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Meet the JUUL menace

JUUL

Here at Heat not Burn UK we’re always interested in new reduced-harm tobacco products. As you’d expect we’re most interested in HnB devices, but we’re more than happy to have a look at anything else that comes on the market. One gadget we’ve wanted to take a look at for a while (but can’t, because it’s illegal in the EU) is JUUL, an ultra-compact e-cigarette that’s taken a huge share of the US market. The JUUL is also known as a Pod mod.

You might have heard of JUUL; it’s certainly been in the news enough recently. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a very small and sleek e-cigarette that uses unique disposable pods. The pods don’t contain standard e-liquid; instead the juice is based on nicotine salts extracted from leaf tobacco. This is supposed to give a fast nicotine hit that’s more like a cigarette than a normal e-cig. It also has a 56mg/ml nicotine content, which is why we can’t get them in the EU.

The JUUL device is tiny, slim and rectangular; the pods snap into one end and then all you have to do is take a puff. It has an automatic switch that fires the coil every time you inhale, giving an experience that’s as close to a cigarette as you can get electronically. Each pod has about as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes and is designed to deliver 200 puffs, and the battery can be easily topped up with a USB charger.

So the JUUL is a pretty interesting little device, and it’s already picked up a hefty share of the US market – close to half of all e-cigs sold through convenience stores. That’s potentially a lot of smokers switching to a much safer alternative, so you’d expect the public health community to give it at least a cautious thumbs up, wouldn’t you? Oh wait; of course not. We all know not to expect much in the way of sense from public health types.

JUULmania

I’m not going to say that anti-JUUL hysteria has reached the level of the “Satanic Panic” in the 1980s, a frenzy of moral outrage about Satanic ritual abuse that saw dozens of nursery owners and employees arrested on suspicion of ritually sacrificing the children who had been entrusted to their care. It’s heading in that direction fast, though. There are daily articles from the USA, and they all follow a very similar – and totally ridiculous – theme.

According to the media, “Juuling” is an epidemic of nicotine use that’s threatening to turn the youth of America into addicts, zombies and probably communists. Schools are panicking at the thought of their students sneaking a puff in class, and nobody’s stopping to look at the actual evidence.

The panic seems to be caused by the design of the device itself. It’s very small, which the media usually translate into “easily hidden,” and thanks to its low power/high nicotine delivery mode, it doesn’t produce a lot of visible vapour. Although I’ve never tried one it seems like it would be the perfect stealth device, so I suppose it would be possible for kids to have a sly drag in class. What I’m not so sure about is why this is somehow worse than them smoking a crumpled Lambert & Butler behind the bike sheds at lunchtime.

What is JUUL anyway?

In any article on JUUL it’s obligatory to mention that “it looks like a USB stick”. It doesn’t, really; it’s longer and slimmer, and has a mouthpiece at one end – USB sticks don’t tend to have those, in my fairly broad experience of the things. Still, it’s small and oblong, so that’s close enough for the media and their public health puppet masters. Cue much hilarity.

In a classic case of over-reaction, one school district in Pennsylvania has banned real USB sticks from all its schools, apparently believing that this will stop students using an e-cig that vaguely resembles one. Officials from the district were falling over themselves to talk about how important this move was in preventing the JUUL epidemic; fortunately one maverick journalist asked them how many students in the district had actually been caught using a JUUL.

One.

That’s right; the school brought in a totally disproportionate ban, and splashed the story all over the media, because they caught one student with a JUUL. I’d say this was ridiculous, if it wasn’t pathetic. Or maybe it’s both. The point is, hardly any US high school students are using JUUL. Far more are using normal e-cigs, mostly basic vape pens, and almost all teens who vape are former smokers!

 

First do no harm

The whole point these clowns are missing with their moral panic is that the product they’re panicking about was specifically designed to help people who already smoke to move to a safer alternative. They should be grateful for this; thanks to JUUL and other e-cigs, teen smoking in the USA is at its lowest rate in a century. Kids who weren’t attracted to smoking aren’t going to be attracted to vaping, either: they’re not going to buy a JUUL. The target market is adults who smoke, and it’s worth pointing out that any kids who do get their hands on a JUUL are violating the company’s strict prohibition on sales to under-21s.

What worries us at Heat not Burn UK is that the same panic that’s grown up around JUUL is likely to spread to products like iQOS when the FDA finally gets round to allowing them onto the US market. I can predict the headlines already; they’re going to focus on the fact that all the leading HnB devices are produced by tobacco companies, and throw in some wild speculation about students putting spliffs in them instead of Heets (a few articles about JUUL claimed students were mixing drugs into the liquid, despite the pod design making this impossible).

I fully support people’s right to smoke if they want to, but there’s no denying that it isn’t the healthiest habit. Smokers should have a choice of safer and effective recreational nicotine products to move to if they choose. JUUL is one of those products; iQOS, Glo and the iBuddy are others. If harm reduction advocates start supporting some products but not others, instead of combining forces against the common enemy, we’ll be picked off one by one.

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California study claims iQOS risks – but is this good science?

iQOS risks

Im my last post I mentioned that there would be some good news about Glo being released today. What I didn’t know at the time was that some bad news about iQOS was also scheduled for release. Luckily the ever-resourceful Dick Puddlecote tipped me off that it was coming. He wasn’t the only one who knew about the paper, either; Philip Morris International have obviously got hold of an advance copy in plenty of time to have a look at it and compare its conclusions to their own science.

