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Dud or diamond? – The VCOT from Ewildfire

VCOT from Ewildfire

So, it’s that time again. The postman delivered a parcel from China last week, I’ve been playing with a new gadget since then, and now it’s time to give all you Heat not Burn fans the inside scoop on the latest and greatest (well, we’ll see about that) in tobacco vaporisation technology.

This time, my new toy is the VCOT from Ewildfires. It’s the latest product from Shenzhen, the Chinese industrial region that’s become the global hub of e-cigarette manufacturing and is now trying to grab a foothold in the HnB market as well. We’ve already reviewed a few devices from Chinese companies – the iBuddy i1, EFOS E1 and NOS – and a couple of them were pretty impressive. So how does the VCOT stack up?

The Review

The VCOT is brand new – so new that I’m not going to go through the traditional unboxing experience. The retail packaging hasn’t even been designed yet, so my review sample turned up in a plain cardboard box and a nest of bubble wrap, with no accessories. There wasn’t even an instruction manual; that arrived by email. It wouldn’t be fair to comment – or even speculate – on packaging and accessories that I haven’t seen, so for this review I’ll only be looking at the vaporiser itself.

As I said, the VCOT is brand new, and its designers have obviously tried to push the technological envelope a bit. Like the NOS we looked at a few weeks ago it’s a temperature-controlled device that lets you set the operating temperature to get the vape you want.

Bottom view of the VCOTApart from the temperature control feature, the VCOT is pretty conventional. It uses PMI’s widely available Heets, for a start. The body is basically rectangular with rounded edges and corners, and it fits nicely in the hand. You can’t hold it like a cigarette, as you can with iQOS, but it’s comfortable enough. It’s also very light. The body seems to be all metal and made in three parts; front, back, and a strip that forms the top and base as well as holding it all together.

So if the body is all metal, how come the device is so light? The answer is that the metal is very thin. The front and back are stamped out of sheet. I don’t know what the sheet is, but it isn’t steel – I couldn’t get my neodymium supermagnets to stick to it. It could be aluminium; the glossy, deep blue finish looks like it could be anodised.

Unfortunately, the thin metal gives the VCOT a slightly flimsy feel. If I squeeze the body between finger and thumb it flexes slightly and lets out a chorus of creaking and clicking sounds. Shaking it isn’t reassuring either; something – probably the battery pack – rattles around inside. That isn’t just an annoyance, because if things are free to move it increases wear and tear on wiring, so the device is more likely to fail (more on that later).

Top view of the VCOTMoving on, the VCOT has the usual Heet-sized (more on that, too) hole at the top, protected by a sliding plastic cover. The cover feels solid and has grooves moulded into its surface, so it’s easy to operate. The heating chamber itself is similar to the EFOS – there’s no spike or blade, and the heating element is built into the walls of the chamber. On the base of the device is a micro-USB charging port and an air intake hole that lines up with the heating chamber.

All the work is done at the front of the device, on an inlaid black plastic panel. At the top of this is the power button, and at the bottom the temperature up/down buttons and a blue LED to show current status. In between the buttons is a 0.7” OLED screen, which gives a nice clear, bright image.

So, on build quality, the VCOT isn’t really up to the standard of the other devices I’ve reviewed. Even the plastic-bodied EFOS has a much more solid feel to it. On the other hand the VCOT does pack in a 2,200mAh battery, which hints at good battery life, and it has the advantage of temperature control. If a gadget performs well I can easily overlook a creaky casing. So how does the VCOT stack up when it comes to actually vaping?

Vaping the VCOT

Putting a full charge in the VCOT takes about an hour, which is pretty reasonable, and you’ll know when it’s done – the LED on the front blinks brightly while it’s charging, and the battery indicator on the screen makes it easy to see how much progress you’re making. When the LED and screen switch off it’s fully charged and ready to go.

