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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.

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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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 £49 for this new IQOS 2.4 Plus and 60 HEETS! This is an amazing deal for a limited period only.

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. 🙂

 

IQOS 2.4 PLUS 60 HEETS OFFER

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Heat not Burn news roundup – August 2018

Heat not Burn news roundup

Over the last few weeks we’ve been pretty busy finding new Heat not Burn devices to review, and we have a few on their way to us right now. We still find time to check the news, though, and we decided it was time to give you another update on what’s happening with HnB around the world.

As usual the news is a pretty mixed bag. There’s some good news from the UK, where a parliamentary committee has given HnB a thumbs-up in its latest report on reduced-harm products. There’s bad news from India, where anti-tobacco activists are spreading misinformation about iQOS before it’s even on sale. Philip Morris are challenging New Zealand rules that force Heets to be sold with the same packaging and health warnings as cigarettes, and slowing growth for iQOS is being chalked up to increasing competition as other companies enter the market. Overall the last few weeks have been pretty lively for HnB, and we don’t expect that to slow down any time soon.

Indian ANTZ take aim at iQOS

iQOS is currently on sale in 38 countries around the world, but hasn’t yet challenged cigarettes in one of their biggest markets – India. PMI is now planning to launch the device in India, most likely in the first half of 2019, but anti-harm reduction activists are already mobilising to protect the status quo. The first salvo in this battle was fired in mid-August with an article in The Hindu, one of India’s two leading newspapers.

The article was written by Vandana Shah, South Asia Programs Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an American organisation that’s already notorious for its fanatical opposition to e-cigarettes. As would be expected from Tobacco Free Kids it’s very light on science, and very heavy on alarming but unfounded claims. Shah tells us that there’s no evidence HnB is safer than smoking (there is) and that the products are aimed at young people (they’re not). He claims iQOS is “designed and packaged to resemble a sleek smartphone” to appeal to under-25s – the only thing its design has in common with a smartphone is that it’s vaguely rectangular.

In another article, published by the Deccan Chronicle, cancer specialist Dr Vijay Anand Reddy claimed that “any form of tobacco is carcinogenic. The new method of heated tobacco does not mean that the chemicals in the products are reduced.” This statement is simply false; tests conducted by independent labs have found dramatic reductions in all significant toxins in iQOS vapour compared to cigarette smoke.

Almost a quarter of a billion Indians use traditional tobacco products, so a successful iQOS launch in the country has the potential to save a huge number of lives. However, that goal is threatened by extremists like Shah and Reddy. Indian harm reduction advocates need to come out fighting before this propaganda swings public opinion against safer products.

HnB competition heats up

Investment experts are talking down PMI shares this week in what many have interpreted as a sign of weakness in the market. Leading adviser Jefferies Group have changed their “Buy” recommendation to “Hold”, meaning that while hanging on to the shares is a good idea this isn’t the right time to be buying more.

Jefferies Group’s actual explanation for the change is good news for Heat not Burn, though. The downgrade was triggered by slower than expected growth in iQOS sales – and that’s happening because rival products are hitting the shelves. While iQOS is still growing and will continue to do so, it’s now facing some serious competition at last; BAT’s Glo is rolling out across Europe this year, KT&G are mounting a strong challenge in the important South Korean market with their Lil, and Chinese industry is piling on with a series of devices that piggyback on the availability of PMI’s Heets (and will probably help keep Heet sales rising).

Despite the downgrade, PMI is still outperforming Altria – the cigarette-only side of Philip Morris. That’s being driven by strong iQOS growth in Europe and other new markets, while Altria’s cigarette sales are sharply down.

PMI challenges NZ packaging rules for Heets

The last legal obstacles to selling Heets in New Zealand seem to have been removed, but PMI says the country’s laws are still too restrictive. In early August the company announced that to comply with the Ministry of Health’s interpretation of the law, they’ll put the HnB consumables in cigarette-style standardised packaging with the usual gruesome health warnings. However they’re only doing that under protest.