Actually, as a long-time advocate for vaping, this all looks very familiar to me. I mentioned in my last post that tobacco control is increasingly rejecting science, and this new paper is an excellent example of that. I was going to say it’s terrible science, but that’s too kind – it isn’t science at all. In fact PMI’s response completely demolishes it. Unfortunately the media won’t pay any attention to that. They’ll report the bad news, and ignore the response because it comes from an Evil Big Tobacco Company. So I’m going to do what I can to get the message out – and hopefully, in the process, show just how low tobacco control “science” has fallen.

The usual suspects?

The new study has been published by the University of California, Riverside – and that’s something else I’m familiar with as a vaping advocate. The UC system is excellent in many ways, and includes several world-class universities, but it also harbours a nest of virulently prejudiced anti-nicotine loons. The most notorious, of course, is Stanton Glantz, but there are others. So when I looked at the authors of the new paper and saw the name Prue Talbot, I wasn’t at all surprised. Talbot is a professor of cell biology at Riverside – so, unlike Glantz, she does at least have some actual qualifications – and she’s also a fanatical opponent of any form of tobacco harm reduction. Her obsession with the subject started with e-cigs, but now she seems to have transferred it to heated tobacco. And the quality of her science is as bad as ever.

Talbot and her team have come up with the argument that iQOS isn’t really a Heat not Burn device. They’re claiming that it burns tobacco and other parts of the Heet, creating toxic substances in the process, and that the way people use it actually increases their exposure to nicotine and harmful chemicals. The thing is, they aren’t the first people to investigate this, and their results are wildly different to what previous researchers found.

There were four main claims in Talbot’s paper, adding up to the conclusion that iQOS exposes users to serious toxins. They are:

  • Despite PMI’s claims, iQOS does burn tobacco
  • The device runs hot enough to melt part of the filter, releasing toxic fumes
  • The time limit on an iQOS session makes users puff more often, increasing their exposure to toxins
  • Not cleaning the iQOS increases the temperature when it’s heated

These are obviously worrying claims, if they’re true – but are they? The hazards identified by Talbot and her team haven’t been spotted by anyone else, and it’s not like Talbot was the first person to look. PMI did a lot of research into safety before iQOS went on the market, and while it’s easy to dismiss that as industry research, PMI have a big incentive to do rigorous research. They’ve invested a lot of money in moving to less harmful products, after all. If it turned out that those products hadn’t been properly researched, and there were risks people weren’t being told about, their whole strategy would collapse. On top of that, PMI know that if they do the research themselves a lot of people will attack it, so they’ve been using independent labs for most of the work.

For obvious reasons, that research has already looked at all the issues Talbot claims to have found. PMI have looked at each of them, and compared them with their own research. The results don’t look good for Talbot.

Does iQOS burn tobacco?

According to Talbot, the tobacco in a Heet is charred when the iQOS heats up. That, she says, leads to a process called pyrolysis, which creates toxins. Her team decided this after looking at a used Heet under a stereomicroscope – but a stereomicroscope isn’t powerful enough to detect pyrolysis. I have one at home; they’re designed for looking at insects, coins and electronic components. If the tobacco really was charred, like she claims, a stereomicroscope could detect that, but is charring possible in an iQOS?

No, it isn’t. The heating blade in an iQOS never gets hotter than 350°C, and that temperature was chosen for a reason. In a cigarette the tobacco burns at a temperature of at least 800°C, and there’s no way an iQOS will ever get anywhere close to that. PMI deliberately selected a temperature that was hot enough to create a vapour from the tobacco, but not hot enough to burn or char it.

I’ve dissected used Heets myself, and looked at them under both a stereomicroscope and a high-powered biological microscope. I didn’t see any signs of burning or charring; what I did see was some discolouration around where the blade had been. PMI say this is torrefaction, a kind of mild thermal decomposition that takes place around 300-350°C.

PMI also cited Public Health England, the UK Committee on Toxicity and the Netherlands National Institute for Health and Environment, all of which confirm from their own research that iQOS does not burn tobacco – and Talbot is wrong.

Are the filters melting?

Talbot claims that the PLA roll inside a Heet, which is there to let the vapour cool before being inhaled, gets hot enough to melt and release a highly toxic chemical called formaldehyde cyanohydrin.

PMI say that they’ve tested the aerosol from iQOS with advanced techniques, including gas and liquid chromatography, and found no trace of formaldehyde cyanohydrin. They also said that the chemical is found in conventional cigarettes.

Finally, PMI pointed out that PLA is made from corn starch, and is a very safe product. When the PLA filter in a Heet is exposed to the heated vapour it doesn’t melt; it hardens, and it doesn’t release any toxic chemicals. In fact that’s exactly why the material was chosen.

Do users puff more rapidly?

Talbot thinks – and it’s just speculation; she has no evidence for it – that because iQOS switches off after six minutes, users will puff faster and expose themselves to more toxins. What this suggests is that Talbot doesn’t understand how iQOS – or cigarettes, for that matter – works.

Firstly, a smoker who’s used to smoking a cigarette in five or six minutes isn’t going to feel rushed with an iQOS. They can puff at their usual speed, with no worries about running out of time. Secondly, iQOS shuts down after six minutes or 14 puffs. It doesn’t matter how fast you chuff away at it; you’re not going to get any more than 14 inhales. On this point Talbot isn’t even wrong; she’s just making things up.

Does not cleaning the iQOS make it run hotter?