Loading the VCOT is pretty simple; all you have to do is slide the cover back and push the tobacco end of the Heet into the heating chamber. This has to be done carefully though, as there’s a bit of resistance for the last half inch. With no blade or spike to force into the tobacco, this turns out to be because the heating chamber is a tighter fit than the EFOS. Still, I managed to get all my Heets in without breaking them, so it’s not a major problem.

With a stick in the chamber you can now turn the VCOT on by pressing the power button five times. I think I’ve already vented my feelings about this; a single long press on the button is just as resistant to accidental activation, and these microswitches won’t last an infinite number of presses. Again, though, this isn’t a big deal.

Once the device turns on you’ll see the temperature readout on the screen start to rise. While it’s heating up you can use the up and down buttons to adjust it to the temperature you want. The temperature range is from 220-250°C, which seemed a bit on the low side; iQOS runs at 350°C, and when I played with the NOS a few weeks ago it was happiest between 320°C and 335°C. The VCOT seemed to be pitched a little low, but as it turned out this wasn’t really an issue.

Here’s something that was an issue; it takes forever to heat up. Our current champ in that respect is the NOS, which went from room temperature to 325°C in a mere nine seconds. The VCOT took just over a minute (61 seconds, to be precise) to show 250°C on the display, and that just isn’t good enough. Then it kept me hanging on for another 20 seconds before it buzzed to tell me it was ready to vape.

The vape’s OK, if you set it to 250°C.

A few little issues

A vaping session on the VCOT lasts for three minutes and 30 seconds. When your time’s up it simply buzzes and switches off; there’s no warning to give you time to grab a last puff. Then it’s time to take out the used Heet – and that’s where the fun really begins.

With most of the HnB devices I’ve tested (the Glo and NOS are honourable exceptions) I’ve had the occasional stick leave its plug of tobacco behind in the chamber. This is mildly annoying, but no big deal; you can easily take the top of the device apart and dig out the debris with a brush.

Burned and broken Heets – not a good sign.

With the VCOT, about half the Heets I used broke off at the joint between the tobacco plug and the hollow section above it. The first time this happened (which was also the first Heet I vaped with it) I found, to my annoyance, that there’s no way to dismantle the device for easier access to the chamber. I had to resort to digging out the tobacco with a bit of wire, then using a brush to clear the remaining debris.

Examining this debris, and the Heets I managed to extract in one piece, was interesting. The display might say 250°C, but the inside of the chamber is getting hot enough to char the Heet’s paper tube quite badly – and, a lot of the time, it’s burning it to ash. That seems to be why so many of them break; the paper disintegrates and lets the foil liner stick to the wall of the chamber. The actual tobacco isn’t burned, like it was with the EFOS, but I’m still not convinced this is really in the Heat not Burn spirit.

I also found that, sometimes, the VCOT just doesn’t work. I’d press the button five times, the display would light up, then the temperature readout would stick at either the high 20s or the high 40s. If I left it alone, an error message would flash up on the screen – “CHECK FPC!” – or it would just turn itself off. After some fiddling I found that sometimes pulling out the Heet would unblock it; the temperature would start to rise, and I could put the Heet back in and wait for it to reach operating temperature. Other times I had to plug in the charging cable briefly, which seemed to reset it, then I could power it back up again.

Conclusions

I’m conscious that this is a pre-release device, so I don’t want to be too hard on it. The VCOT has some potential. It’s compact and has decent battery life – a full charge will see you through a pack of Heets and maybe a little more. The vape is acceptable at the higher end of the temperature range. If it’s priced appropriately it could be a reasonable choice for those on a budget – as long as these points are fixed:

  • The heating chamber needs to be made slightly larger; it’s too tight. With no way to dismantle the device for cleaning, its tendency to tear the ends off used Heets isn’t acceptable.
  • Heat up time needs to be radically reduced, to 20 seconds or less. More than a minute is simply not good enough.
  • Reliability needs to be improved. I expect a device like this to work properly every time I switch it on. The VCOT doesn’t.
  • Whatever’s rattling around inside needs to be fixed in place. Any movement risks weakening, and eventually breaking, soldered joints. Is this the cause of its unreliability? Could be.