James Williams, general manager of Philip Morris NZ, says that labelling Heets with health warnings meant for cigarettes is “inappropriate and misleading”. With a growing body of evidence to say that HnB products eliminate almost all the health risks of smoking, the company wants the laws on packaging to reflect that key difference. While PMI are happy to note that Heets are not risk-free and do contain nicotine, they object to warnings that falsely claim iQOS produces smoke and causes the same health issues as cigarettes do.

According to Williams smokers deserve access to accurate and non-misleading information about reduced-risk products. Right now, New Zealand’s packaging laws aren’t giving them that.

UK parliament committee backs HnB

A report last week by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee was praised for strongly supporting e-cigarettes – but it also recommended that the government should ease restrictions and lower taxes on other tobacco harm reduction products, including HnB and Swedish snus. According to the influential committee tobacco products should be taxed at a rate that reflects the health risk they present.

HnB devices like iQOS are, conservatively, at least 90% less harmful than cigarettes, and that could make a big difference to the price of Heets. Right now, Heets are priced at roughly the same point as cigarettes, but that’s a hedge against them being taxed at the same level in the future. If they benefited from a much lover rate of tax there would be room for PMI to cut the price dramatically while still making a profit. iQOS and similar devices are already a tempting alternative to cigarettes; if the price of Heets fell in proportion to the reduced risk they deliver they’d attract even more smokers.

 

IQOS Online Special Offer

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Bad news: FCTC will declare war on heat not burn

FCTC

Bad news: FCTC will declare war on heat-not-burn (they just haven’t gotten organized yet.)

by Carl V Phillips, PhD.

The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO’s FCTC) is the most influential tobacco control enterprise in the world. Consumers in rich Western countries may not often notice FCTC’s impact because their dominant domestic tobacco control, such as the FDA in the US, are large and powerful enough to set their own agenda. But even in the West, FCTC’s agenda creates marching orders that a lot of tobacco control organizations follow. Thus, all heat-not-burn consumers should feel some trepidation about FCTC slowly getting organized to attack them. Their next attempt to attack heat not burn will be at the upcoming eighth session of the Conference of the Parties (better known as COP8) taking place in Geneva, Switzerland from 1st to 6th October 2018.

That “slowly” is the good news here. FCTC is a morass cheap-talk meetings, position statements, and bureaucracy (in the pejorative sense of the term). In theory it is an international treaty, but in practice it is a reactionary collection of people who would rather complain and make excuses for their failures than actually do the hard work needed to accomplish their goals.

The bad news is also embedded in that characterization, in “reactionary” and “their goals.” As I previously explored in detail, tobacco control in general, and FCTC in particular, is primarily concerned not about affecting consumers, let alone helping them, but with hurting what they call “the industry.” This mythical monolithic actor includes everyone who sells tobacco products, and if convenient for them, is expanded to include any consumer advocate or anyone else that questions their diktats. FCTC officially claims their goal is improving health, but this simply is not true, as evidenced by their active opposition to promoting the substitution of low-risk products for cigarettes.

They do not even recommend that policy interventions focus on cigarettes and other high-risk products. Instead, they explicitly insist that the same effort be devoted to discouraging all product use, regardless of risk. For example, they explicitly state that tax rates be the same on all products. While this is technically nonsense (what tax rate on a tin of snus or bottle of e-liquid is “the same” as a given tax on a pack of cigarettes?), the spirit of it is a clear lack of concern about health. One of the reasons so many Japanese switched to heat-not-burn is its favorable tax treatment (which might end).

FCTC declares their goals are diametrically opposed to those of industry, and spend as much energy focusing on attacking industry as on all anti-smoking policies combined. In some sense this is good news, because it slows them down a lot. But it makes them entirely reactionary, defining their policies in terms of industry actions: Whatever “the industry” tries to do, FCTC tries to interfere with. This is especially true for the major tobacco companies, which is to say, the companies that have introduced heat-not-burn devices. It does not matter to FCTC that people, not companies, want and use heat-not-burn; in their mind, attacking heat-not-burn use is attacking PMI and BAT. Consumers are an afterthought for them, at best.

