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BAT invests a billion dollars in Romanian HnB factory

HnB Factory

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.

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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! Expect a review on this website in the very near future.

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.

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Heat not Burn news roundup – May 2018

heat not burn news

As you’ve probably guessed, the team at Heat not Burn UK take a keen interest in anything related to heated tobacco products, so we’re always watching the news to see if anyone’s saying anything we think you should know about. Sometimes we find a big story, and we’ll always let you know about that right away. Other times we just feel like giving you an update on what’s happening.

This week we couldn’t find any big stories to tell you about, so we’ve put together a few of the more interesting smaller ones. We think this is a good way to stay up to date on what’s happening, as well as warning of any threats that might be approaching. We can take it for granted that there will be threats; any vaper knows how vindictive the tobacco control industry can be. This week we’ve picked up one story about health warnings on HnB products, for example.

It’s not all bad news though. There’s some more good news in New Zealand’s bizarre iQOS court case, plus a study from Russia that looks very positive on the health front. Interesting times certainly lie ahead for HnB, but right now we’re feeling pretty optimistic about it all.

 

New Zealand gives up on Heet ban

One of the most positive HnB stories in April was the defeat of the New Zealand health ministry’s legal bid to ban Heets. Last May the ministry, for some bizarre reason, launched a court case against Philip Morris; their argument was that Heets fell under New Zealand’s ban on chewing tobacco, although they’re not actually supposed to be chewed.

It’s not clear why the ministry decided to do this; the case was brought under a 1990 law banning any tobacco product “described as suitable for chewing or any oral use other than smoking”. The law was specifically aimed at chewing tobacco, which carries a risk of oral cancer and sparked a series of health scares in the late 1980s and early 90s; no product like Heets was on the market at the time. However, the ministry came up with an eccentric interpretation of the law that would have banned Heets.

Luckily, Wellington District Court disagreed and threw the case out. They weren’t subtle about it either – the court basically told the ministry that what they were doing was the opposite of what the law was supposed to achieve. Of course, the ministry still had the option of appealing to a higher court.

This week’s good news is that they’ve decided not to do that. It seems that they’ve realised just how weak their legal position was, and backed down rather than face another defeat. This means Heets will stay legal in New Zealand, which is good news for the country’s smokers.

 

South Korea does something silly

South Korea has played a big part in the growth of HnB – after Japan, it’s one of the countries that has adopted the technology most enthusiastically, and BAT chose it as an early test market for their Glo. There’s also at least one indigenous Korean product, KT&G’s Lil /which we’re trying to get a hold of for a review). So at first glance it’s all looking pretty positive – but there seem to be political problems on the horizon.

Seoul’s Ministry of Health and Welfare has just announced that, from now on, HnB products will have to carry graphic health warnings in the packaging. These are the gory pictures that many countries already require on cigarette packets; now South Korea wants them on reduced-harm products too.

In fact graphic warnings were already required in South Korea, but some activists have complained that the image – a needle, representing drug addiction – was unclear. The new ones will show tumours. The ministry’s aim, unfortunately is to spread the message that HnB isn’t safer than smoking – despite all the evidence showing that it is.

 

PMI credits iQOS for growth

Philip Morris International announced a 9,4% revenue growth for 2017, and said this was down to demand for their iQOS device and the Heets it uses. According to CEO André Calantzopoulos the company’s HnB sales are projected to double in 2018. This is a positive sign for PMI’s ambition to establish itself as a leader in HnB, and gain an advantage over its competitors.

There are no guarantees,, though, and PMI shares fell by 17.5% in April following disappointing iQOS sales figures. Some people have interpreted this as a sign that the HnB bubble is already deflating: others aren’t so sure. So far Japan has accounted for the bulk of iQOS sales, and it’s possible that market is saturated for now – most of the smokers who want to switch could already have done so. If that’s the case there’s still a lot of potential for iQOS to sell well in other countries.

 

Science stacks up

HnB hasn’t been studied anywhere near as much as either vaping or smoking, but evidence of its safety is starting to build up. Anti-nicotine activists attacked the first studies because, although they were carried out by independent labs, they were funded by tobacco companies – a classic case of playing the man, not the ball. However, now there’s a new study that can’t be dismissed so easily.

