So we’re into the last month of 2017 and the end of the year is approaching fast. Christmas is three weeks away, and it’s likely quite a few smokers will be finding an iQOS starter kit under the tree as friends and family try to nudge them in a safer direction. Well, it might be a few smokers – or it might be a lot of smokers. Because 2017 has been a big year for Heat not Burn.
A lot has changed in the reduced-harm tobacco market since January. We’ve seen new products appear, and existing ones rolled out to wider audiences. HnB has started to attract attention from health researchers and lawmakers – which isn’t always a good thing, of course, but it’s an inevitable part of getting the products on sale. So, as Christmas decorations go up and the snow comes down, let’s have a look back at what 2017 has meant for Heat not Burn.
iQOS goes global
When iQOS was first released it was only available in a few test markets, but towards the end of 2016 it began appearing more widely. The UK’s first iQOS store opened in December 2016, and there are now three in London. Last year the product was almost unheard of, but now it’s becoming much better known.
The big challenge for iQOS is the US market. Before it can go on sale it has to be licensed by the Food and Drug Administration, and in March Philip Morris submitted the paperwork to have iQOS classed as a “Modified Risk Tobacco Product”. That application hasn’t been approved yet, but hopefully it should be decided next year. If the FDA approve it – and it’s hard to see how they can refuse – expect iQOS to be a big hit among US smokers.
Meanwhile, the statistics coming out of Japan show just how much potential iQOS has. PMI say they can’t keep up with demand, and every new batch they deliver sells out right away. iQOS really seems to have made an impression – and cigarette sales in Japan fell by an astonishing 11% in the first six months of this year, as smokers moved to HnB.
The growth of Glo
So far iQOS doesn’t have any serious rivals as a mainstream HnB product, but that’s likely to change soon. BAT’s competing Glo was launched in Japan last year; now the market testing has been expanded to South Korea, and next year we can expect it to start hitting other countries. The UK is a likely candidate, thanks to a generally positive attitude to reduced-risk products; BAT will also want to build a presence before iQOS becomes too firmly established as the market leader.
Glo is also the product we have most hands-on experience with at Heat not Burn UK – we did the first UK review of the product a few months ago, following a sneak preview back in February when Dick Puddlecote managed to get his hands on one. That experience was pretty convincing – Glo has a lot of potential, and we think smokers are going to like it when it hits the UK shelves.
Heat not Burn UK visits PMI
In April we were offered the chance to send someone to PMI’s research facility at The Cube in Neuchatel, Switzerland, to see what progress is being made on HnB. This gave us a chance to look at the latest science on the safety of iQOS, which is very encouraging, as well as seeing how HEETs are made in the Neuchatel factory.
What really encouraged us is that PMI aren’t just pinning all their hopes on a single product. They know that electronic devices like iQOS (or e-cigarettes) don’t work for everyone – they’re not a lot of use for people who spend long periods working outdoors or at sea, for example – so they’re working on four separate non-cigarette devices. These include a charcoal-heated cigarette and a device that creates nicotine vapour through a chemical reaction, as well as iQOS and the Mesh e-cigarette.
Lil joins the race
South Korea is a popular test market for HnB products, with iQOS and Glo both going on sale there early in their careers. Now the country’s own industries are waking up to the possibilities. Korean Tobacco & Ginseng have developed their own device, the Lil, which also heats tobacco sticks to create a vapour.
Lil is on limited release in South Korea just now, but should be rolled out across the country quite soon. The question is whether KT&G plan to market it globally. So far they haven’t announced any plans, but H&B isn’t a crowded market right now. This would be a huge opportunity for them to build a global presence.
We’ve contacted KT&G to ask if we can have a Lil for review, but haven’t heard back from them yet. Hopefully we’ll have some news on that soon, because it’s an interesting-looking device and we think it deserves a wide audience.
So this has been an exciting year for Heat not Burn; the technology is making its way into the mainstream, hundreds of millions of people around the world are able to buy the products, and that number is set to grow fast in 2018. If what we’ve seen from Japan is any guide, there’s a possibility that HnB could overtake e-cigarettes as the favourite alternative to smoking within a few years.