One might hope that FCTC’s relative silence suggests they are not entirely opposed to a low-risk product that replaced almost 20% of the smoking in Japan and has made impressive inroads in other countries. But keep in mind that they did not get around to seriously attacking e-cigarettes until the last couple of years. They are slow, not flexible.

Amusingly, some of FCTC’s most emphatic policy recommendations focus on setting up research centers, what someone might call spy agencies, devoted to reporting on industry activities in a particular country or region. FCTC calls this “monitoring,” and the goal is to strangle innovations in their crib and be ready to “respond to myths created by the tobacco industry” (by which they mean “contradict anything said by industry, regardless of whether it is true or not”). The obvious subtext is “we blew it on e-cigarettes, and are only now managing to trick people into believing they are dangerous, so we have to get ahead of the next innovation.”

Of course, they already failed to do that with heat-not-burn. These are not good spy agencies. Their expensive monitoring efforts would have been more effective if they just had on staffer whose job it was to read Twitter.

Still, whatever industry wants to sell, FCTC will want to stop, and they will probably get organized about heat-not-burn over the next year. Their catch-up playbook is easy to predict based on what happened with e-cigarettes. It includes pressuring countries where the products are not yet popular to preemptively ban them, spreading disinformation about risks from the products, and demanding that all anti-cigarette efforts be expanded to cover the new product. Indeed, they will probably push for anti-cigarette efforts to be redirected to focus more on the low-risk product than on smoking.

The only policy area in which the FCTC agenda differentiates among tobacco products is smoking place bans, because the ostensible goal is trying to protect people from environmental smoke (never mind that their policies do not really protect people). They will inevitably lobby governments to include heat-not-burn products in all smoking place bans, even those that do not cover e-cigarettes.

To finish on a more optimistic note, regulators in many rich countries are much friendlier with big corporations than with their smaller competitors. FCTC hates PMI and BAT far more than they hate the independent vapor sector (though they are quite happy to destroy the latter also). US FDA, by contrast, has an institutional preference for dealing with big companies who can navigate the agency’s kafkaesque procedures. They would prefer to eliminate small vapor product companies (and are on a path to do so) and deal only with the majors.

FDA recently approved the sale of BAT’s current Eclipse heat-not-burn products, based on them being “substantially equivalent” to long-extant, though barely noticed, RJR products (as of last year, RJR is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BAT). They did not have to do this, and have denied “substantial equivalence” applications by smaller companies for reasons that could have been used in this case.

On the other hand, FDA is still sitting on PMI’s application to sell iQOS as a “modified risk tobacco product,” a more onerous approval process than “substantial equivalence.” They are already in violation of the legal deadline for responding to the application, and anything could happen. But the Eclipse approvals bode well. Positive outcomes can be expected in rich countries with self-confident regulators (and thus ignore FCTC pressure) who have a cozy relationship with big business. Unfortunately, most of the world’s smokers have little protection from the FCTC.


As passionate as we are about reduced risk products Heat Not Burn UK will campaign strongly for your own personal right to choose when it comes to harm reduction, as we believe the more options out there the better.

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So What’s A Pod Mod?

Pod mod

When I started writing about Heat not Burn I didn’t think it was going to be controversial. Well, I was wrong. The thing is, I’m a vaping advocate and my name isn’t exactly unknown in the e-cigarette debate. As far as I was concerned, HnB was all part of the same concept – a safer alternative to cigarettes that has the potential to save the lives of smokers.

Unfortunately, it seems not all vapers agree. Over the last couple of months there’s been an astonishing string of attacks on HnB by some people who, even if they’re just YouTube reviewers, really should know better.

The actual arguments these people use are silly, with a bit of ignorance sprinkled on top – did you know a Heet was just a cigarette that’s been dipped in PG? I sure didn’t, and I’ve watched them being made. There’s also a lot of conspiracy theory rubbish about how PMI are trying to take over vape shops by asking them if they want to sell iQOS. PMI have enough money that, if they wanted to take over vape shops, there’s a much simpler way to do it – just buy them.