Deal with all these issues and, as I said, the VCOT might have some potential. It does have temperature control and its battery life is better than the NOS, so there are a couple of positives there. However, right now I just can’t recommend it. Get an iQOS instead.

iqos and 60 heets special 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 and 60 heets 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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Another New Gadget – the NOS Tobacco Vaporizer

NOS Tobacco Vapouriser

When Heat not Burn UK launched, we had a real struggle finding new devices to talk about. There was the iQOS, and then there was . . . OK, there was the iQOS, and that was pretty much it. We looked at a couple of loose leaf vaporizers, which turned out to work pretty well with tobacco if you prepare it the right way, but as far as purpose-made HnB devices went, iQOS was really the only game in town.

That’s changing now. Chinese manufacturers are starting to come up with their own designs and it’s all getting quite exciting. I’ve already tested a couple of new devices from China this year – the iBuddy i1 and EFOS E1 – and recently I got another one to play with. The new toy is the NOS from Shenzhen Huachang Industrial Company, and like the other two it used PMI’s Heets. It also has a couple of interesting features that made me very keen to try it out. I’ve spent the last week giving it the usual HnB UK test, and now I’m going to tell you all about it.

The Review

The NOS comes in a sturdy and attractive cardboard box. The outer box is in two halves that were sealed with a sticker; once I’d cut that and pulled the halves apart a flap was revealed, with the NOS underneath in a little foam nest. Lifting the foam out, I found a warranty card and quick start guide, and under those was another layer of foam holding a USB charger and plug, some cleaning sticks and the heating coil, which needs to be installed before using the device.

Once I’d pawed through everything in the box I took a look at the device itself. The NOS is quite small – a fraction of an inch longer than an iQOS, and a lot less bulky than most  of the others I’ve looked at. Its mostly rectangular body looks like a very small box mod with an oversized iQOS cap attached to the top. Just below the cap the body swells out slightly into a thumb rest with the power button set into it, and below the thumb rest is a small OLED screen and two more buttons. There’s a micro USB charging port in the base, and that’s it in the way of controls.

As well as being small the NOS is also light. The body is all plastic – there are a couple of panels set into the sides with a carbon fibre pattern on them, but those are just for decoration. However, it seems solid and well put together, with an overall quality feel to it. Inside is a built-in 1,100mAh 18500 battery. The top cap can be easily removed to give access to the heating coil; just twist it slightly anticlockwise and a spring will pop it off. That reveals a well that the coil simply screws into; then simply push the cap back down against the spring and twist it clockwise to lock it back into position.

I was impressed right away at the removable coil. Like the iQOS, the NOS uses a blade to heat the tobacco, but in this case the blade is made of ceramic. That should give it a longer life than a steel blade – Huachang say it’s good for more than 5,000 sticks – but does make it a bit more fragile, so don’t twist Heets as you insert or remove them; you could snap the blade off. To protect it, the blade is mostly hidden inside the body of the coil. When you fit the top cap to the device its inner tube pushes down a spring-loaded platform to reveal the blade.

Now let’s talk about that OLED screen and the two buttons below it. You might remember from my review of the EFOS that it has two temperature settings (one of which is hot enough to char the tip of the Heet), but with that exception HnB devices run at a fixed temperature. The NOS is different. It’s the first HnB product with a real temperature control capability. Those two little buttons let you adjust the temperature from 300°C to 400°C in five degree increments, so you can customise your vaping experience to suit your own preferences.

The NOS in action

Obviously I was pretty keen to try that out, so I topped up the battery – it takes less than an hour to put in a full charge – and broke open a pack of Bronze Heets. The first one fitted easily down the end cap, and I fired the NOS up by pressing the power button five times.