Many governments are interested in the health risks of new tobacco products, and Russia is no exception. A few months ago Moscow seems to have asked a group of researchers to investigate, and their paper was released on the 7th of May. The results make encouraging reading.

The Russian team, from Kazan University, tested the urine of smokers, HnB users and never-smokers. What they found was that, in every case, levels of various toxins in the HnB users were comparable to what they found in the non-smokers – and much lower than in smokers. At the same time they found similar nicotine levels between HnB users and smokers. This backs up the existing evidence that HnB is an effective way of using nicotine that also eliminates most of the risks of smoking.

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EFOS E1 Review

EFOS E1

A few weeks ago we looked at the iBuddy i1, a new Heat not Burn device from China that uses the same Heets as Philip Morris’s iQOS. At the time I thought this was a sensible decision for iBuddy, as it saved them having to develop and distribute their own stick design. I also didn’t think PMI would mind too much; they might miss out on a few iQOS sales, but everyone who buys an iBuddy will need to get Heets for it, and PMI are the only people who sell them.

More recently I was sent another Chinese device that’s also designed to work with Heets; this is the EFOS E1, and I’ve spent the last week running several packs of Heets through it. How did it compare to the iBuddy and iQOS? That’s what I wanted to find out – and now I know.

 

Unboxing

The EFOS is, as I’ve come to expect, nicely packaged. The box has an outer sleeve, and once that’s been slid off the top flap hinges open to reveal the device sitting in the usual moulded plastic tray. That lifts out to reveal an instruction manual and, under it, another tray containing a USB cable and a cloth carrying bag for the device. It’s all nicely presented and gives the feel of a quality product.

The quality of the device itself isn’t bad either. The body is plastic, lozenge-shaped and fits nicely in the hand. On each long edge is a black plastic insert; one has four LEDs to show the charge status, and the other is helpfully printed with some basic information about the E1, including its battery capacity – 2,000mAh, in case you’re interested.

At the top you’ll find the only controls – a large button with an illuminated surround, and a sliding cover that can be pushed up to reveal the heating chamber. The heating chamber is interesting; instead of the iQOS’s blade, or the spike of the iBuddy, this is simply a metal chamber with perforated walls and base. It’s also set at an angle. When a Heet is inserted it’s sticking up about 30 degrees off the vertical, which looks a little surprising at first.

Overall the EFOS feels well put together for the $60 price. It is mostly plastic, but it seems robust enough and I didn’t manage to break anything while getting through four packs of Heets. The supplied accessories are good quality too, but it’s a pity no cleaning equipment was supplied – to keep it running properly, it’s probably a good idea to clean the heating chamber at least once in every pack of Heets.

 

Trying it out

My EFOS arrived with the battery about half charged, so the first thing I did was plug it in and top it up. This took a pleasantly short amount of time – just over an hour passed before all four LEDs were glowing steadily. Once that was done I opened a pack of Heets, loaded one into the chamber and then, after some initial embarrassment, flicked through the instruction leaflet to figure out how it works.

The other HnB devices I’ve tried so far are switched on by holding the button until it buzzes or flashes at you. The EFOS is slightly different; it takes three rapid presses to activate it. Once you’ve done that it will buzz and vibrate slightly, and the green LED surround of the button begins flashing. Then all you have to do is wait for it to heat up.

Waiting is never my favourite pastime, and I have to admit I was getting a little impatient by the time 30 seconds had passed. It vibrated again not long after that, though, and I took that as a signal that it was ready to use (which it was). So I took a puff, and it was a bit of a surprise.

Firstly I should say that the angled heating chamber is a great idea; it puts the Heet’s filter in a very natural position to vape. Next, the first puff I took was the best I’ve had from any HnB device I’ve tried so far. It was almost exactly like smoking a cigarette, with plenty of warm, well-flavoured vapour. It continued well for about the next eight or nine puffs, and then both flavour and vapour started to fall off sharply. The device will let you take up to 20 puffs from each Heet, vibrating again to warn you after the 18th; if you’re puffing slowly it will vibrate after five and a half minutes, and shut down in just under six. Personally, I think it would be better to limit it to ten or twelve puffs; 20 is just too much for a Heet.