Anyway, after a few conversations, I’ve worked out that what really annoys them is they think HnB is the “wrong” way to use nicotine. Part of that is that it that they use tobacco. It’s amazing how completely some vapers have swallowed the line that tobacco itself is bad, when in fact it’s just the smoke you should avoid. The involvement of the tobacco companies seems to cause a lot of tears, too; some vapers sound scarily like Deborah Arnott of ASH when they get onto the subject of PMI, BAT and all the other companies whose products they were happy enough to buy for decades. Lastly, some of them just seem to be vape snobs. If you’re not getting your nicotine from a boutique liquid, vaporised by hand-built coils powered by the latest high-end mod, you’re no better than a filthy smoker.

Well, I don’t care about any of this. I’m fine with tobacco, I’m too adult to blame the tobacco industry for all the cigarettes I freely chose to buy from them, and I’m not a snob. If someone couldn’t care less about fancy mods and liquids, and just wants a nice simple device they can pick up at Tesco’s tobacco counter, I’m fine with that. And this brings us, finally, to pod mods.

IQOS MESH BANNER

What’s a pod mod?

The first thing I should say about pod mods (also known as pod vapes) is that they’re not really mods; the name seems to have stuck to them because it’s sort of snappy and it rhymes. What they really are is the latest incarnation of the old-style cigalikes a lot of us started vaping with. The difference is that while cigalikes were awful, pod mods are actually rather good.

If you’ve already seen a pod mod you’re probably thinking that they don’t actually look very much like cigalikes. You’re right; they don’t. The basic concept is pretty much the same, though. They have a compact battery with an automatic switch, no controls, and the liquid is contained in a disposable cartridge (the pod) that snaps on to one end. There are three main differences, though:

  • Abandoning the cigarette shape lets them pack in a lot more battery capacity while staying slim and compact enough to be held like a cigarette.
  • The coils are a lot more powerful and efficient than a traditional cigalike
  • Using sealed pods, rather than wick-stuffed open cartridges, leaves space for a lot more liquid

So that’s the advantages of a pod mod over cigalikes; how do they compare to the typical devices used by experienced vapers like myself? Well, this is where things get subjective. I like my big, heavy, leaky devices. I spend most of the day at my desk writing articles and blog posts for you, so the fact my mod is stuffed with multiple 18650 batteries and is about the size of a half brick doesn’t bother me at all. All my tanks are a bit dribbly, and my favourite RDTAs tend to dump their entire contents if you tip them too far, but when they’re sitting on my desk that isn’t a problem.

On the other hand, when I actually have to go outside for some reason the e-cig I always reach for is my Vype Pro Tank, which is small, light and never leaks (and it’s sold by a tobacco company, if anyone cares). If I had an even smaller device that was still capable of delivering a decent vape, I’d take that. I’ve actually had some experience of this, thanks to a couple of pod mods I was given to test last year; I wouldn’t use them at home, but for going out and about they’re excellent. Here are some of the leading pod mods:

 

JUUL

JUUL starter kit

The pod mod everybody’s talking about right now (although mostly for the wrong reasons) is the JUUL. This ultra-slim device was only available in the USA and Israel, but it’s now available in the UK and the company, in between arguing with idiots who’re imagining an epidemic of teenage “JUULing”, is planning to roll it out around the rest of the world over the next couple of years.

JUUL is a tiny rectangular device with a USB port at one end, so it can be plugged directly into a laptop to charge. It’s fed on tiny leakproof pods that hold 0.7ml of liquid; the liquid itself is a bit special, and part of the reason for JUUL’s amazing success – it currently makes up 70% of e-cig sales in US convenience stores. Instead of the usual freebase nicotine it contains nicotine salts, which deliver a faster, cigarette-like hit, and it’s also very strong at 5% nicotine (although this has to be cut to 2% for the European market, thanks to the ridiculous EU TPD).

Heat Not Burn UK being all about harm reduction has a sister website that may well start selling the JUUL here  in the UK in the very near future, so watch this space!