This is where I started to get seriously impressed. The screen lit up and a NOS logo briefly appeared, then the word HEATING. Nine seconds after the last press of the button that changed to WORKING – and so it was. The NOS heats up even faster than the Lil, which is rather nice.

As for how it vapes, I had no complaints there either. The taste wasn’t quite as good as the iQOS, and I have no idea why – I was using exactly the same Heets in both devices. There was plenty of vapour, though, and there was nothing wrong with the taste; the iQOS just seems, to me, to have a slight edge there.

Once it’s up and running the NOS will work for four minutes or twelve puffs, whichever comes sooner. You’ll get a warning buzz five seconds before it shuts down, which just gives you time to grab a final puff.

As far as battery life goes, well, it’s OK but not spectacular. A full charge is good for about ten to twelve sessions, and then you’re going to have to plug it in. It’s not as good as either the iQOS’s portable charging case or Lil and iBuddy’s day-long power capacity, but it’s not actively bad – and it lasts as long as the EFOS despite being a much smaller, neater package.

Anyway, let’s go back to the temperature control feature. This is very easy to use. With the NOS powered up, just press one of the buttons to bring up the display. This will be familiar to any vaper; there’s a battery charge icon,  large digits show the current temperature, and smaller numbers tell you the resistance and voltage (3.8V and 1.3Ω, I case you’re interested).

I ran a couple of packs of Heets through it at the default setting it came at, which was 325°C. Then I broke out another pack, set the device to 300°C and started to work through the pack, clicking it up by 5°C after each Heet. My reasoning was that with 20 Heets in a pack and 5° increments, I could test the full temperature range with a single pack and get an idea of how temperature affected the experience.

Well, I didn’t make it all the way. Not even close, in fact. Anything below 320°C was a bit on the weak side for me. Then I hit a sweet spot at 325°C – how it came out the box, in other words. It was even better at 330-335°, but then things started going downhill again. At 340° there was a vaguely unpleasant burned aftertaste, subtly different from the burned taste of an actual cigarette. At 345°C that was much stronger, and I can’t say I was sorry when it switched itself off. I wasn’t looking forward to 350° very much, and I was right – it was pretty horrible. When the NOS v2 comes out, I’d like to see it going from 300 to 340°C in two-degree increments, because a lot of its current range just isn’t going to get used.

Yes, we test these things pretty thoroughly

After my experiment in temperature control I dropped the power back to 330°C for the rest of the test, and confirmed what I already thought – at that sort of temperature the NOS delivers a very enjoyable vape. We do give these products a proper test, by the way. A typical review involves at least 100 Heets over several days, so the device needs to be cleaned and recharged several times. This isn’t just an unboxing and a couple of quick puffs for the camera.

Conclusions

So anyway, I ran over 100 Heets through the NOS; what do I think of it? Well, I think it’s pretty good! Bigger than the iQOS but smaller than everything else I’ve tried, and with a decent vaping quality, this is a real contender if you’re looking for a safer way to use tobacco. The temperature control feature is its real innovation, and while I don’t think the current setup is perfect it does start to give HnB users the degree of control over the experience that vapers already have. For a price of around $85, the NOS is definitely worth a look.

iqos and 60 heets special offer

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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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iQOS vs Glo – Which Is Better?

iQOS vs Glo

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll know that the Heat not Burn UK team have managed to get our hands on a few devices over the last year. This is pretty exciting, because it shows that manufacturers are taking heated tobacco seriously and trying to build a presence in the market. We’ve tried products from Chinese e-cig companies, and the very impressive Lil from KT&G. Right now we have three more HnB products on their way to us, so the reviews are going to keep on coming. As far as we can tell we already have more HnB reviews than any other English speaking website, and we plan to keep it that way. Read on for our comprehensive iQOS vs Glo comparison.