This is just a minor issue, though. A bigger problem might be that the EFOS itself is too much for a Heet. When I took the first one out the chamber and looked at the end I was startled at how black the filling was. On closer examination this didn’t extend all the way up through the rolled tobacco sheet, but the tip of it – where it’s in contact with the heated base of the chamber – was pretty charred. I got a definite impression that the EFOS was great at the “Heat” part, but falling down slightly on the “not Burn” bit.

Some more flicking through the instruction manual revealed that it actually has two temperature modes, and I was running it in the (recommended) high temperature one. I changed to low temperature for a few Heets, by holding the button for three seconds while I waited for it to heat up, but found that performance fell off quite a lot. I did get more puffs from each Heet, but they much less satisfying.

 

Conclusion

The EFOS E1 is a very interesting device, and on high temperature mode it gives a great tobacco vape. Battery life is reasonable but not great; you’ll probably need to top it up after about ten Heets, and unlike iQOS it doesn’t come with a personal charger. The iBuddy i1, despite having a smaller battery capacity (1,800mAh) kept going for much longer between charges.

My real concern with the EFOS, however, is that I have a nasty suspicion the high temperature mode is burning some of the tobacco. That would certainly explain the great flavour, but it might defeat the purpose of using it in the first place. I still doubt it’s anywhere near as harmful as a lit cigarette, but if health is your top priority you might be tempted to go for an iQOS instead.

The end of this Heet looks suspiciously blackened…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wikipedia – encyclopaedic or idiotic?

Wikipedia

Everyone’s familiar with Wikipedia – “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit”. It sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? A vast, sprawling reference work that everyone in the world can add their knowledge to, with administrators and fact-checking mechanisms to make sure nobody’s contaminating it with nonsense. In theory at least, it should end up containing all the open-source information in the world and be constantly checked for accuracy by thousands of dedicated users.

The trouble is that’s not exactly how it works. If the topic of an article isn’t controversial, Wikipedia is generally pretty reliable. Apart from the odd intentional vandalism or clumsy editing by a well-meaning newcomer, both of which usually get removed pretty quickly, articles about places, objects or anything else straightforward tend to be accurate and informative. I do research every day and I regularly use Wikipedia; the articles themselves give a good overview, and there’s a handy list of references at the bottom so you can dig deeper and verify facts.

Where it gets complicated is when you start dealing with any subject that’s at all controversial. That’s when special interests slither out of the woodwork, whether it’s creationists, IRA supporters or political extremists, and start gaming Wikipedia’s tortuous rules to push their point of view.

The whole idea of Wikipedia is that everyone can edit, but in practice that’s not how it works. Apart from a few basic principles the rules for resolving disagreements are made by committee, and we all know the sort of person who likes to join unpaid committees. Unsurprisingly there’s now a mass of rules, guidelines, essays and procedures that would take a lifetime to read, so of course nobody reads them. That means nobody understands them except a hard core of dedicated fanatics, and this brings us neatly to the subject of tobacco harm reduction.

Meet the Medics

I used to be a pretty active Wikipedia editor, until I got banned a couple of years ago. Officially I got banned because I was paid to edit an article, but this isn’t actually against Wikipedia’s rules. The real reason was that I upset the key people in Wikiproject Medicine, a group that’s supposedly responsible for ensuring the accuracy of medical articles on Wikipedia. Because e-cigarettes can potentially have an impact on health, WikiMed has ruled that any articles on them have to obey the stringent rules they’ve created for medical content, and who gets to decide whether they obey those rules or not? Wikiproject Medicine, of course!

This is where the problems begin, because all the leading figures in WikiMed are fanatical opponents of tobacco harm reduction. The project is led by “Doc James” – Dr James Heilman – a socially inept GP from the wilds of rural Canada. Heilman is notable for his poor grasp of logic, even poorer grasp of the English language and a stubborn inability to admit that he might ever be wrong about anything. We’re talking about a guy who thought “A cup of coffee is drug” was a winning argument. Heilman is a complete idiot.