In any case, 2017 isn’t quite over yet. There are still a few weeks to go before New Year, and the team at Heat not Burn UK won’t be taking that time off. There will be a video review for the Vapour 2 Pro we’ve been testing for the last month, and we also have a new toy to play with – the PAX 3. This is the latest upgrade of the PAX 2, the most respected loose-leaf vaporiser on the market, and there’s one sitting on the table in HnB UK’s secret headquarters. That will be getting unboxed soon, and tested over the next couple of weeks, so drop in to see what we think of it!
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.
Over the last few months this site has been focusing quite heavily on iQOS and its BAT rival, Glo. We make no apologies for that; they’re both excellent products, they’re either on the market or will be soon, and we think millions of smokers are going to enjoy them as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. If you’re interested in switching to heat not burn, iQOS is probably your best option in most countries. Glo isn’t widely available yet, but we can expect BAT to start rolling it out beyond its Japanese test market as soon as they’ve ramped up production of NeoStiks.
We’re fair-minded people, though, and we don’t want to give Philip Morris and British American all the publicity, so this week we’re going to look at a few less well known products that are either available, have come and gone or are planned for the near future. Some of them are promising; some of them are flops. But we think they deserve some attention anyway.
The V2 Pro was originally released about three years ago, and although it’s never really taken off it’s survived and gone through several upgrades. The standard models use a proprietary magnetic connector to let you switch between different atomisers, which included a conventional e-cigarette tank and a loose leaf version. That has some power limits, though, so V2 have diversified their range and produced a dedicated tobacco vaporiser.
V2’s Pro Series 7 is a chunky but compact device about the size of a highlighter pen. Its oval body has a built-in battery, charged through a magnetic port, and at the other end is a removable mouthpiece. Pull that off and you’ll find a generously sized vaporising chamber that can be filled with your favourite loose leaf ingredient – we’d suggest a good pipe tobacco.
We haven’t managed to test the Series 7 ourselves (although we will if anybody wants to send us one) but it looks very promising. This could give the popular Pax 2 a run for its money in the loose leaf category.
iSmoke One Hitter
Similar in concept to the original V2 Pro, this is another pen-style vaping device that looks a bit like an eGo or Evod – but, instead of a clearomiser for e-liquid, it has a loose leaf atomiser that will hold almost a gram of tobacco.
If you’re looking for an affordable intro to HnB, this might be ideal. It only seems to be on sale in the USA right now, but the recommended price is a tempting $19.99. With traditional loose leaf devices averaging about $150 for a good one I’d be tempted to try this myself. It’s compact, looks simple and seems to do a pretty good job of turning tobacco into vapour without burning it.
We’ve talked about the Pax 2 before. It’s one of the most highly regarded loose leaf vaporisers out there, and has built a solid reputation for good build quality, excellent performance and durability(even if the $200 price tag is a bit steep). Now its makers have gone one better, and introduced the unimaginatively named Pax 3.
If the older model is too expensive for you, look away now; the Pax 3 costs an eye-watering $275. It delivers a lot for your money, though. As well as the high quality we’ve come to expect from this company it has some nice tweaks and a couple of completely new features.
The Pax 3 is mainly designed for “dry herbs”, but also works very well with hand-rolling or pipe tobacco. It has a capacious chamber that will hold enough tobacco to give you a satisfying vape session, plus the option to load a smaller amount and use a spacer to keep it well packed.
One issue many people had with the Pax 2 was the mouthpiece overheating, but a new design in the 3 fixes that. It keeps the bottom-mounted heating chamber, which also means the vapour has a chance to cool slightly before reaching your mouth.
Finally, the Pax 3 can now be controlled and adjusted through an iOS or Android app. Which lets you adjust the heating temperature to taste. This makes for a very versatile device, and if you don’t mind the price tag it’s hard to think of a better loose leaf vapouriser.
The original Ploom was developed by the people who now make the Pax series, but the technology and name were bought by JTO a couple of years ago and updated into the PloomTech. Some of the original Model 2 kits are still kicking around, though, and if you can get one they’re definitely worth a try.
Ploom 2 is similar to iQOS and Glo in that it uses proprietary tobacco inserts – but these are very different to the cigarette-like Heets or NeoStiks. Instead they’re tiny, bullet-shaped capsules made of heavy foil, which drop into the heating chamber and get punctured by the mouthpiece. A heating coil vaporises the tobacco, and you get a mouthful of aromatic fumes.