Being realistic, though, right now two products dominate the HnB market. The punchy new challenger is BAT’s Glo, which we first tested last year and is rolling out across European markets over the next few months. It’s going head to head with Philip Morris’s iQOS, which already holds nearly 15% of the Japanese tobacco market and is the leading product globally.

We’re pretty familiar with both these devices, especially iQOS, but we haven’t talked about them in detail for a while. Now might be a good time to do that, though. Soon they’ll be sitting side by side on shelves across Europe, and millions of people will be wondering which one they should buy. We think we have an answer to that question, so if you want to know what we think, read on!

The Basics

iQOS and Glo both work on the same principle – they generate vapour by heating a stick of processed tobacco, which is inserted into the device. The advantages of this system are that it’s easy to use, easy to clean and the sticks can have a filter that exactly mimics the feel of a cigarette. There are a few differences between them, though. BAT and PMI have taken different approaches to turning the principle into a usable device, and each of them has its plus and minus points.

Shape and size

One look at an iQOS and it’s obvious that PMI put a lot of effort into getting the device as close to the shape and size of a cigarette as possible. It’s still bigger and heavier, but it’s definitely in the right ball park – the iQOS is roughly the size of a smallish cigar, and it’s not too heavy either. I wouldn’t walk around with one hanging out of my mouth, but you can hold it like a cigarette. That’s a big plus for anyone who’s recently switched from smoking, because it makes for a very familiar experience. Of course, making the device so small means compromises, and what’s suffered here is battery capacity. PMI have handled this by providing a very neat portable charging case (PCC), which both tops up the internal battery and protects the iQOS when it’s not in use.

BAT didn’t even try to make Glo resemble a cigarette. Instead they came up with something that resembles a small, very simple box mod. There’s no way you can hold a Glo the same way as a cigarette, which reduces the familiarity a bit. On the other hand it’s still small and light enough to be used comfortably by anyone. The format BAT have chosen does offer one big advantage – there’s plenty room to pack a high-capacity 18650 battery inside.

Overall, though, iQOS wins this round. The actual device is so small and sleek it’s practically unbeatable.

Ease of use

Both devices are as easy to use as it gets. You put a stick in the chamber, press the button, let it heat up, then puff away. They’re also designed to be easily cleaned. So a dead heat on ease of use.

Battery capacity

There’s no getting away from the fact that the iQOS has a small battery. Realistically, you need to put it back in the PCC for a recharge between sticks. It’s not a big deal, because the PCC holds enough power to keep you going all day, but if you’re having a good time at the pub and want to vape three or four Heets in quick succession you’re going to run into problems. PMI were forced to choose between compactness and battery capacity, and they went for compactness.

BAT, obviously, went for battery capacity. I was very impressed when I tested the Glo, because after getting through a full pack of 20 NeoStiks the battery still had half its charge left. You’ll have no problem at all getting a full day’s use from a Glo.

So, on battery capacity there’s really no contest. Glo wins this one hands down.

Vape Quality

Of course, everything else takes second place to the experience of actually vaping the thing. HnB devices are designed to deliver a satisfying vapour that tastes like a cigarette and gives enough nicotine to drive off the cravings, and iQOS does that very well indeed. I’ve talked about my initial doubts before, but once I got my hands on some amber Heets I was very pleased with the vapour I got.

I also liked the vapour from the Glo, but as I said at the time it wasn’t quite as satisfying as the iQOS. I still think that’s because it runs at a significantly lower temperature. I also still think it’s a great device and is going to be satisfying enough for most smokers; the iQOS just has a slight but noticeable edge over it, especially in the density of the vapour.

So, on vape quality, the iQOS wins. This is a pretty subjective thing, of course. I switched to West Red because Marlboro Red were starting to taste weak and bland to me, so I might not be totally representative. If you smoke Silk Cut you might prefer the Glo. But, for me, iQOS is definitely the leader here.