Talbot’s final claim was that iQOS, if not properly cleaned after every session – and she said that PMI’s recommended cleaning routine doesn’t work – collects residue that makes it run hotter and generate more toxic chemicals. Again, PMI point out that she obviously doesn’t know how it works. The temperature of iQOS is electronically controlled and cannot go above 350°C. Again, Talbot seems to be making things up.

 

Nobody at PMI is pretending that there are no toxic substances in iQOS aerosol. That would be ridiculous; there are toxic substances in fresh air. However, all the research except Talbot’s has found that the levels of toxic substances are close to two orders of magnitude lower than what’s found in cigarette smoke. As the product is aimed at smokers, that’s the comparison that should be made.

Overall this looks like the same kind of sloppy, biased research vapers have been used to for a long time. It’s even by one of the same researchers who produced a lot of that sloppy, biased research. The aim of Talbot’s paper isn’t to increase the sum of scientific knowledge; it’s to give tobacco controllers ammunition to bash iQOS and the people who make it. There’s likely to be a lot more of this in the future, so all Heat not Burn enthusiasts need to start activating their bullshit detectors now.

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PMI want to give up cigarettes – but not everyone’s happy

In the last post we talked about New Year resolutions and how switching to heated tobacco might be one of yours. That turned out to be quite prophetic, because somebody else made a resolution that features HnB products, and they didn’t exactly keep it quiet either. That somebody was Philip Morris, the world’s largest and most successful tobacco company, and they announced their resolution with a series of full-page ads in major newspapers.

On the 2nd of January, a large PMI advert appeared in three of the UK’s best-selling papers, The Times, The Sun and The Daily Mirror. To say it was attention-grabbing doesn’t really do it justice. The banner headline read:

OUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION

WE’RE TRYING TO GIVE UP CIGARETTES

Just to make sure everyone got the message there was a big, bold PMI logo at the bottom of the ad, which certainly must have piqued a lot of people’s interest. After all, PMI are pretty much famous for one thing, and that thing is selling cigarettes. So why on Earth would they want to give them up?

If you read on, you’ll find out. The next line says “Philip Morris is known for cigarettes. Every year, many smokers give them up. Now it’s our turn.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt – PMI are saying, very clearly, that they want to stop selling cigarettes.

Predictably, this has sparked a lot of comments. Many people are very supportive – we at Heat not Burn UK are, for example. So are most libertarians, many vaping advocates and at least one major tobacco control group, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.

Equally predictably, not everyone is so happy. A whole alphabet of agencies, pressure groups and nanny state advocates are jumping up and down, squeaking in outrage. How very dare Philip Morris say they’re going to stop selling cigarettes! Isn’t it awful that they’re allowed to say such horrible things?

Well, maybe not. Let’s look at exactly what PMI are proposing, seeing as they helpfully listed it all in their adverts:

  • Launch a new website, with an associated marketing campaign, to give smokers information on how to quit and what safer alternatives are available.
  • Offer support to smoking cessation services in areas where smoking rates are highest.
  • Put a card with information on how to quit or switch to a safer product in packs of cigarettes.
  • Make more safe alternatives available to British smokers.

Of course PMI have already spent more than £2.5 billion on the last of these, and the first products are on sale in the UK right now – iQOS and the Mesh e-cigarette. Over the next year or two more will follow, including at least one more heated tobacco product and a completely different one that uses chemical reactions to create a nicotine mist.

So what’s the problem? Why are people like Deborah Arnott, the perpetually outraged CEO of Action on Smoking and Health, so angry that PMI are willing to spend a lot of money helping smokers to quit? Well, that’s where it gets complicated. There seem to be two main themes at work here, so let’s look at those.

PMI don’t mean it!

The first objection is that Philip Morris don’t really mean it. After all, if they want to stop selling cigarettes they could just stop, couldn’t they? In fact tobacco control come out with this argument every time a tobacco company does anything related to harm reduction or alternative products – “Why don’t you just stop making cigarettes, then?”

Well, mostly because it’s not that simple. Last Tuesday, when the PMI advert appeared, the BBC asked a company spokesman the same question, and it got an obvious answer: Basically, “Because if we stopped selling cigarettes tomorrow, smokers would just buy them from someone else.”

I suppose you could argue that if all the tobacco companies stopped selling cigarettes there would be nobody else to buy them from, but let’s be realistic here: There’s a large, organised criminal industry making counterfeit cigarettes already, despite the tobacco companies selling over five trillion real ones every year.

Just imagine what would happen if the legitimate supply dried up. Does anyone seriously think all of the world’s one billion smokers would just quit? Not a chance; most of them would start buying on the black market. The people who run that black market would become, overnight, the richest and most powerful criminals in the history of the world. Cocaine, heroin, even America’s Prohibition-era bootleggers would pale into insignificance.

There’s another point, too. Tobacco companies have a legal duty to their shareholders to make a profit, so if they all trashed their businesses tomorrow they’d go to jail. Meanwhile the pension funds who are the biggest owners of tobacco shares would collapse, leaving millions of pensioners in poverty. The economic damage alone could trigger another global recession.

So, for a couple of reasons, PMI can’t just stop making cigarettes. It’s only going to work once the majority of smokers have either quit or switched to reduced risk products, like Heat not Burn or e-cigarettes. Philip Morris have already spent a lot of time and money encouraging that, and now they’re offering to spend more.

 

It’s against the rules!