And, like any complete idiot who finds himself in charge of a committee, he’s assembled a collection of even worse idiots to help him out. There’s a Norwegian medical student who can’t spell “cigarette” – I am not making this up – and a few other people who’ve only escaped having personality disorders because they don’t have personalities. However the worst of the lot, by a long way, is the individual known as QuackGuru.

I don’t know what, if any, medical expertise QuackGuru has. He seems to have started on Wikipedia as an opponent of “alternative medicines,” an objective that I’m fine with, but somewhere along the way he became Doc James’s most devoted follower and, just to round off his uselessness, an anti-vaping zealot. On top of that he’s terrible at actually editing. His logic and English are both even worse than Heilman’s, and he has a maddening habit of just repeating the same obviously wrong statements over and over again. He also violates Wikipedia’s rules with monotonous regularity, and although he does get the occasional short suspension – usually just from specific topics – Heilman’s influence has protected him from the permanent ban he richly deserves.

A couple of years ago, until I was banned, I and a few others fought a long battle against the WikiMed clique to try to add some semblance of reality to the article on electronic cigarettes. This is unrelentingly negative; at one point a single paper by notorious Californian aircraft mechanic Stanton Glantz was referenced more than all the other sources put together. QuackGuru was a major source of the problems on the page, blindly applying simplistic definitions of Wiki rules to exclude any references that were positive about vaping. In the end even Heilman couldn’t protect him anymore, and he was banned from editing the page for a few months, but by that time most of the pro-vaping editors had been banned or given up in disgust.

Now it’s all happening again at the Heat not Burn page. Nobody in their right mind would say that an iQOS is a medical device, but WikiMed have claimed authority over it on the basis that it can have health effects. Well, so can a bunch of other things WikiMed doesn’t bother with – guns, for example, or cars. Both of these kill a lot more people every year than HnB ever will, but for some reason they’re not seen as medical subjects. Vaping and HnB are still just about niche enough that Heilman and his little bunch of cranks can take over, though, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Looking at the edit history for the HnB page, two names dominate the list – Doc James and, even more so, QuackGuru. For example, on 2 February there were eight edits made to the page; one by Doc James, one by a bot and six by Quack. Out of the last 50 edits, Quack as made 21 – often in rapid strings of minor edits, aimed at correcting the one before but actually making things worse with every attempt.

The Idiots’ Playground

About the only good thing about Quack’s atrocious sentence structure is that it obscures some of the terrible information in the article itself. The lead section says “There is no reliable evidence that (HnB) products are any less harmful than other cigarettes,” so I was already boiling with rage by the second line of the article – because HnB products are not cigarettes (got that yet, Vic?).

The first section in the body of the article is called “Health Effects”, and in the best WikiMed tradition it starts with an ad hominem smear attack on anyone who disagrees with Doc James – “Claims of lowered risk or health benefits for heat-not-burn tobacco products are based on industry-funded research”. Well so what? Why does it matter who funded the research? What matters is that it’s been peer-reviewed (it has) and the experimental methods and analysis have been found to be reliable (they are). Every medicine on the shelf at your local chemist’s was certified as safe thanks to “industry-funded research”, but you never hear anyone complaining about that.

Moving on, another of Quack’s trademarks starts to show up – his touching belief that “a scientist stated” is the same thing as evidence. It doesn’t matter what some Spanish doctor believes; what matters is what the research shows, and all the research on Heat not Burn shows that users are exposed to vastly lower levels of toxic substances. The first rule of toxicology is “the dose makes the poison”, so reduced exposure to toxins means less risk of harm.

The final section is titled “Regulation”, but as there are few regulations in place for HnB yet WikiMed have padded it with quotes from anti-harm reduction extremists. They even shoehorned in Stan Glantz’s lunatic suggestion that safer tobacco products be banned until tobacco companies stopped selling actual cigarettes. It seems none of these idiots have learned the lessons of Prohibition and what happens when you ban something a significant percentage of your population enjoys. As for Glantz himself, the suggestion that the safer products should be banned has to raise serious questions about his mental health.

 

Wikipedia can be a great resource, but it’s also a flawed one. The way it’s run creates immense problems for anyone who disagrees with the self-appointed cliques that dominate many areas of the site. Unfortunately tobacco harm reduction is one of those areas, so the world’s most popular encyclopaedia is also one of its most dangerous sources of anti-THR propaganda.