Overall this works pretty well – not as well as iQOS, but it’s less like a cigarette if that bothers you. The capsules come in a decent variety of flavours, too.
So will any of these devices take the heat not burn market by storm? If I’m honest here, probably not. None of them have the marketing clout behind them that Glo and iQOS do, and none of them are really as good either. The loose leaf devices are tarred with the illegal drugs brush – they work fine with tobacco, but tobacco isn’t what anyone sees you using one is going to think of. They can also be very expensive to buy. Of course you’ll then save on the cost of tobacco, but it’s still a lot of money to hand over for a small gadget.
It’s always worth keeping an eye on the market, though. This is a fast-moving technology, and with iQOS proving popular everywhere it’s available (and Glo doing very well in Japan, apparently) a lot of companies are going to try to move in. Most of them will fail, but there’s always the chance of some very nice products appearing. We’ll certainly be looking out for anything interesting!
I’m a freelance writer, and I love e-cigarettes. Since I switched to vaping my desk isn’t cluttered with smelly ashtrays anymore, and I don’t have to brush ash off my keyboard twice a day. I spend most of the day at my PC, so I can keep a charger on the desk for my batteries and there’s a nice long USB cable for pass-through mods. The top shelf in one side of the desk holds an assortment of e-liquids; in my job, vaping works perfectly.
On the other hand, before I became a writer I spent years in the British Army. Like many soldiers I smoked, and I remember a lot of early mornings happily puffing away in some cold, wet forest. No matter how soaked, frozen and miserable you get, a cigarette is a reliable way to inject some very welcome morale into your life.
The thing about cigarettes, of course, is that they couldn’t be simpler. You take one out the pack, stick the brown bit in your mouth and set fire to the other end. Unless you’ve let them get soaked, or you’ve sat on the packet and squashed them (a waterproof tobacco tin will avoid both these issues) they’re guaranteed to work.
War is hell – for e-cigs
But how is an e-cig going to cope with the hardships of a soldier’s life? All the liquid is probably going to leak out, turning the contents of your pocket into a slippery mess. The tank’s probably going to get broken the first time you trip over a stump in the darkness and fall flat on your face. The ability of most box mods to survive being soaked with rainwater is pretty dubious. Worst of all, your batteries aren’t going to last forever and there won’t be any USB ports in the tree you’re living under. E-cigarettes are great as long as you’re surrounded by civilisation, but they’re not going to work out in the field.
It isn’t just soldiers, either. What if your workplace is the deck of a trawler? The first wave that knocks you down, and leaves you flailing around in a pool of seawater and fish guts, is going to destroy every electronic device in your pockets. Let’s not even start thinking about rebuilding a coil in a cramped cabin that’s rolling through sixty degrees.
So it’s pretty obvious that there are some people who e-cigarettes just aren’t going to work for. But does that mean they’re doomed to a lifetime of smoking? Not so fast. There’s probably a heat not burn product that’s going to work just fine.
What’s the solution?
Last month I visited Philip Morris International’s research facility at Neuchatel in Switzerland, where they’re making the Heets that feed their iQOS device as well as working on the next generation of HnB technology. It was a very interesting visit – I’ve already discussed their latest research on safety – and left me feeling very optimistic about the future of heated tobacco products. There were some lively discussions, too, and during one of these I explained that I’d been a soldier for a long time and, based on my experiences, I didn’t think iQOS was going to be much use in the field. The PMI rep didn’t even blink. “We know,” she said. “That’s why we’re working on three other products.”
One of those products is the Mesh e-cigarette, which is already on the market. I have one, and it’s pretty good; the Mesh is an extremely simple and fairly sturdy gadget, and its disposable cartridges are more compact and probably a lot tougher than cigarettes, but if you’re doing hard work outdoors in bad weather it has the same drawbacks as any other e-cig; it isn’t very waterproof, and it needs charged a couple of times a day. Then there’s a completely different product in the development pipeline that isn’t HnB, but isn’t an e-cig either; it uses a chemical reaction to create a nicotine-containing vapour. The interesting thing about this is that it doesn’t need any batteries, so it might be a good solution for people who don’t have regular access to a charger; that depends on how robust it is, and I can’t comment on that because I haven’t seen one yet.