Arnott also claims that PMI’s second proposal – offering support to stop smoking services – is illegal. The basis for this claim is that under Article 5.3 of the WHO’s tobacco control treaty, governments aren’t allowed to accept donations from the tobacco industry. This obviously looks like a problem, except for one tiny detail: Somebody is lying here, and it isn’t PMI.

Article 5.3 says no such thing, and Deborah Arnott knows that. All the article actually says is that any interaction between government and the tobacco industry must be transparent, so as long as PMI are supporting stop-smoking services openly there’s no problem. I’ve met Arnott more than once and it would be safe to say she is not my favourite person (I’m not hers, either), but it’s still unpleasant to have to state that she is being completely dishonest here.

Arnott says that, instead of donating to stop smoking services, tobacco companies should be forced to give the government more of their profits. It’s not hard to guess why: ASH has lost a significant amount of its government funding in the last year, and its response has been to push for a Tobacco Levy. This would be an extra tax on the industry, with a big chunk of the proceeds going to – you guessed it! – ASH.

Back to reality

The truth is, it’s not hard to understand why PMI are serious about moving to safer products. Why wouldn’t they be? There’s obviously a demand for safer ways to use nicotine – just look at the way vaping has taken off in the UK, and how fast iQOS is growing in Japan. If PMI don’t sell those products they’ll lose out to companies that do, and if they are selling them, why not work to steer customers towards them and away from the more dangerous ones?

What it comes down to is that smoking isn’t good for you, and everyone knows that. The tobacco companies know it, although they denied it once – but that was decades ago and the people who did it are all long gone. Arnott knows it; after all, she’s made a lot of money telling people. You know it, too; that’s why you’re on this site reading about safer products.

Heated tobacco, and other reduced-risk products like e-cigarettes, have turned the world of tobacco control upside down. Now we have Philip Morris offering to spend their own money to help people quit smoking, while the old guard like Deborah Arnott shout abuse from the sidelines because it’s not all about them anymore. At Heat not Burn UK we’re just interested in safer alternatives to smoking, and we’re on the side of anyone that makes them available. So well done on your New Year’s resolution, PMI – we’re sure you’ll do all you can to make it happen.

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PAX 3 Review – Does it match the hype?

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the next device we looked at on Heat not Burn UK would be the PAX 3 from Pax Labs. That’s sparked some excitement from just about everyone I know who’s ever used a loose-leaf vaporiser to inhale anything, which didn’t really come as a surprise. After all, if there’s a device that every other vaporiser on the market ends up being measured against, the PAX 3 is it.

This gadget is the follow-on to the already legendary PAX 2, and it follows the same basic principles. There are some significant upgrades, though, including improved battery life and better software. It also adds the ability to use wax concentrates, but that isn’t something we’ll be looking at – our only interest in the device is how good it is for vaping tobacco.

Last month we reviewed the Vapour 2 Pro Series 7, which works on the same principle as the PAX 3; it has an internal chamber that you can load up with tobacco, and when you power it up the contents of the chamber get heated enough to release a vapour that you can inhale. It doesn’t get heated enough to actually burn the tobacco, so you avoid all the tar, carbon monoxide and other assorted cag that cigarettes create.

Although the basic principle is the same as the Series 7, the PAX 3 has a few major differences in how it’s laid out. In fact, while the Series 7 turned out to be pretty impressive after I figured out how to use it, the PAX feels like it’s in a whole different class. The question is, did its performance measure up? Let’s find out.

The Review

I think I mentioned in one of my videos that HnB products tend to come in really nice boxes. Well, the PAX 3 takes that to a whole new level. This is the nicest box I’ve seen for any kind of vaporiser. In fact it’s probably the nicest box I’ve ever seen for anything that didn’t come from a jeweller’s shop and cost a month’s wages.

PAX 3 presentation boxThe usual cardboard sleeve slides off to reveal a box that opens like a book, revealing two fold-out covers. One has a discreet Pax logo in the middle; the other side says, equally discreetly, “Accessories”. The two halves of the box don’t flap about, by the way. They stay respectably closed, although there aren’t any visible magnets. I investigated with a magnetic field detector (I have some odd stuff) and, sure enough, there are two small but powerful magnets actually embedded in the sides of the box.

Desperate to get to the good stuff, I opened the flap with the Pax logo and there was the vaporiser, sitting all alone in a little cut-out. It’s much simpler than the Vapour 2 Pro, bordering on minimalist; the body is a single piece of anodised aluminium, polished to a glassy finish, with a rubber top cap and plastic base. It’s slightly chunkier than the PAX 2 but still very compact and slim. There are no visible controls; on the front there’s just a Pax logo illuminated by four LEDs; on the back you’ll find two brass contacts, the device name and serial number.

It turns out the only control is under the rubber top cap, which also serves as a mouthpiece; to turn it on you just press down on the centre of the cap until the Pax logo lights up. Holding the button for two seconds opens the temperature select mode. There are four temperature options; press the button to cycle through them, and the petals on the logo light up one by one to show how hot it will get.

The plastic bottom cap covers the heating chamber; just press one side of it and it pops out. The chamber itself looks slightly smaller than the Vapour 2 Pro’s, and there’s a replaceable metal screen at the bottom to keep tobacco out of the device’s innards.

The PAX 3 is beautifully made; there’s no other words for it. The finish is perfect (although a bit of a fingerprint magnet) and everything fits together immaculately. It’s also very light – lighter than the Vapour 2 Pro or any e-cig I own – but feels strong and solid. A definite ten out of ten for workmanship.