MyBlu

MyBlu starter kit

Previously sold as the Von Erl until Fontem Ventures (part of Imperial Tobacco) bought the brand, MyBlu is about the same size as JUUL but has a more rounded shape. It’s also generally more conventional – it uses standard e-liquid at 1.6% concentration.

Mesh

IQOS Mesh

PMI’s Mesh is much larger than the JUUL or MyBlu (so it also has better battery life), but it’s exactly the same concept – you just plug disposable pods onto the end of the battery. I have one of these and it’s very good. It also produces more vapour than the other pod mods, so it might be a better option for anyone who’s used to conventional e-cigs.

Heat Not Burn UK are now selling the Mesh pod mod along with VEEV flavour caps right here on this website!

iFuse

BAT iFuse

About the same size as the Mesh, BAT’s iFuse is a sort of hybrid – its pods contain a layer of finely shredded tobacco which is supposed to give the vapour a tobacco flavour as it passes through. It’s a great idea, but we’re not sure how well this pod mod actually works.

Pebble

BAT Vype Pebble

BAT’s Pebble is the most unconventional-looking of the pod mods. It’s shaped like the sort of flat stone you’d skip across a pond, and while it looks odd it’s also very comfortable to hold. There’s a nice big battery in there too.

 

So there are already a few pod mods to choose from, but the runaway success of JUUL means we can probably expect to see a lot more options appearing soon, as manufacturers jump on the bandwagon. Overall that’s great news, because pod mods are exactly what a lot of smokers are looking for – a reduced harm option that’s smaller and simpler than a conventional e-cig.

IQOS MESH BANNER

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What growth path can we expect for heat-not-burn in new markets?

Growth

The explosive growth of heat-not-burn products in Japan and Korea, which has taken a huge chunk out of the market for traditional cigarettes, has everyone wondering where else we might see that happen. No one knows the answer for sure, of course, but there are a few patterns that seem fairly safe to predict.

 

Modeling work I did about the uptake of e-cigarettes a few years ago (example) suggests that the uptake of a low-risk tobacco product will have two distinct periods of rapid growth. The first is caused by pent-up demand. Before the product was introduced, there were people who wanted it, though they did not know this yet, of course. As soon as it was introduced, and knowledge about it became widespread, they started buying it. This causes an initial uptick in consumption rather than steady growth along the lines of “X new consumers per week, every week, for a year.”

 

Of course, that increase might not stick. Japan Tobacco introduced an alternative product, Zero Style Mint, in 2010 which was superficially like an e-cigarette or heat-not-burn device. However it basically just consisted of inhaling room-temperature air through a tube past some processed tobacco. This delivered neither enough nicotine nor a sufficiently smoking-like experience to be appealing to smokers. Sales spiked (pent-up demand for an alternative to smoking) and then crashed (almost no one actually liked it). Heat-not-burn has cleared that hurdle. Lots of smokers in Japan and elsewhere really like it.

 

The perfect low-risk substitute for many smokers would be something that was exactly like a cigarette in all ways (aesthetics, appearance and other factors that contribute to cultural acceptability, delivery of nicotine and other psychoactive chemicals, price) except that it posed little health risk, and as a possible added bonus did not make such a mess. Heat-not-burn checks most of those boxes.

 

Of course some smokers actively embrace contrasts with cigarettes, such as the variety of flavors available for e-cigarettes. Some are not be willing to accept any variation on their beloved cigarettes in pursuit of lower risk. But for many, heat-not-burn is close enough (in terms of what they want) and enough lower risk to make that worthwhile.

 

After the initial spike and after the acceptability hurdle is cleared, we can expect a period of slower growth until a particular critical mass of consumers is reached. My modeling was built around the assumption (correct, I still believe) that the “cultural acceptability” hurdle is one of the largest. Someone’s culture, in this case, is a combination of the people who influence him the most (relatives, friends, patrons of the same pubs) and overall popularity in whatever he considers “his” population to be (everyone in the country, people in the region, people in his socioeconomic class). If someone has no friends who use a product and only a tiny portion of the population does, it takes greater determination and confidence for him to make a switch, and he might not even know about the product. If the new product seems just as normal as regular smoking in his culture, acceptability and knowledge are no longer barriers.