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Meet the JUUL menace

JUUL

Here at Heat not Burn UK we’re always interested in new reduced-harm tobacco products. As you’d expect we’re most interested in HnB devices, but we’re more than happy to have a look at anything else that comes on the market. One gadget we’ve wanted to take a look at for a while (but can’t, because it’s illegal in the EU) is JUUL, an ultra-compact e-cigarette that’s taken a huge share of the US market.

You might have heard of JUUL; it’s certainly been in the news enough recently. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a very small and sleek e-cigarette that uses unique disposable pods. The pods don’t contain standard e-liquid; instead the juice is based on nicotine salts extracted from leaf tobacco. This is supposed to give a fast nicotine hit that’s more like a cigarette than a normal e-cig. It also has a 56mg/ml nicotine content, which is why we can’t get them in the EU.

The JUUL device is tiny, slim and rectangular; the pods snap into one end and then all you have to do is take a puff. It has an automatic switch that fires the coil every time you inhale, giving an experience that’s as close to a cigarette as you can get electronically. Each pod has about as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes and is designed to deliver 200 puffs, and the battery can be easily topped up with a USB charger.

So the JUUL is a pretty interesting little device, and it’s already picked up a hefty share of the US market – close to half of all e-cigs sold through convenience stores. That’s potentially a lot of smokers switching to a much safer alternative, so you’d expect the public health community to give it at least a cautious thumbs up, wouldn’t you? Oh wait; of course not. We all know not to expect much in the way of sense from public health types.

JUULmania

I’m not going to say that anti-JUUL hysteria has reached the level of the “Satanic Panic” in the 1980s, a frenzy of moral outrage about Satanic ritual abuse that saw dozens of nursery owners and employees arrested on suspicion of ritually sacrificing the children who had been entrusted to their care. It’s heading in that direction fast, though. There are daily articles from the USA, and they all follow a very similar – and totally ridiculous – theme.

According to the media, “Juuling” is an epidemic of nicotine use that’s threatening to turn the youth of America into addicts, zombies and probably communists. Schools are panicking at the thought of their students sneaking a puff in class, and nobody’s stopping to look at the actual evidence.

The panic seems to be caused by the design of the device itself. It’s very small, which the media usually translate into “easily hidden,” and thanks to its low power/high nicotine delivery mode, it doesn’t produce a lot of visible vapour. Although I’ve never tried one it seems like it would be the perfect stealth device, so I suppose it would be possible for kids to have a sly drag in class. What I’m not so sure about is why this is somehow worse than them smoking a crumpled Lambert & Butler behind the bike sheds at lunchtime.

What is JUUL anyway?

In any article on JUUL it’s obligatory to mention that “it looks like a USB stick”. It doesn’t, really; it’s longer and slimmer, and has a mouthpiece at one end – USB sticks don’t tend to have those, in my fairly broad experience of the things. Still, it’s small and oblong, so that’s close enough for the media and their public health puppet masters. Cue much hilarity.

In a classic case of over-reaction, one school district in Pennsylvania has banned real USB sticks from all its schools, apparently believing that this will stop students using an e-cig that vaguely resembles one. Officials from the district were falling over themselves to talk about how important this move was in preventing the JUUL epidemic; fortunately one maverick journalist asked them how many students in the district had actually been caught using a JUUL.

One.

That’s right; the school brought in a totally disproportionate ban, and splashed the story all over the media, because they caught one student with a JUUL. I’d say this was ridiculous, if it wasn’t pathetic. Or maybe it’s both. The point is, hardly any US high school students are using JUUL. Far more are using normal e-cigs, mostly basic vape pens, and almost all teens who vape are former smokers!

 

First do no harm

The whole point these clowns are missing with their moral panic is that the product they’re panicking about was specifically designed to help people who already smoke to move to a safer alternative. They should be grateful for this; thanks to JUUL and other e-cigs, teen smoking in the USA is at its lowest rate in a century. Kids who weren’t attracted to smoking aren’t going to be attracted to vaping, either: they’re not going to buy a JUUL. The target market is adults who smoke, and it’s worth pointing out that any kids who do get their hands on a JUUL are violating the company’s strict prohibition on sales to under-21s.