Anyway, as I took the vaporiser out, I noticed that the card around it was loose. Removing that, I found it concealed two more items – the charger and USB cable. The charger is a simple cradle that you lay the device on, and magnets will line the contacts up correctly. It’s very simple to use, and should also be well sealed and robust.PAX 3 box opened showing unit

The other side of the box has lots of stuff in it, and some of it’s not too obvious at first. There’s a card on top, giving instructions on how to register the device and download the Pax app (do both). Then, underneath, is an assortment of bits and pieces. A white pad conceals the tiny instruction manual, which you should definitely read. There’s a key ring, which turns out to be a simple multitool; its rubber body is for tamping leaves into the heating chamber, and the inlaid metal strip with the Pax logo is a cleaning tool. A box marked “Maintenance kit” holds some pipe cleaners and a brush.

Next, there’s another mouthpiece and two bases. The standard mouthpiece is flat, with a slot at one side for the vapour. The spare one is raised, if you prefer that shape. There’s also a base with an inner chamber for wax concentrates, which we won’t bother with, and a second dry herb one with an insert to let you half-fill the chamber. That might be important for certain herbs, but it isn’t with tobacco – the chamber isn’t huge. So we won’t bother with that one either. Finally, you get three spare screens for the heating chamber and an extra O-ring for the concentrate chamber.

The next step was to charge the battery, which was easy and only took a couple of hours. The charger really is easy to use, and the Pax logo shows how the battery’s doing. The four “petals” of the logo will pulse white and progressively light up as the charge rises, and glow solidly when it hits 100%.

PAX 3 accessoriesSo, back to how it works. As you might have guessed, the heating chamber and mouthpiece are at opposite ends on the PAX 3. To load the chamber you remove the bottom cap, load your tobacco and put the cap back on. A narrow tube runs through the body and opens into a small chamber just under the mouthpiece. This arrangement lets the vapour cool down before you inhale it; apparently this helps when you’re vaping herbs, but I’m not sure it’s so necessary with tobacco.

Right, on to the test! I loaded the chamber with tobacco from a fresh pouch, taking care not to pack it too tightly, then activated the PAX 3. This is easy; just press the button – don’t hold; just press. Instantly the LEDs in the logo flash white, then turn purple – when they’re purple that means the PAX is heating up. And it heats up fast. Even with the temperature set to maximum the logo turned from purple to green in less than 25 seconds, and that was it ready to go. All that was left was to start vaping it.

This is where things get a bit mixed. Here’s the good news: With the temperature set at maximum, the vapour from the PAX 3 is the best I’ve found from any Heat not Burn device so far. There’s plenty of it and the taste is great. After one puff I was extremely impressed. After the second I was pretty much ecstatic. Then it started to go downhill.

The third puff gave almost no vapour at all, and the next couple were the same. There was still a faint taste, but it wasn’t very satisfying. At this point I put the device down and let it sit for a moment to build up vapour, then tried again. By doing that I got a couple more reasonable puffs out of it, but then it dried up for good.

Unlike the Vapour 2 Pro the PAX 3 doesn’t automatically cut off after a set time; you have to switch it off using the button (it will turn off if it’s left untouched for three minutes). So I turned it off, let it cool down, emptied the chamber (the cleaning tool works very well) and had a poke at the tobacco. It was bone dry, so my guess is that it stopped producing vapour because there was nothing left to evaporate.

PAX 3 viewed from top showing tobacco insideWhat I think is happening is that the PAX 3 is a victim of its own success. The design of the heating chamber is obviously great. It’s very efficient, probably because of its shape – it’s quite long and narrow, so the contents heat up very quickly and evenly. That means the first couple of puffs are great. The problem is, the first couple of puffs basically contain all the moisture in the tobacco. I also tried it on a lower temperature setting, but this radically dropped the quality of the first puffs and didn’t really extend the session by much; you might get five puffs instead of two, but they were nowhere near as good.

If you’re trying to replicate the experience of smoking this is a bit of a drawback. You can expect to get about ten good puffs from a cigarette, but you’re going to have to reload the PAX 3 four or five times to match that.

IQOS special offer

Conclusion

From everything I’ve heard about the PAX 3, it’s unrivalled as a device for vaping substances of a more herbal nature – but, for tobacco, it doesn’t have the same edge. It’s a beautifully made device with good battery life (it packs in 3,500mAh, compared to the PAX 2’s 3,000mAh), and it’s simple to use, but if you’re mainly interested in tobacco I don’t think it’s the best option. If you really want a loose-leaf tobacco vaporiser the Vapour 2 is at least as good and a lot cheaper; if convenience and performance are what matters most, go for an iQOS.

Video Review

 

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HnB “as bad as smoking” says study – but what’s the truth?

HnB

And so it begins. A new paper presented to the American Heart Association claims that Heat not Burn products harm blood vessel function in the same way as smoking. No doubt there are a dozen other studies underway right now that will soon produce papers linking HnB to heart attacks, lung disease and various cancers. Carefully tailored press releases, all including some form of the phrase “as bad as smoking”, will be leaked to sympathetic journalists. Public health activists don’t even need to go looking for friendly hacks; they can just get in touch with the ones who wrote negative articles about e-cigarettes.

If I sound cynical about the new paper, it’s because I am. I switched from smoking to vaping five years ago, just in time to see the tobacco control industry gearing up its campaign against e-cigs. I have to confess that, at the time, I watched it unfold with total incredulity. Here was a product that got smokers to stop smoking, but the activists and scientists who’re always demanding new action to stop smokers from smoking were opposed to it! What the hell was going on?