Our Conclusion

iQOS and Glo are both great devices, and they both have their own strengths. The Glo’s main strength – its great battery life – is going to tip the balance for a lot of people, and I understand exactly why it will. On balance, though, the iQOS has enough of an edge in enough departments that, in our opinion, it’s the better choice. That could change as other devices become available (if KT&G decide to sell the Lil 2 globally PMI could have a real fight on their hands) but, for now, iQOS is the winner.

If you are thinking of making the switch then we have an amazing offer on at the moment and that is a complete brand new iQOS starter kit complete with 60 HEETS (so everything you need to get started) for only £79. Click HERE to make the switch to a new you today!

iqos and 60 heets special offer

 

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HnB UK Exclusive Review – the Lil from KT&G

KT&G Lil and Fiits

Last November we posted an article about an interesting new entry into the Heat not Burn market – the Lil, from Korean Tobacco and Ginseng. Since then we’ve dropped a few hints that we were trying to get our hands on one, and more recently that one might actually be on its way to us. Well, that turned out to be a longer process than we expected. In fact, when it comes to getting things out of Korea, it’s probably easier to get your hands on Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear secrets than a Lil. We did it in the end, though; the elusive device arrived last week, along with a supply of sticks for it, and since then I’ve been busy giving it a thorough test.

As you might remember from our first article on Lil – go on, read it; you know you want to – I said it seemed to resemble Glo more than iQOS. I was partly right about that, and partly wrong. It does rely on a fairly beefy internal battery, like Glo, whereas iQOS outsources most of its power storage to the charging case. Where I went wrong is in saying that it heats the sticks externally rather than using a blade like iQOS. In fact it doesn’t have a blade, but it does have a spike, just like the iBuddy i1 I tested a while ago, so it’s much closer to the iQOS in concept here.

The Review

Lil open box showing unitAnyway, the Lil arrived in a smart cardboard box with a magnetically-closed flip-up lid. Inside the first thing you see is the Lil itself, resting in the usual plastic tray. Lifting that out reveals a cardboard flap; underneath there’s a quick-start card and instruction manual, neither of which I read (not out of laziness – they’re printed in Korean only) and all the bits and pieces you need to get it running and keep it that way. Specifically, there’s a USB cable, a plug for it (presumably South Korean, but I stuck it in a German socket and nothing exploded), a pack of pipe cleaners and a rather neat little cleaning brush.

The Lil itself is quite a bit taller than the Glo, but not as wide. Unlike the iQOS you can’t hold it like a cigarette, which might be a problem for some

Lil plus accessories

people, but I found it fitted nicely in my hand. The body is made of hard plastic and feels rock solid. It’s in two parts; they’re held together by a handy sticker explaining (in Korean) that if you twist a used stick a couple of times in each direction before pulling it out, it won’t leave the tobacco stuck on the spike. I wish I’d known this before trying the iBuddy, but anyway, if you remove the sticker you can pull off the top of the body and partly disassemble the heating chamber for cleaning.

On first handling the Lil I thought the build quality wasn’t up to that of the iQOS and Glo. For example, the top of the body is a piece of copper-coloured metal, and it looks a bit tacky. A slot in it holds a round, very plasticky button which slides back to reveal the heating chamber. After playing with it for a week, though, everything seems solid and reliable; it just isn’t quite as polished as its rivals. The only other features on the body are a micro USB port at the bottom and an LED-illuminated power button on one side. A smart copper-coloured Lil logo on the front completes the design. One minor point is that you can’t stand the Lil on its base, which is slightly convex; if you try it will just fall over.

Testing!

Lil top view showing slider cover

Once I’d finished playing with all the bits in the box, I plugged the Lil in and left it to charge. The LED in the power button changes colour to show the charge level, with a deep blue colour indicating a full charge – which takes about an hour and a half from empty. Once I had the battery fully topped up it was time to start testing it, so I dug out the sticks that came with it and had a look.