 

My modeling suggested that for almost any parameterization (i.e., input assumptions about the distribution of preferences and how people interact) there would come a point when slow growth hit a critical mass. The next few people who switched would be enough to raise the cultural acceptability enough to ensure that even more people quickly switched, and so on. This would feed-forward, creating a rapid rise until most of those who have not switched really do not want to.

 

I did this in the context of e-cigarettes, which had a rather larger cultural acceptability and knowledge hurdle than heat-not-burn. The better early generation products were sufficiently strange and challenging that the pent-up demand spike was modest. The easiest cigarette-like product were not very satisfying, so suffered the Zero Style Mint problem. For almost all smokers, this was not the alternative they were looking for, but just did not have yet. The second phase of growth in those models was much greater, as it seemed to be in real-life where vaping really took hold (particularly England).

 

Heat-not-burn will probably not play out the same way. The first growth phase ought to be a lot bigger for reasons already noted. That, however, means that it will comprise a larger portion of the total potential market, reducing the potential size of the second fast growth phase before everyone who is a good candidate for switching has switched.

 

So, how many is that? And what happens after the second period of rapid growth? Will it be indefinite continuing inroads into the smoking market, or a hard ceiling?

 

That depends. Indeed, that is the answer to every other quantitative question you might be asking here (e.g., How big is each period of high growth? How long between the various phases?) Unfortunately, to answer any of those requires having great precision in model inputs. It is fairly clear that those modeling the market for heat-not-burn have no idea, as evidenced by the irrational spike in PMI’s market capitalization due to the iQOS’s early success in Japan, followed by a crash when investors discovered that the initial growth phase does not continue forever (a bit more about that here).

 

Switching patterns can vary wildly. For example, it took decades before smokers Norway, which shares a great deal of cultural influence with Sweden, started to switch to snus in droves. Why the delay? Snus has been popular and mainstream in Sweden for almost half a century and has long been more popular than smoking. But Norway only saw a major shift a few years ago. Meanwhile, Finland and Denmark, where the influence might acted sooner, were hobbled by the European Union ban on snus (Sweden has an exemption and Norway is not in the EU), which is one of a whole different set of policy variables.

 

Still, it seems safe to draw a few conclusions. Japan was probably the best-case-scenario for pent-up demand for heat-not-burn. Smoking is popular among relatively well-educated and well-off people who are strong candidates for switching. Adding a bit of tech gadgetry to a stick is not exactly going to be seen as odd in such a tech-forward population. Meanwhile, e-cigarettes are banned and snus was always a cultural non-starter. In a population where e-cigarettes have already grown in popularity there is less pent-up demand. Some vapers might switch, of course, but most have settled in to what they do. Thus, we will probably not see as bit an initial growth phase for heat-not-burn sales in new markets.

 

However, it seems likely that there is a much higher ceiling for uptake compared to e-cigarettes, because heat-not-burn better checks all of the boxes. This is not based on any modeling, but rather is the type of observation that is needed as an input into the modeling. It is possible that a large fraction of smokers in some countries could switch over the course of five or ten years.

 

However, both heat-not-burn and e-cigarettes fail to check one of the boxes in most of the world: These tech products are only price competitive because of the high prices for cigarettes in rich countries (which include high taxes, which have usually been lower for low-risk products in markets where they took off). Cigarettes are a simple product whose price reflects the local cost-of-living like food prices do, and the same is true for smokeless tobacco. But high tech imports will have prices that reflect their higher real resource costs and the higher costs of doing business where they are made. Thus, the idea of migrating more than a small fraction of the world’s smokers to heat-not-burn seems like fantasy for the foreseeable future.

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BAT invests a billion dollars in Romanian HnB factory

HnB Factory Romania

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

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

What’s the good news?

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

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

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

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

Growth to come

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

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

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

A bright future

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

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

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

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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! Read our detailed review of it here.

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

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

The shocking details

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grasping at straws

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

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

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