Well, five years later, I know what’s going on. The tobacco control industry is, in big-picture terms, split between two main factions – and neither of them is really interested in helping smokers to quit. One faction is motivated by a blind, unreasoning hatred of the tobacco companies; if Philip Morris invented a cure for cancer tomorrow, this group would try to have it banned.

The other faction is no fan of the tobacco companies either, but it has different priorities. Its goal isn’t to stop smokers from smoking; it’s to campaign to stop smokers from smoking. Obviously, if all the smokers become vapers or Heat not Burn users, there won’t be any smoking to campaign against – and that means they’ll have to find new jobs, which might involve some actual hard work rather than just being handed taxpayers’ money to complain about things.

Tinfoil hat time?

Claiming that public health campaigners are more worried about their jobs than public health sounds a bit paranoid, but what’s happening in the UK right now tends to back it up. Local councils who’re trying to save money are starting to take a good look at the stop smoking services they fund – and it appears that some of them don’t like what they see. Several services, including Smokefree South West, have had their council funding stopped, and for nanny state groups that’s usually a death blow. Nobody actually wants to give them money, so if the tax tap is turned off that’s the end of them. Smokefree Southwest announced its closure within 24 hours of being defunded.

The reason councils are starting to defund anti-smoking groups is that it’s obvious they aren’t doing anything. Most councillors aren’t daft; they see smokers switching to e-cigs by the thousand, and the UK’s smoking rate falling faster than ever before. Then they see so-called “public health” groups demanding that e-cigs are taxed, restricted and banned out of existence. Finally it occurs to them that not only are these groups not doing anything to reduce smoking; they’re actively campaigning against products that are. So they pull the plug, and another dozen tobacco controllers are forced to get a proper job.

And all this is happening because of e-cigs. Just imagine what’s going to happen when HnB goes mainstream. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if a decade from now the UK’s smoking rate has fallen from its current 16% to around 5%. If that happens a lot more tobacco control funding is going to evaporate, which is why all the usual suspects are already moving to condemn HnB.

What does the science say?

Anyway, back to the paper. What exactly is it saying, and should we take it seriously? The short answer is “Not much and no.” That isn’t very informative, though, so let’s look at it in slightly more detail.

The paper was written by the tobacco research department at the University of California, San Francisco. If you follow the vaping debate that’s probably ringing alarm bells already, because who runs UCSF’s tobacco research department? Yep, it’s Stanton Glantz, the failed aircraft engineer who’s managed to get a job as a professor of medicine despite never having studied medicine in his life. The reality is that Glantz is an activist, not an academic, and this department is shaped in his image: Before they even start doing any research, they know exactly what results they plan to get.

What they wanted to find here was evidence that HnB is just as bad for you as smoking. Now, this is obviously a ridiculous idea. Probably the most harmful single ingredient in cigarette smoke is carbon monoxide, which is produced by combustion, and HnB doesn’t involve combustion.

What they actually mean is that one specific effect of HnB is the same as an effect of smoking. That is obviously not the same thing as saying that using HnB is as bad for you as smoking is. In this case they’re talking about something that isn’t really bad for you at all.

The paper claims that using a HnB product – specifically, iQOS – has the same effect on “Flow-Mediated Dilation”, a way of measuring the efficiency of blood vessels, as smoking a cigarette. In general terms this is true; it’s likely (not certain, but we’ll come back to that) that iQOS will cause a similar short-term effect on blood vessels to a cigarette. Where it all comes unstuck is that the authors go on to say that HnB “does not necessarily avoid the adverse cardiovascular effects of smoking cigarettes”. That statement is a massive problem.

Smoking cigarettes is really bad for your heart. Smoking cigarettes also causes short-term stiffness in your arteries every time you light up and take a puff. But these two facts are not connected. It isn’t the short-term stiffness that makes cigarettes bad for your heart; it’s the couple of hundred daily doses of carbon monoxide, which causes long-term stiffness and the build-up of arterial plaque. Many other things also cause short-term stiffness – caffeine, watching scary movies and exercise are among them. It doesn’t matter, though, because it only lasts a few minutes. Smoking is dangerous because it makes your arteries stiffer all the time, plus promote the build-up of plaque which slowly blocks them. iQOS, being free of carbon monoxide, doesn’t do this.

So what’s really going on with this paper? Leading e-cig expert and cardiologist Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos has the answer, as already reported on this site. According to the UCSF paper, the iQOS delivered 4.5 times as much nicotine to the test subjects (who, it should be pointed out, weren’t people – they were mice) as a cigarette did. As nicotine is known to cause temporary stiffening, that would certainly explain the effect. It would also suggest that it’s nothing to worry about. After all, licensed nicotine products like patches and gum cause an identical effect, and they’re sold over the counter and approved for long-term use.

If we take its data at face value, this paper shows that HnB has the same effect on blood vessels as a nicotine patch, which is regarded as very safe – in other words, there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, what the data show is that the researchers have made a very serious mistake somewhere. According to them, iQOS delivers about 350% more nicotine than a cigarette does – but three independent studies all agree that it delivers about 30% less nicotine. As Dr Farsalinos points out, it is impossible for iQOS to deliver that much nicotine. Therefore the UCSF team have screwed up somewhere, and if they’re working on terminally flawed data, that the whole paper can safely be ignored.