KT&G’s sticks are branded as Fiit, and I had two packs of them to play with. One was Fiit Change Up with a name in Korean, and the other was Fiit Change Up with a different name in Korean. Externally a Fiit looks very similar to a Heet – I’ll come back to that – but the Change Up ones I got have a small plastic capsule embedded in the filter. Leave that alone and they’re plain tobacco; crush it by squeezing the filter and they instantly become menthol.

Like its competitors Lil is simplicity itself to use. Just slide the cover back, insert a Fiit into the chamber, then hold the power button down until the device vibrates. After that all you have to do is wait until it heats up to operating temperature. Here’s where I started to get excited; the Lil heats up very fast. In fact I had to time it a few times before I completely believed it; this thing is ready to go less than 15 seconds after you let go the button.

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The Lil Experience

Lil unitWith the Lil warmed up, now came the moment of truth: What does it vape like? Well, I can say that if you like the iQOS, you’re not going to be disappointed with the Lil. It’s at least as good as its better-known rival; there’s plenty of vapour, and it’s rich, warm and satisfying. Once the Lil is at running temperature it will keep going for four minutes or (I think) 14 puffs, whichever comes first. Ten seconds before it powers down you’ll get a warning buzz so you can grab another quick puff from it.

First I tried a couple of Fiits without breaking the capsules. That delivered a very good tobacco flavour, pretty close to an amber Heet. The flavour did tail off a bit over the last few puffs, but I’ve learned to expect that. I crushed the capsules in the next few, and got a very cool, clear menthol vape. Sadly I never actually liked menthol cigarettes very much, so I left the rest of the capsules unsquashed, but at least I tested the concept. I don’t know what temperature Lil runs at, but from the taste and quality of the vapour I suspect it’s similar to the iQOS. I also checked a few sticks after use and didn’t find any signs of charring, like I did with the EFOS E1, so I don’t think there’s any risk of smoke being produced.

Incidentally, when I say I check these things I don’t just glance at them and think, “Yep, that looks OK.” I have a stereomicroscope, and I take sections of the stick and look at them under it. With the iQOS, Glo, iBuddy and Lil there really are no signs of charring. At HnB UK we take science seriously, and we’re happy to do a little of it ourselves.

Keeping the Lil running was also simple. The battery will heat about 20 sticks on a single charge, so if you’re not a heavy user it should get you through the whole day. Cleaning was simple with the supplied brush, and you also have the alcohol-soaked pipe cleaners to apply the finishing touches. A quick clean once a day will keep it in perfect working order.

Conclusions

Overall, despite some initial doubts about the build quality, I would say the Lil is an excellent device. It’s the equal of iQOS, with its higher battery capacity making up for the extra weight and bulk, and in my opinion it has a clear edge over the Glo, iBuddy and EFOS. The big disappointment is that it’s only available in South Korea.

If you do find yourself in South Korea, and you’re contemplating buying a Lil, I would say go for it. Don’t worry about keeping it supplied with Fiits. Remember I said earlier that a Fiit looks very similar to a Heet? It’s also pretty much exactly the same size, and the internal structure is much the same, too. Lil will work just fine with Heets, and I’m not taking a guess about that; I put two packs of Heets through it and they performed flawlessly.

Now here’s some more good news. Just six months after this impressive gadget hit the market, KT&G have already released the Lil 2. This is smaller and lighter, and also features an even easier cleaning system and upgraded heating element. Initial sales figures are impressive; KT&G say it’s sold 150,000 units in its first month, which is three times what the Lil did. With no signs yet of upgrades to its rivals, many Korean HnB users might be tempted to switch to the Lil 2 when their current devices need replaced.

As excited as we are to have been able to review the Lil, Heat not Burn UK are committed to bringing you the latest HnB news. That means brushing off my dinner jacket, ordering a large martini (shaken not stirred), loading my Walther PPK and going in search of the latest heated tobacco technology. As soon as a Lil 2 makes it out of Korea – and we’re already on it – you’ll read all about it on HnB UK.

iqos and 60 heets special offer