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iQOS vs Glo – Which Is Better?

iQOS v 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 UK website, and we plan to keep it that way.

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.

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More Heat not Burn science – Glo has been tested!

Back in April we looked at the latest research on the safety of iQOS compared to traditional cigarettes, and it looked very encouraging for heat not burn devices. Studies carried out for PMI by independent labs found that the vapour from an iQOS had much lower levels of toxic chemicals than cigarette smoke – in most cases, 90% or 95% lower. That’s impressive, especially considering that the tests looked at a much larger range of chemicals than any research done by public health groups.

The down side to this research was that it only looked at iQOS. Yes, that particular product is much safer than smoking, but does it apply to HnB in general? Realistically it’s going to be a while before we know that for sure, but this week some more results were released, this time by British American Tobacco. We recently did the first full UK review of BAT’s new Glo, their entry in the HnB market; now there’s some science to go with our impressions of this device.

Real science?

Although research done by the tobacco industry in the past has had a bad reputation, things have moved on a long way since the 1960s. Companies like BAT know that anything they publish is going to be scrutinised in minute detail by activist scientists looking for the slightest hint of foul play, so they don’t take any chances. These days they’re scrupulous about following good research procedures and releasing details of their methods, so the research can be studied and replicated. How well are they doing at that? Well, all the criticism of PMI’s research on iQOS has been about where the money comes from; nobody has said a word against the science. That probably tells us all we need to know.

BAT seem to have been just as careful with their own research, which makes the results worth looking at. For a start, they didn’t just bodge up some shonky equipment, like one university did recently when they used syringes to collect vapour from e-cigs. Instead, they studied how people actually use Glo then programmed a robot smoking device to replicate that. Then they tested Glo, collecting the vapour for comparison with a range of other products.

In total seven products were tested:

  • Glo
  • Three conventional cigarettes, including the standard 3R4F reference cigarette used in most smoking research.
  • “Another THP (tobacco-heating product)”, almost certainly an iQOS.
  • “A hybrid product”, BAT’s iFuse
  • An e-cigarette.

This is a good selection of products, covering all the main categories on the market right now. BAT also tested for a wide range of chemicals. They used the Health Canada testing method to collect vapour, because it’s one of the most thorough methods in use, combined with their own list of chemicals. The FDA test for 28 different toxins in cigarette smoke; the International Agency for Research on Cancer only measure fifteen. BAT’s list has 44 substances in it – not quite as extensive as the 58 that PMI look for, but still much more impressive than what most health researchers are doing.

Checking the chemistry

What’s really impressive is the results of all this testing. Unsurprisingly, most of the vapour from Glo consisted of water vapour and glycerine, which is added to increase the vapour output. That’s interesting, because when we looked at the innards of a NeoStik the tobacco in it looked much less processed than the contents of a Heet. Obviously, even though what the Glo is heating looks like normal cigarette tobacco, BAT have added a considerable amount of glycerine to it somehow. That doesn’t cause any worries, though; glycerine is perfectly safe to inhale.

The nicotine content of the vapour was about 62% of that found in cigarette smoke. This makes sense; using the Glo, it felt similar to a light cigarette, while the 3R4F cigarette is a full-strength blend. In any case, this sort of nicotine dose is close enough to a cigarette that it’s an effective replacement.

Moving on to the less welcome substances, the tests showed sharp reductions in all of them. The lowest reductions were for mercury, at 57.1%, followed by ammonia at 64.3%. Neither of these chemicals are at high enough levels in cigarette smoke to be much of a worry anyway, but any reduction is welcome. For the other 41 chemicals tested, 39 had a reduction of at least 80% and 36 saw levels reduced by 90% or more. Almost half had at least a 99% reduction. The total reduction in toxins was around 90%.

Does this mean it’s safe?

It’s worth pointing out that a 90% reduction in toxins is impressive, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, the single most harmful chemical in cigarette smoke is carbon monoxide, and smoke contains a lot of it. The level in Glo vapour was 98.6% lower. Benzene is another major problem for smokers; Glo reduces the leve by 99.3%. Hydrogen cyanide – 98.8% lower. What this means is that while switching from cigarettes to Glo cuts total toxins by 90%, it almost certainly cuts the health risk by a lot more.

More good news from the study is that iQOS and the e-cigarette gave roughly similar results to Glo (although many of the toxins aren’t found in e-cig vapour at all).

Between this new research and what PMI have already released about iQOS, it seems obvious that HnB is much safer than smoking, and probably about the same as vaping an e-cigarette. A reduction in risk of at least 95% seems likely to be about right. Does this mean that switching to Glo cuts your risk of premature death by 95%? No – it almost certainly cuts it by a lot more than that. Jumping from a ground-floor window is about 95% less risky than jumping from a fourth-floor one, but the risk that’s left doesn’t mean your chance of dying drops from 50% to “only” 2.5%. It means that, if you’re really unlucky, you might twist your ankle.

If you need a final vote of confidence in BAT’s new research it’s just been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. Peer review means a panel of experts have examined and decided that the experiments were good science and the data has been properly interpreted. Of course some extremists will refuse to accept it simply because it was funded by BAT, but open-minded people like our readers can find it here.