Unfortunately, while this one might be (it doesn’t seem to have gained much traction outside crank medical websites), as HnB becomes more popular we can expect to see more “research” being done and negative stories starting to appear in the press. It’s likely that all the smear stories that have been aimed at e-cigs will be recycled to attack HnB too. If you doubt that, consider this: Just two months ago, a paper from Sweden claimed that e-cigs have the same effect on arterial stiffness as smoking does. Sound familiar?

Heat not Burn is going to get exactly the same treatment as vaping did; I guarantee it. In fact, if anything it will be worse, because the leading HnB products actually are made by the dreaded tobacco companies. Vapers couldn’t really believe what was happening at first, and lost a lot of ground to bad science and scaremongering media before advocates started fighting back. If you’re a fan of HnB, don’t make the same mistakes; start pushing back now.

 

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Will heat not Burn make Britain smoke free?

Smoke Free

Ever since the first Heat not Burn devices appeared, they’ve been controversial. Most of that controversy has come from politicians and the public health industry, who seem to have hated the technology right from the beginning. If you’re a vaper their complaints will be pretty familiar; HnB users haven’t really quit, they’re still addicted to nicotine, it’s just a different kind of cigarette, it’s all a Big Tobacco plot to get children hooked… you know the sort of thing. It’s all hyped up, it’s all alarmist – and it’s all untrue.

What is true? It’s true that Heat not Burn has the potential to make smoking go away. Public health say they want this to happen, but over the past few years they’ve been very hostile to any new alternatives to smoking. The cynical might think they’re more worried about protecting their jobs than helping smokers find safer alternatives.

This might explain why all the targets set by the traditional anti-smoking lobby are slightly unambitious. Currently the British government’s tobacco control plan – largely written by taxpayer-funded activists like ASH – aims to create a “smoke free generation” by reducing the smoking rate to 5% (it’s currently around 16%). Obviously a 5% smoking rate isn’t “smoke free” in any way that resembles reality, because 5% of the UK population is actually quite a lot of people, but that’s their target. According to the trend in smoking rates over the last few years, that target should be achieved around 2040.

Now that figure is being challenged from an unexpected source. A couple of weeks ago Philip Morris released a report produced for them by Frontier Economics, an analysis consultant. Frontier have looked at the data on smoking rates in the UK, examined the current trends and what’s driving them, and come to an interesting conclusion.

The government might think that they can achieve their 5% target by 2040, but Frontier and PMI are saying that, in fact, they could get there much sooner – by 2029, just twelve years from now. It might seem surprising to hear a tobacco company advocating a faster decline in smoking, but in fact PMI have been saying this for a while now. When I visited their research centre at the Cube back in April they were very open about the fact that they plan to move away from cigarettes as fast as possible, and that the future is in alternative products.

What about vaping?

The problem is that, right now, the most common alternative product in the UK is e-cigarettes – and it looks like they might be running out of steam. The number of vapers in Britain is still rising, and an ever-increasing percentage of them have switched away from cigarettes completely (just under half of UK vapers also smoke, down from 70% two years ago), but growth is slowing down. In 2014, 800,000 British smokers started vaping, but it’s likely that by the end of 2017 the year’s total will be just 100,000. The most likely reason for this fall is that smokers have been scared off by false claims about health risks.

Now PMI say that it’s possible to reach the “Smokefree” target eleven years early – but only if the number of smokers switching to safer alternatives starts to accelerate again, back to where it was in 2014. The question is, what alternative should they switch to?

E-cigarettes are still a popular option – according to Public Health England they’re now the UK’s top choice among smokers who want to quit. It’s possible that, if people like ASH stop talking nonsense about them, the number of smokers switching to them every year could rise again. On the other hand, it’s also possible they could be overtaken by Heat not Burn. In fact I think that’s very likely.

When it comes to quitting smoking, e-cigs have been a game changer. The number of smokers in Britain is falling faster than it ever has before, even though fewer people are buying nicotine gum or using NHS quit services. They’re not ideal for everyone, though. Some smokers find them too complicated; others just want something that tastes like their favourite cigarette.

Is Heat not Burn the future?

I think a lot of smokers who aren’t interested in e-cigs are going to be very interested in HnB, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a device like iQOS isn’t as simple as a cigarette – what is? – but it’s a lot less complicated than a high-end e-cig. Secondly, HnB can recreate the taste of cigarette smoke almost perfectly and that’s important to a lot of people. Many vapers love the array of new flavours they can use, but there are also plenty smokers who just want something that tastes like the smoke they’re used to. E-cigs are never going to recreate that flavour – they just don’t work that way – but PMI have spent a lot of money making sure iQOS tastes as much like a Marlboro as possible, and it’s paid off.

If you want to see how well it’s paid off, just look at Japan. iQOS launched there three years ago, and as of last month it’s taken 13.3% of the country’s nicotine market. It’s already broken even, paying for the enormous cost of developing it, and it isn’t even on sale in most countries yet. E-cigs have been growing fast, but not that fast.

It doesn’t stop with iQOS, either. As well as its direct competitors, like Glo and the new Lil from KT&G, there are more products due on the market soon. A couple of paragraphs back I asked what’s as simple as a cigarette. Well, PMI’s next product is. Using the same concept as RJ Reynold’s Revo, but apparently working much better, these are exactly as easy to use a cigarette. Just take it out the pack, light the end – which contains a charcoal heating pellet – then, when you’re finished it, stub it out in an ashtray. If it works as well as PMI are hoping, this could be even bigger than iQOS.

