Heat not Burn products often get compared to electronic cigarettes, and in many ways it’s a good comparison. After all they’re both alternatives to smoking that work by letting users inhale a flavoured vapour instead of actual smoke. There are some differences though. All e-cigarettes work in the same way; they have a battery, heating coil and liquid reservoir. The shape and size of the parts might vary, but they all have the same basic parts – even the disposable cartomisers that some models use contain the coil and liquid.
Heat not Burn devices aren’t like that. They all use the same principle, but the design can be radically different. We’ve looked at some already, including RJ Reynolds’s Revo – a modified cigarette that uses charcoal to heat the tobacco – and Philip Morris’s designs that are fed with tobacco sticks. These both use proprietary tobacco, but some of the most popular options right now take a different approach. Once you’ve bought the device you can load it with the tobacco of your choice, which is especially good if you like switching between different flavours.
One of the leading makers of these vaporisers is Ploom. They started out with a device that uses small disposable foil tobacco pods, but that design has now been sold to Japan Tobacco and Ploom have gone in a very different direction. Their PAX vaporiser attracted a lot of interest in the potential of HnB, and now they’ve improved on it with the PAX 2.
The PAX 2 doesn’t look anything like a cigarette – or an e-cigarette, for that matter. It’s a slim metal device with a discreet mouthpiece at one end. It could pass for a minimalist MP3 player. Inside, however, it’s packed with vaporising technology.
Looking at a PAX 2, it’s a brushed aluminium case not quite four inches long, with an oval cross section; it’s just over an inch wide, slightly less than an inch thick. One thing that instantly sets it apart from the latest generation e-cigarettes is that there aren’t a lot of controls or features to see. You won’t find a fire button, power controls or a screen; there’s just a small X at the front illuminated by four LEDs, and charging contacts at the back. The only control is the power button and that’s discreetly placed on the mouthpiece.
All the technology on the PAX 2 vaporiser is inside. Most of the body is taken up with a rechargeable lithium ion battery which powers the heating element. The element itself is located at the top of the tobacco compartment, which Ploom call the “oven”. This is inside the bottom end of the device, and you can access it by removing the bottom cover. This is held in place by two small neodymium magnets, which secure it firmly without needing any mechanical catches; they’re incredibly strong. With the lid off a small recess is revealed; this is where your tobacco will go.
Where PAX 2 really scores over competing HnB devices is its flexibility. If you smoke Revo you’re restricted to the flavours RJR decide to sell. The same goes for Philip Morris’s iQOS – it only uses specially designed heatsticks, and you can bet that PMI will come down heavily on any other company that tries to make compatible sticks for it. These companies have a clearly defined business model that relies on users continuing to buy their products. PMI expect to make their profit through regular sales of heatsticks, not the one-off purchase of the device to use them in. PAX 2 is much more on the lines of a modern e-cigarette, where the manufacturer only sells devices and lets you feed them with whatever you want.
There’s another resemblance to e-cigs, too. Users increasingly want variety and a wide range of flavours, so Ploom have designed PAX 2 to use the tobacco with the widest possible choice – pipe tobacco. Any good tobacconist will have a huge selection of flavours, and the PAX 2 can vaporise almost all of them very efficiently. It should also work fine with hand rolling tobacco. What about other smoking mixtures? If you like a herbal mix it might be worth a try, but Ploom don’t recommend using anything apart from tobacco and experimenting could void your warranty.
Building the PAX 2 to use pipe tobacco has an obvious advantage – cost. While the device itself might cost a bit more to buy initially, you’ll soon save on the cost of expensive refills – a pack of heatsticks sells for not much less than a pack of cigarettes, and Revo is similarly priced. Enough pipe tobacco to fill a loose leaf vaporiser is a good deal cheaper.
The rest of the PAX 2 is thoroughly modern. It looks simple, but there’s actually quite a few features built in – they’re just discreet. The four bars of that illuminated X logo can give you a lot of information about what the device is doing. When it’s lying on its neat little charging cradle the number of bars that lights up shows you the charge level. Once you switch it on they change colour to show that it’s finished pre-heating and is ready to use. Finally, pressing and holding the power button lets you access the temperature adjustment mode, so you can match the heat and flavour of the vape to suit your tastes; the number and colour of bars shows which of the four settings the device is on.
Safety hasn’t been neglected either. PAX 2 has a motion sensor and the mouthpiece can detect your lips, so if you leave it on the table it will progressively reduce power then shut down. That saves your batteries as well as eliminating the risk of overheating.
Finally, it’s incredibly easy to use. Once it’s powered up and preheated all you have to do is pick it up and take a puff. Air will be drawn through the heating chamber, where it picks up a cloud of tobacco-flavoured vapour, then along a channel that runs the length of the device and out the mouthpiece. If the complexity of modern e-cigs puts you off the chances are you’ll love the PAX 2.