That’s three of PMI’s Smokefree nicotine products. The fourth one is a heat not burn product that uses the same concept as RJ Reynolds’s Revo. It’s a disposable item that contains a stick of processed tobacco and a charcoal pellet that provides the heat. All you have to do is light the pellet and puff away.
Revo isn’t really a new product; it’s basically a rebranded version of the 1990s Eclipse, which was a complete flop. Reynolds relaunched it under the new name because they decided the market had moved enough to make it viable this time around, but it’s still basically the same thing. I’m not very familiar with it but I do have some doubts about how effective it is.
So far, at least, those doubts don’t apply to the PMI product, which the company are currently calling Platform 2. It works on the same principle as the Revo, but it’s a completely new design. That gives PMI a chance to iron out any bugs, and hopefully come up with something that delivers a consistent vape with no risk of accidentally burning the tobacco.
Keeping it simple
The benefits of this sort of design are obvious. If you can manage to smoke, you can use a HnB product like Revo or Platform 2. It works exactly like a cigarette; you just have to take it out the pack, put it in your mouth and light it. There’s nothing fiddly to play with, it doesn’t need electricity and it’s no more vulnerable to the weather than a cigarette. In fact it’s probably less likely to get damaged by water; Revo has a metal foil tube to hold the tobacco, which is a lot more waterproof than cigarette paper.
A lot of smokers have switched to vaping – probably over ten million by now – but it’s not going to work for everyone. Improved technology will eventually increase battery life and make the hardware easier to use and more robust, but it’s not likely e-cigs will ever be as simple as a traditional cigarette. Heat not burn has the potential to solve that problem, because the basic principle – get some tobacco and heat it – is a lot more flexible. Inside a few years there will be HnB products that anyone can use, no matter how tough their job is.
There’s one thing still missing, though. If heated tobacco products are really going to grab a sizable percentage of the cigarette market it’s important that their makers can show they’re safer than smoking. As we’ve mentioned before, common sense tells us they pretty much have to be a lot safer, because the tobacco isn’t being burned, but there’s a distinct lack of actual data. Isn’t anyone doing the research on this? It turns out the answer is yes.
Of course, you won’t see this research appearing in the medical journals just yet, because it’s actually being carried out on behalf of the tobacco industry. Philip Morris International have invested more time and money in HnB than anyone else, and a lot of that has gone towards looking into how much risk can be removed by switching from lit to heated tobacco. Some world-class laboratories have been asked to investigate how HnB is working and what that means in terms of health effects. Last week Heat not Burn UK got a chance to visit the Cube, PMI’s European research HQ at Neuchatel in Switzerland, to find out what’s going on.
How hot is too hot?
By now everybody knows that smoking-related diseases aren’t caused by tobacco; it’s the combustion process that creates the worst toxins and cancer-causing substances. Tobacco-free herbal cigarettes aren’t any better for you than Benson & Hedges, because you’re still inhaling burning plants. However, PMI have found out that making a safe HnB product isn’t as simple as not setting fire to the tobacco.
The tip of a lit cigarette, between puffs, is at between 600°C and 800°C; when you take a drag on it this rises to over 900°C. That’s the sort of temperature tobacco burns at. However, at much lower temperatures it goes through a process called pyrolysis, where it’s being broken down by heat but not actually burning. Pyrolysis starts at around 350°C, much lower than combustion temperatures – and pyrolyzing tobacco still gives off a lot of nasty chemicals. Not as much as burning it, of course, but probably still more than you really want to be inhaling.
So the trick to safe HnB is to heat the tobacco to just below the point where pyrolysis begins. If you were wondering why iQOS heats its sticks to 350°C when tobacco doesn’t start burning until hundreds of degrees above this temperature, now you know. PMI have opted for the highest safe temperature, where there’s little or no pyrolysis going on but the tobacco is still hot enough to generate a decent vapour. Because HnB products like iQOS, Glo and PAX 2 are electronically controlled it’s easy to get them to produce a constant temperature and avoid pyrolyzing or burning the tobacco.