What worries us at Heat not Burn UK is that the same panic that’s grown up around JUUL is likely to spread to products like iQOS when the FDA finally gets round to allowing them onto the US market. I can predict the headlines already; they’re going to focus on the fact that all the leading HnB devices are produced by tobacco companies, and throw in some wild speculation about students putting spliffs in them instead of Heets (a few articles about JUUL claimed students were mixing drugs into the liquid, despite the pod design making this impossible).

I fully support people’s right to smoke if they want to, but there’s no denying that it isn’t the healthiest habit. Smokers should have a choice of safer and effective recreational nicotine products to move to if they choose. JUUL is one of those products; iQOS, Glo and the iBuddy are others. If harm reduction advocates start supporting some products but not others, instead of combining forces against the common enemy, we’ll be picked off one by one.

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Surprise result for PMI in New Zealand iQOS case

iQOS case

If you follow the news on heated tobacco products you’ll probably have noticed that Heat not Burn hasn’t been having an easy ride in every market. Despite the spectacular success of iQOS in Japan, where it’s now taken over more than 15% of the cigarette market in just two years, some governments have decided they’d rather keep collecting cigarette taxes than give smokers the option of switching to a lower-risk product.

One recent example of this was New Zealand. Although the country has been making some (uneven) progress towards legalising vaping, the Ministry of Health seems to have taken a strong dislike to iQOS. Philip Morris International started selling the iQOS device, and the Heets for it, in early 2017; the ministry’s response was take them to court for violating a law that was originally intended to ban chewing tobacco.

According to the Ministry of Health, PMI were in breach of Section 29 of the Smoke-free Environments Act. This bans the import, sale or advertising of any tobacco product intended “for chewing, or for any other oral use (other than smoking)”, and technically Heets do come under it – they’re not smoked, because the tobacco doesn’t burn, but they are meant for oral use. However, the law was written in 1990 when HnB didn’t seem to have any future, and PMI have been arguing that it was never intended to apply to products like Heets. They only come under the law because of a technicality, and the company’s position was that it made no sense to use the Smoke-free Act to ban the product.

A lost cause?

The case finally came to trial on 5 March, and following three days of claims and evidence most people assumed that the judgement would go in favour of the Ministry of Health. It’s been a long time since a tobacco company actually won a case brought by a health organisation, after all. iQOS doesn’t benefit from the increasing support for e-cigarettes, either; it’s different enough that many people – even some vaping advocates – still think it’s basically a cigarette.

Well, some people were in for a big surprise. In fact I confess I was one of them. When the judgement was released on Tuesday my jaw hit the floor just as hard as everyone else’s.

Because PMI won the case.

That’s right; the District Court at Wellington rejected a charge laid by its own government’s health department, and awarded victory to a tobacco company. This now means that PMI can carry on selling Heets in New Zealand – and potentially makes iQOS the most accessible product for any Kiwi smoker who wants to move to a safer option.

The previous government had pledged to legalise nicotine e-liquids, but the Labour-Green coalition that replaced it has been dragging its feet on the issue. That means vapers in New Zealand have to import their own liquid from abroad. This can be an expensive and complicated process, and it’s likely to deter many smokers from trying to switch. With Heets once more legally on sale they now have HnB as an easier option.

So what happened?

It’s not clear why the Ministry of Health decided to go after Heets, but when they did they chose to use a technical legal argument based on the strict wording of the law. The Smoke-free Environments Act makes clear references to “any tobacco product” intended for “chewing, or any other oral use (other than smoking).” A Heet is certainly a tobacco product; processed tobacco is the main ingredient in the filling. It’s also intended for oral use – the vapour it produces is inhaled through the mouth – and, because there’s no combustion involved, it’s obviously not smoking.

It’s worth taking a moment to think about that. The health ministry wanted to ban a new, reduced-risk tobacco product because it isn’t smoking. If the Heet was just a new brand of cigarette that would have been fine with New Zealand’s government; their problem was that it wasn’t a cigarette, but something specifically designed to be much safer.

