There’s more interest than ever before in safer alternatives to smoking, with millions of smokers either thinking about moving to new technology or already having taken the plunge – mostly with electronic cigarettes. E-cigs aren’t for everyone, though. Many smokers have tried them and found that they didn’t really work for them; some have been put off by misleading newspaper articles claiming that vaping is just as unhealthy as smoking; still more simply don’t want to give up their real tobacco.
Heat not Burn technology is the new hope for smokers who want that authentic tobacco taste, and although the devices aren’t all that widely available yet they’re steadily being rolled out. iQOS is now on sale in the UK, for example. By the end of the year HnB products should be on sale in a lot more places, giving a new option for smokers.
HnB or e-cigs – What’s better?
It’s likely that the next few years will see a lot of arguments about which technology is better – e-cigs or HnB. They both aim to do the same thing, but take different approaches to it, and we can safely assume that each side will have plenty of enthusiastic supporters. Which will win in the long run? Who knows? However, British American Tobacco have already tried to combine the best of both worlds with their iFUSE device.
So what’s iFUSE? Basically it’s a hybrid device that starts with a fairly standard e-cigarette, then adds some elements of HnB technology aimed at creating a more authentic tobacco taste. It’s an interesting concept, so have BAT managed to get it to work?
If you’re familiar with latest-generation tobacco industry e-cigs like PMI’s Mesh, the iFUSE will have a familiar feel to it. The designers have obviously put a high priority on making it easy to use, and they’ve done a very good job of that. It isn’t quite as simple as the Mesh, but then nothing is as simple as the Mesh – and the iFUSE has a lot more going on inside.
Externally, there are two visible components. The battery is a fairly standard looking unit about the size of an eGo battery, but with a more flattened cross-section. It feels well-made and has a nice rubberised coating which, along with its light weight, makes it very comfortable to hold. There’s a USB charging port and a single large button, which appears to be metal and has a reasonably nice clicky feel. It’s not up to the standard you’d expect on a high-end e-cig, but then the iFUSE device costs just £14.99. At the top end of the battery is a proprietary connector for the cartridges it uses, which we’ll come back to.
The cartridge isn’t visible when the iFUSE is assembled; a large cover, which BAT call the mouthpiece, slips on over it. This is in two parts – the actual mouthpiece is black plastic, and is inserted into the end of a metal cone that covers the cartridge. The cones are available in a couple of different colours – silver and gold ones are for sale through the iFUSE site, but the same site has illustrations of some more options. Presumably they’ll be available soon.
When it’s all put together the overall effect is a simple, clean-looking little device. It’s not much larger than a standard eGo-type electronic cigarette, and no heavier. It is bulkier than an iQOS, but not by much – and it feels lighter, too.
Meet the Neopod
It’s inside that the iFUSE does things differently. It’s fed with disposable cartridges which BAT are calling Neopods; these carry the Kent cigarette brand, and they come in three flavours so far: Tobacco, Crisp Blue and Winter Green. Each Neopod is plastic, slightly tapered and a couple of inches long; inside it are three components, one of them unique to the iFUSE.
At the bottom of the cartridge, where it plugs into the battery, is a standard heating coil. This is fed from a reservoir of nicotine-containing liquid, which seems to be similar to regular e-liquid for an electronic cigarette. That’s what produces the actual vapour you inhale, so no surprises there. Where the Neopod is different from a Mesh or Vype Pen cartridge is that above the liquid tank, and directly below the mouthpiece, is a cylinder of finely chopped tobacco.
To use the iFUSE you just turn it on by pressing the button three times, and take a puff. It has an auto switch, so there’s no need to press the button every time you inhale, and because it’s creating the vapour from e-liquid there’s no need to let it warm up. This is an irritation with the iQOS; having to wait for the coil to reach running temperature isn’t exactly spontaneous. The iFUSE, on the other hand, is ready to go right away.
When you inhale the coil activates, vaporising some of the liquid. This is then drawn through the tobacco capsule, heating it and releasing the complex aromatics that give cigarette smoke its taste. Instead of being artificially flavoured, like e-cig vapour, you’re inhaling real tobacco flavour.
So does it work?
The iFUSE is a very interesting concept, backed up with simple and nicely made hardware. The only problem is, it doesn’t work very well. There’s a hint of tobacco flavour, but not really very much of it. The vapour itself is also quite thin, and the throat hit isn’t a patch on the Mesh or a conventional e-cigarette. It’s no match for an iQOS either.
Most likely, the problem is that the system just doesn’t apply enough heat to the tobacco. It’s not a full-on HnB product anyway, but the reason things like the iQOS work the way they do is that it takes quite a lot of heat to get a decent flavour from tobacco – and the iFUSE isn’t delivering it. There could be potential for it with a bit more development, but right now it suffers from being neither one thing nor the other. It’s a mediocre e-cigarette, and physics is against it really working like HnB.
It’s disappointing that the iFUSE doesn’t live up to its potential, because it is a nice and affordable little gadget. The vapour delivery is what really matters, though, and it just isn’t there yet. Buy a proper HnB device instead.