Tracking the toxins
Obviously the big question is, what effect does HnB have on the levels of chemicals you’re inhaling? It’s unrealistic to insist on zero chemicals, because many of the toxins in cigarette smoke are very common substances. For example, smoke contains high levels of formaldehyde – but human bodies contain formaldehyde, too. Our metabolism produces it, and there are detectable levels of it in exhaled breath. What we’re looking for are levels that might not be zero, but are much lower than you’d get from a cigarette.
To test this, PMI analysed the smoke from a reference cigarette – this is a standardised cigarette used for lab testing – then compared it with the vapour from their two HnB products. One of these is iQOS; the other, known as Platform 2, hasn’t been released yet but works in a different way. What they found was that for every chemical they tested, levels were dramatically reduced in both HnB products. The highest levels were for ammonia, with iQOS having about half the level of a cigarette and Platform 2 around 40%. Is that enough to worry about? No; even cigarette smoke doesn’t have anywhere near enough ammonia to be an issue. For the other chemicals they tested levels were reduced by at least 80%, and in most cases 90 to 95%. Overall it looks like HnB eliminates more than 90% of the harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke.
One impressive point about PMI’s research is that they’ve been extremely thorough. Different agencies have different lists of chemicals in smoke that concern them. For example the FDA have a list of 28 different substances; the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s list has fifteen. To be on the safe side, Philip Morris have simply combined everyone else’s lists; they test for fifty-eight different chemicals – far more than anyone else does.
Attention to detail
PMI aren’t just measuring what’s in the vapour; they’re also testing smokers who’ve switched to their HnB products to see how they compare with people who’ve either quit entirely or continued to smoke. What they’re doing here is looking to see if switchers’ blood chemistry is more like a smoker or a quitter. For every chemical they’ve tested – including carbon monoxide, benzene and acrolein – HnB users either have identical levels to smokers who’ve quit entirely or (for acrolein) the level is slightly higher than a quitter but much lower than a smoker.
At Heat not Burn UK we might not be scientists, but we do know how science is supposed to be done. The research that’s being carried out on the health effects of HnB is very good science. It’s extremely thorough and detailed. The actual analysis is being carried out by independent labs, which should deal with any accusations of bias. PMI are being completely open about the experimental methods, so anybody who has doubts can replicate the research themselves.
Why so modest?
That leaves one question: With all this research to back them up, why aren’t PMI shouting from the rooftops about how safe HnB really is? Most likely that’s down to an understandable wariness of being sued. If they say that iQOS is 90% safer than smoking, and then at some point in the future evidence shows it’s only 89.9% safer, how long is it going to be until swarms of Californian lawyers descend on them with a fistful of class action suits? Not long, probably.
So, for now, they’re playing a cautious game. The data is there, and steadily growing. Sooner or later it will be presented to some government agency, probably the FDA, and they’ll confirm that these products are much safer than smoking. That’s when the manufacturers will start publicising it. Until then we’re just going to have to rely on common sense.
A couple of months ago we looked at BAT’s glo, their stick-fed iQOS rival that’s currently being trialled in Japan. It still hasn’t been released in other markets, and BAT haven’t revealed their plans for it yet, so it could be a while before smokers in the UK have a chance to try it. Just so you know what you’re waiting for, however, Heat Not Burn UK set out to track one down. It was a struggle, but last week one of our agents finally managed to get his hands on the elusive device.
Because of how our glo was obtained (no, we didn’t steal it) it didn’t come in its usual retail packaging, so that won’t be included in this review. It did come with a full pack of Bright Tobacco sticks to feed it with, so it was thoroughly tested as well as being poked, prodded and generally fiddled with. So what’s it like?
The glo device looks like a small, simple box mod e-cigarette. It’s about the height and thickness of a pack of cigarettes, and maybe two-thirds of the width. The aluminium body is rounded on both sides, making it comfortable to hold, and it’s not too heavy. It does feel solid and well made, and the build quality looks excellent. The end caps are textured plastic, the metal body has a nice satin finish and there’s a laser-etched glo logo on the front.
Looking at the top, there’s an oval silver cover. On the bottom is a micro-USB charging port and a small cover that looks like it should open, but was left well alone in case it broke. After some discussion we think that’s the airflow vent; there has to be some place for air to flow into the heating chamber so you can inhale the vapour, and we couldn’t see anything else that might do that job.