Luckily, PMI’s defence team weren’t shy about pointing that out. They reminded the court that the section of the law was written specifically to ban chewing tobacco, which is linked to mouth cancer – not to suppress a product designed to remove almost all the harm of smoking. The defence also brought a strong expert witness who explained just how safe HnB is compared to smoking. The health ministry tried to claim that this was irrelevant, but the judge disagreed.

The exact tool the judge used to demolish the case was a legal rule called Ejusdem Generis. This says that if particular words describe a class of thing, then any general words that follow it are confined to the same class of thing. So, where the law starts off by mentioning “chewing” then says “or for any other oral use”, it still only means chewing. Based on that the court agreed with PMI and threw out the case; in the process they rebuked the Ministry of Health, telling them that trying to ban a safer product was the exact opposite of what the law was trying to achieve.

 

So what does this mean for heated tobacco products? It’s actually hard to overstate what good news it is. Obviously it’s good for smokers in New Zealand, who once again have iQOS available as an alternative to cigarettes. The big impact, though, is the precedent it sets. Other health ministries who might be thinking about banning Heets will now have to look at this case and consider the possibility that, if they try it, they might just lose.

Health organisations don’t lose often; that’s a sad fact about the nanny state times we live in. This result is going to send shockwaves rippling around the world. A tobacco company has actually won, using the argument that their product is going to help public health and should be protected from misguided laws. Let’s hope the message gets across in other countries too; smokers need more options, not more knee-jerk bans.

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California study claims iQOS risks – but is this good science?

iQOS risks

Im my last post I mentioned that there would be some good news about Glo being released today. What I didn’t know at the time was that some bad news about iQOS was also scheduled for release. Luckily the ever-resourceful Dick Puddlecote tipped me off that it was coming. He wasn’t the only one who knew about the paper, either; Philip Morris International have obviously got hold of an advance copy in plenty of time to have a look at it and compare its conclusions to their own science.

Actually, as a long-time advocate for vaping, this all looks very familiar to me. I mentioned in my last post that tobacco control is increasingly rejecting science, and this new paper is an excellent example of that. I was going to say it’s terrible science, but that’s too kind – it isn’t science at all. In fact PMI’s response completely demolishes it. Unfortunately the media won’t pay any attention to that. They’ll report the bad news, and ignore the response because it comes from an Evil Big Tobacco Company. So I’m going to do what I can to get the message out – and hopefully, in the process, show just how low tobacco control “science” has fallen.

The usual suspects?

The new study has been published by the University of California, Riverside – and that’s something else I’m familiar with as a vaping advocate. The UC system is excellent in many ways, and includes several world-class universities, but it also harbours a nest of virulently prejudiced anti-nicotine loons. The most notorious, of course, is Stanton Glantz, but there are others. So when I looked at the authors of the new paper and saw the name Prue Talbot, I wasn’t at all surprised. Talbot is a professor of cell biology at Riverside – so, unlike Glantz, she does at least have some actual qualifications – and she’s also a fanatical opponent of any form of tobacco harm reduction. Her obsession with the subject started with e-cigs, but now she seems to have transferred it to heated tobacco. And the quality of her science is as bad as ever.

Talbot and her team have come up with the argument that iQOS isn’t really a Heat not Burn device. They’re claiming that it burns tobacco and other parts of the Heet, creating toxic substances in the process, and that the way people use it actually increases their exposure to nicotine and harmful chemicals. The thing is, they aren’t the first people to investigate this, and their results are wildly different to what previous researchers found.

There were four main claims in Talbot’s paper, adding up to the conclusion that iQOS exposes users to serious toxins. They are:

  • Despite PMI’s claims, iQOS does burn tobacco
  • The device runs hot enough to melt part of the filter, releasing toxic fumes
  • The time limit on an iQOS session makes users puff more often, increasing their exposure to toxins
  • Not cleaning the iQOS increases the temperature when it’s heated

These are obviously worrying claims, if they’re true – but are they? The hazards identified by Talbot and her team haven’t been spotted by anyone else, and it’s not like Talbot was the first person to look. PMI did a lot of research into safety before iQOS went on the market, and while it’s easy to dismiss that as industry research, PMI have a big incentive to do rigorous research. They’ve invested a lot of money in moving to less harmful products, after all. If it turned out that those products hadn’t been properly researched, and there were risks people weren’t being told about, their whole strategy would collapse. On top of that, PMI know that if they do the research themselves a lot of people will attack it, so they’ve been using independent labs for most of the work.