There’s a lot going on in the world of HnB right now, with new products appearing and existing ones being rolled out into new markets. There’s also a lot of opposition from the usual suspects in tobacco control, and that has the potential to put smokers off trying HnB for themselves. If we’re lucky, however, smoking could more or less disappear from the UK before 2030, and it won’t be plain packs or nagging health campaigns that do it; it will be e-cigs and heated tobacco products.

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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.

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What Effects Might Heat Not Burn Have?

What effects

As Heat not Burn products become more popular they’re steadily generating debate among the public, health activists and scientists. So far, the medical profession want to know how much safer they are than traditional tobacco products. Activists want to know if they’re part of a cunning plot to create more smokers. Smokers want to know how good they taste. This already seems like quite a lot to discuss – but it turns out some people are already thinking a lot further. People are interested in what effects heat not burn might have.

A few days ago Heat Not Burn UK had the opportunity to interview David O’Reilly, the director of science, research and development at British American Tobacco. David is a real expert on HnB and I had a fascinating discussion with him (so expect to see his name a few  times on this blog over the next month or so), and he’s been thinking way ahead of just about everyone else I’ve spoken to.

This Is The Future

One thing David was very clear on is that BAT, like Philip Morris, see non-combustible products as the future. While I was talking to him I noticed that he mentioned, more than once, moving to HnB. Eventually I asked him if he saw it as expanding their product range or repositioning it. “Our customers are moving to safer products,” he said. “We can move with them, or go out of business.” So BAT definitely seem committed to technological change.

What I hadn’t thought about was how far-reaching these changes could be. One of the products we talked about was Glo, BAT’s heated tobacco product. Glo uses “Neostiks”, similar to the Heets that feed PMI’s iQOS, and as you probably know there really isn’t a lot of tobacco in these. David explained just how inefficient a traditional cigarette is; about 90% of the tobacco in it ends up either in the filter or escaping as sidestream smoke; only about 10% of it is actually inhaled.

With a Glo this inefficiency just doesn’t exist. A Neostik has a filter but, like the one on a Heet, it’s mostly just there to give a familiar cigarette-like fee; it’s small and permeable enough that it traps very little of the vapour. Meanwhile there’s no sidestream problem either. In fact once a Glo is powered up and at working temperature it’s generating vapour constantly, but this stays in the heating chamber until you take a puff and inhale it – it doesn’t escape.

The end result is that a Neostik contains about 10% as much tobacco as a traditional cigarette, but it’s pretty much equivalent to it; if you smoke a pack of twenty every day, you’ll probably get through a pack of twenty Neostiks when you switch to Glo – but that’s as much tobacco as just two cigarettes.

Consequences?

I have to admit, I was sitting there making admiring noises about this efficiency when David said, “Of course, we have to think about what effect that will have on the tobacco farmers.”

Well, of course we do. After all, tens of thousands of people rely on tobacco farming for their livelihood. Many of them are in poor countries, too. A 90% fall in tobacco production could have a devastating effect on their economies. Tobacco controllers sometimes argue that tobacco takes up farmland that could be used for food, but the truth is the world isn’t short of food. When famines happen, which is a lot less often than they used to, it’s generally because there’s no way to get the food to the people who need it. Cutting tobacco production by 90% isn’t going to solve world hunger, but it could make a lot of people unemployed.

Then again it might not. The truth is, right now we simply don’t know. Will tobacco production fall significantly in the first place? We don’t know. A lot of it depends on what sort of reduced-risk products smokers actually move to. If they all switched to Glo then yes, a lot less tobacco would be needed. But so far the most popular alternatives are snus and e-cigarettes. Snus is made of tobacco, and e-cigs need nicotine – which is extracted from tobacco.

The most likely outcome is that there will continue to be a range of products, including snus, dissolvables and e-cigs as well as Heat not Burn devices. Total demand for tobacco will probably fall, but not dramatically at first. From the point of view of the farmers that’s likely to be good news. If demand changes gradually they can adjust and cope with it; it’s a sudden shock that would cause mass poverty.

What matters is that people are thinking about issues like this – and they are. Ironically it’s the tobacco industry, usually painted as the villain of the piece, who’s looking into the possible future effects of changing technology. Public health tend to just dismiss the fate of tobacco farmers, airily assuming that they can all start growing organic quinoa instead. Unfortunately life is rarely that simple.

Upping Their Game

The tobacco industry has a bad reputation, and leaked documents from the 1960s and 70s show that, a few decades ago at least, it was far from undeserved. They do also deserve some credit, though. BAT’s research facility in Southampton has been trying to develop a safer cigarette for decades; now they’ve abandoned that apparently hopeless quest and moved on to alternative products instead. They might have been late to the game on HnB and e-cigs, but they’re putting a lot of time and resources into it now.

In the last ten weeks I’ve spoken to researchers and senior executives from two of the world’s largest tobacco companies, and the impression I get is that they’re very serious about harm reduction. It’s unrealistic to expect them to stop selling cigarettes tomorrow, but they seem very determined to stop selling them at some point in the not too distant future. Another thing David O’Reilly, his colleagues from BAT and their opposite numbers at PMI all stressed to me is that products like Glo, iFuse and iQOS are early iterations of the technology. Some very clever people with very large research budgets are already working on improved versions that are simpler to use and give even better performance. The future for Heat not Burn, and every other category of reduced-risk tobacco product too, is looking very exciting.

Selling iQOS and HEETS