The only actual control on the glo is a single button on the front. Its placement looks odd if you’re used to e-cigs; most box mods now have the fire button on one side, because that way it falls naturally under your thumb. However the glo’s button is just the on/off switch, and you won’t need to touch it when you’re actually using the device. The button itself is metal and surrounded by a ring of translucent plastic, which turns out to be LED-illuminated – but we’ll get to that.
Like the iQOS, glo uses cigarette-like sticks which BAT call NeoStiks. Compared to PMI’s HeatSticks these are longer and slimmer – almost exactly the same size as a traditional cigarette. Instead of a filter there’s a hollow plastic tube, which makes sense – why fit a filter when there’s no smoke? The centre of the stick is filled with finely shredded tobacco. Actually it looks like the bottom is, too, but BAT say that’s not tobacco. It could be shredded cork or something similar.
In Japan the NeoStiks are priced about the same as normal cigarettes, as are iQOS HeatSticks. Industry gossip suggests the reason for this is that nobody’s quite sure how they’ll be taxed yet, so BAT and PMI are both playing it safe. If they end up being taxed at a lower rate the price may fall in the future.
How does it work?
Using the glo is very simple. The cover on top slides to one side, revealing a hole about the size of a cigarette. All you have to do is insert a NeoStik into this hole until it won’t go any further. This is quite simple, like the iQOS, as long as you don’t rush it.
Once the stick is fully inserted all you have to do is press the button to turn the glo on, then wait for it to warm up. Progress can be tracked by watching the surround on the button; this progressively lights up as the coil temperature rises, the glow of the LEDs advancing clockwise wound the circle, and when the whole thing is illuminated it’s ready to go. Just in case you miss that the glo will also vibrate with a faint buzz when it reaches operating temperature. Then all you have to do is take a puff.
So the big question is, what’s it like? The answer is that it’s very good. Our agent was lucky enough to try the iQOS and glo together, and thinks the glo is just as good at producing vapour and has a slightly better taste. This was a bit surprising, as it runs at a much lower temperature – 240°C, rather than 350°C for its PMI competitor.
Each stick gives about as many puffs as a traditional cigarette, and when the glo decides you’ve fully vaped it, the device will vibrate again and turn itself off. This seems to be aimed at making sure you don’t overheat the tobacco to the point where it starts producing nasties.
Looking at the used stick was interesting. The heat seems to be applied in a narrow ring, just below the end of the plastic tube. It’s hard to say how much of the tobacco is being affected by it. On the other hand it doesn’t matter much, because whatever the glo is doing, it works.
The overall concept of glo is very similar to the iQOS, but BAT have taken a different approach to the hardware. Our first impression is that this has paid off. Battery life is much better than the PMI device – although it’s hard to say yet if it lives up to BAT’s claims of a 30-stick life between charges, because we didn’t get that many sticks. The downside is that the device itself is much bulkier, and unlike iQOS you certainly can’t hold it like a traditional cigarette.
It does seem to do the job, though. There’s a satisfying amount of vapour and the taste is very good. The device itself is simple and well made, and disposing of used sticks is a lot less messy than emptying an ashtray. This is a very interesting product, and if it’s released in the UK we think it has a lot of potential.
There’s more interest than ever before in safer alternatives to smoking, with millions of smokers either thinking about moving to new technology or already having taken the plunge – mostly with electronic cigarettes. E-cigs aren’t for everyone, though. Many smokers have tried them and found that they didn’t really work for them; some have been put off by misleading newspaper articles claiming that vaping is just as unhealthy as smoking; still more simply don’t want to give up their real tobacco.
Heat not Burn technology is the new hope for smokers who want that authentic tobacco taste, and although the devices aren’t all that widely available yet they’re steadily being rolled out. iQOS is now on sale in the UK, for example. By the end of the year HnB products should be on sale in a lot more places, giving a new option for smokers.
HnB or e-cigs – What’s better?
It’s likely that the next few years will see a lot of arguments about which technology is better – e-cigs or HnB. They both aim to do the same thing, but take different approaches to it, and we can safely assume that each side will have plenty of enthusiastic supporters. Which will win in the long run? Who knows? However, British American Tobacco have already tried to combine the best of both worlds with their iFUSE device.