For obvious reasons, that research has already looked at all the issues Talbot claims to have found. PMI have looked at each of them, and compared them with their own research. The results don’t look good for Talbot.

Does iQOS burn tobacco?

According to Talbot, the tobacco in a Heet is charred when the iQOS heats up. That, she says, leads to a process called pyrolysis, which creates toxins. Her team decided this after looking at a used Heet under a stereomicroscope – but a stereomicroscope isn’t powerful enough to detect pyrolysis. I have one at home; they’re designed for looking at insects, coins and electronic components. If the tobacco really was charred, like she claims, a stereomicroscope could detect that, but is charring possible in an iQOS?

No, it isn’t. The heating blade in an iQOS never gets hotter than 350°C, and that temperature was chosen for a reason. In a cigarette the tobacco burns at a temperature of at least 800°C, and there’s no way an iQOS will ever get anywhere close to that. PMI deliberately selected a temperature that was hot enough to create a vapour from the tobacco, but not hot enough to burn or char it.

I’ve dissected used Heets myself, and looked at them under both a stereomicroscope and a high-powered biological microscope. I didn’t see any signs of burning or charring; what I did see was some discolouration around where the blade had been. PMI say this is torrefaction, a kind of mild thermal decomposition that takes place around 300-350°C.

PMI also cited Public Health England, the UK Committee on Toxicity and the Netherlands National Institute for Health and Environment, all of which confirm from their own research that iQOS does not burn tobacco – and Talbot is wrong.

Are the filters melting?

Talbot claims that the PLA roll inside a Heet, which is there to let the vapour cool before being inhaled, gets hot enough to melt and release a highly toxic chemical called formaldehyde cyanohydrin.

PMI say that they’ve tested the aerosol from iQOS with advanced techniques, including gas and liquid chromatography, and found no trace of formaldehyde cyanohydrin. They also said that the chemical is found in conventional cigarettes.

Finally, PMI pointed out that PLA is made from corn starch, and is a very safe product. When the PLA filter in a Heet is exposed to the heated vapour it doesn’t melt; it hardens, and it doesn’t release any toxic chemicals. In fact that’s exactly why the material was chosen.

Do users puff more rapidly?

Talbot thinks – and it’s just speculation; she has no evidence for it – that because iQOS switches off after six minutes, users will puff faster and expose themselves to more toxins. What this suggests is that Talbot doesn’t understand how iQOS – or cigarettes, for that matter – works.

Firstly, a smoker who’s used to smoking a cigarette in five or six minutes isn’t going to feel rushed with an iQOS. They can puff at their usual speed, with no worries about running out of time. Secondly, iQOS shuts down after six minutes or 14 puffs. It doesn’t matter how fast you chuff away at it; you’re not going to get any more than 14 inhales. On this point Talbot isn’t even wrong; she’s just making things up.

Does not cleaning the iQOS make it run hotter?

Talbot’s final claim was that iQOS, if not properly cleaned after every session – and she said that PMI’s recommended cleaning routine doesn’t work – collects residue that makes it run hotter and generate more toxic chemicals. Again, PMI point out that she obviously doesn’t know how it works. The temperature of iQOS is electronically controlled and cannot go above 350°C. Again, Talbot seems to be making things up.

 

Nobody at PMI is pretending that there are no toxic substances in iQOS aerosol. That would be ridiculous; there are toxic substances in fresh air. However, all the research except Talbot’s has found that the levels of toxic substances are close to two orders of magnitude lower than what’s found in cigarette smoke. As the product is aimed at smokers, that’s the comparison that should be made.

Overall this looks like the same kind of sloppy, biased research vapers have been used to for a long time. It’s even by one of the same researchers who produced a lot of that sloppy, biased research. The aim of Talbot’s paper isn’t to increase the sum of scientific knowledge; it’s to give tobacco controllers ammunition to bash iQOS and the people who make it. There’s likely to be a lot more of this in the future, so all Heat not Burn enthusiasts need to start activating their bullshit detectors now.