeted the campaign with an absolute shitstorm of criticism and abuse. Starting the day of its launch, PMI have been bombarded with wild accusations and hysterical conspiracy theories from a collection of people who really should know better, but very obviously don’t.

Cancer Reasearch UK

Cancer craziness

First up, we have George Butterworth from Cancer Research UK. I’ve been involved with vaping advocacy since 2013, and I know that among vapers there are some pretty mixed feelings about CRUK. The charity does generally support vaping as a safer alternative to smoking, but on the other hand it also tends to back more restrictions on what we’re actually allowed to vape. CRUK was a big fan of the EU’s notorious Tobacco Products Directive, for example, despite being repeatedly warned the law would take a lot of very good products off the market. George Butterworth “welcomed” the TPD, claiming it would reassure vapers that e-cigs were safer than smoking. That’s an odd thing to say about a law that enforced health warnings on every e-cigarette and bottle of liquid.

Now he’s at it again. Butterworth, who’s been telling smokers to quit for years, is frothing with rage at PMI because they’re running a campaign telling smokers to quit. He accused the company of “staggering hypocrisy”, apparently because PMI still advertises its cigarettes in countries where people like Butterworth haven’t banned them from doing it.

What Butterworth doesn’t get is that PMI, being a publicly traded company, has a legal obligation to look after its investors’ money. That means selling products, of course, but you can’t expect someone who’s never had to make a profit to understand that. Instead he says “The best way Philip Morris could help people to stop smoking is to stop making cigarettes.”

Well, this just tells us that George Butterworth is a complete idiot. Hasn’t he learned anything from Prohibition, or the decades-long and totally failed war against drugs? If Philip Morris stop making cigarettes tomorrow, smokers will just buy them from somewhere else. If all tobacco companies stop making cigarettes tomorrow, say hello to a global explosion of organised crime that will make Al Capone and the Medellin cartel look about as serious as shoplifting a Kit Kat.

PMI can’t just stop making cigarettes, and anyone who understands anything about economics knows that. As long as a there’s a demand for cigarettes – and that isn’t going to change anytime soon – someone is going to be making and selling them. It can be regulated tobacco companies like PMI who pay tax and obey the law, or it can be organised crime. “Nobody” is just not an option.

Action on smoking and health

Pains in the ASH

And then there’s Action on Smoking and Health. I don’t like ASH at all; this is no secret. I’ve had a public run-in with their CEO, Deborah Arnott, and chest-poked a couple of her minions over their bullying, coercive approach to vaping, harm reduction and everything else they choose to stick their noses into. So guess what? Their reaction to the Hold My Light campaign annoys me too.

First out of the box to whine about the campaign was of course Debs Arnott herself, a sour-faced specimen with the general demeanour of a small-town traffic warden. Arnott claimed, bizarrely, that the campaign is an attempt to make an end run around the UK’s ban on tobacco advertising. I don’t have a marketing degree, but to me it seems like advertising a product by telling people to stop using it isn’t really the way ahead.

Arnott was followed by Hazel Cheeseman, ASH’s director of policy. I’ve met her too. More pleasant than Arnott but just as misguided, Cheeseman is an earnest-looking creature better suited to teaching small children than making policy. Describing the campaign as “simply PR puff,” Cheeseman suggested that if PMI were serious about achieving a smoke-free world they would stop opposing anti-smoking legislation that “will really help smokers quit”. What she means is nonsense like plain packs and display bans, which real-world evidence says don’t achieve anything, and of course ever-increasing punitive taxes.

Get real

Let’s get this straight: I have spoken to senior people at PMI (and other tobacco companies). I have been to the Cube at Neuchatel and seen the time and money PMI are investing in reduced-risk products. I have used those products myself, and I enjoy using them.

None of Cheeseman’s regulations would ever have stopped me smoking. Higher taxes? I’d just have bought cheaper food to free up some money. Graphic health warnings? I’d have worked to collect the full set, then frame them and hang them on my wall. Plain packs? I used a cigarette case anyway. These laws are all useless, because they’re written and lobbied for by nanny statist clowns who don’t understand how real people think.

The truth is that all the outrage being thrown at Hold My Light by the likes of Butterworth, Arnott and Cheeseman is just self-righteous indignation. How dare PMI break out of their bad guy stereotype! How dare they work towards the same goal as CRUK and ASH? And how very double dare they do it by selling products that real people actually enjoy using? At this point it doesn’t matter what PMI choose to do; it’s going to be wrong, simply because they’re the ones doing it. If they ignore harm reduction and just keep selling Marlboro they’re heartless and don’t care about their customers. If they try to persuade people to switch to safer products they’re hypocrites. Any time they do anything that satisfies one of their opponents’ demands, those demands will simply mutate into something new and probably ridiculous.

Well, I’m sick of people like Arnott and Butterworth sticking their oars in all the time. Who elected these people? What did they ever contribute to our lives beyond endless bitching and whining? By what right do they tell private citizens what they should or shouldn’t do? It’s time for them to shut up and live our own lives the way we choose.

One of the better choices we can make is to quit smoking. As much as I enjoyed smoking it really isn’t very good for you, so it makes sense to stop – just like PMI are saying. And if you want to do that by switching to one of PMI’s safer products, like iQOS or Mesh, don’t pay any attention to carping nobodies like Cheeseman; just go ahead and do it.