So what’s iFUSE? Basically it’s a hybrid device that starts with a fairly standard e-cigarette, then adds some elements of HnB technology aimed at creating a more authentic tobacco taste. It’s an interesting concept, so have BAT managed to get it to work?
If you’re familiar with latest-generation tobacco industry e-cigs like PMI’s Mesh, the iFUSE will have a familiar feel to it. The designers have obviously put a high priority on making it easy to use, and they’ve done a very good job of that. It isn’t quite as simple as the Mesh, but then nothing is as simple as the Mesh – and the iFUSE has a lot more going on inside.
Externally, there are two visible components. The battery is a fairly standard looking unit about the size of an eGo battery, but with a more flattened cross-section. It feels well-made and has a nice rubberised coating which, along with its light weight, makes it very comfortable to hold. There’s a USB charging port and a single large button, which appears to be metal and has a reasonably nice clicky feel. It’s not up to the standard you’d expect on a high-end e-cig, but then the iFUSE device costs just £14.99. At the top end of the battery is a proprietary connector for the cartridges it uses, which we’ll come back to.
The cartridge isn’t visible when the iFUSE is assembled; a large cover, which BAT call the mouthpiece, slips on over it. This is in two parts – the actual mouthpiece is black plastic, and is inserted into the end of a metal cone that covers the cartridge. The cones are available in a couple of different colours – silver and gold ones are for sale through the iFUSE site, but the same site has illustrations of some more options. Presumably they’ll be available soon.
When it’s all put together the overall effect is a simple, clean-looking little device. It’s not much larger than a standard eGo-type electronic cigarette, and no heavier. It is bulkier than an iQOS, but not by much – and it feels lighter, too.
Meet the Neopod
It’s inside that the iFUSE does things differently. It’s fed with disposable cartridges which BAT are calling Neopods; these carry the Kent cigarette brand, and they come in three flavours so far: Tobacco, Crisp Blue and Winter Green. Each Neopod is plastic, slightly tapered and a couple of inches long; inside it are three components, one of them unique to the iFUSE.
At the bottom of the cartridge, where it plugs into the battery, is a standard heating coil. This is fed from a reservoir of nicotine-containing liquid, which seems to be similar to regular e-liquid for an electronic cigarette. That’s what produces the actual vapour you inhale, so no surprises there. Where the Neopod is different from a Mesh or Vype Pen cartridge is that above the liquid tank, and directly below the mouthpiece, is a cylinder of finely chopped tobacco.
To use the iFUSE you just turn it on by pressing the button three times, and take a puff. It has an auto switch, so there’s no need to press the button every time you inhale, and because it’s creating the vapour from e-liquid there’s no need to let it warm up. This is an irritation with the iQOS; having to wait for the coil to reach running temperature isn’t exactly spontaneous. The iFUSE, on the other hand, is ready to go right away.
When you inhale the coil activates, vaporising some of the liquid. This is then drawn through the tobacco capsule, heating it and releasing the complex aromatics that give cigarette smoke its taste. Instead of being artificially flavoured, like e-cig vapour, you’re inhaling real tobacco flavour.
So does it work?
The iFUSE is a very interesting concept, backed up with simple and nicely made hardware. The only problem is, it doesn’t work very well. There’s a hint of tobacco flavour, but not really very much of it. The vapour itself is also quite thin, and the throat hit isn’t a patch on the Mesh or a conventional e-cigarette. It’s no match for an iQOS either.
Most likely, the problem is that the system just doesn’t apply enough heat to the tobacco. It’s not a full-on HnB product anyway, but the reason things like the iQOS work the way they do is that it takes quite a lot of heat to get a decent flavour from tobacco – and the iFUSE isn’t delivering it. There could be potential for it with a bit more development, but right now it suffers from being neither one thing nor the other. It’s a mediocre e-cigarette, and physics is against it really working like HnB.
It’s disappointing that the iFUSE doesn’t live up to its potential, because it is a nice and affordable little gadget. The vapour delivery is what really matters, though, and it just isn’t there yet. Buy a proper HnB device instead.