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Pod Mod review – the new iQOS Mesh

Pod Mod review

A few weeks ago I talked about pod mods, the new generation of ultra-convenient e-cigarettes that are popping up on shelves all over the place. Although we’re mainly interested in Heat not Burn devices here we think pod mods are pretty cool too – they’re much easier to use than conventional e-cigs, which is ideal if you want something that’s as simple as a cigarette. We’re also now selling one, the new iQOS Mesh from PMI, so I thought it would be a good idea if I checked one out to see what it was like. A Mesh was duly ordered, and turned up late last week along with a supply of the VEEV pods it eats.

Before I go any further it’s time for a quick confession. In my previous article on pod mods I said I already had a Mesh. Well, that turned out to be only partly true. Last year I “borrowed” a PMI Mesh from Dick Puddlecote, and at the time I was quite impressed with it. However the new iQOS-branded Mesh is a very different animal. It shares the same design philosophy, but every part of the device and its pods is bang up to date. So, if you’ve read anything about the old Mesh, forget it; the iQOS version is a brand-new product. Let’s have a look at it.

First impressions

The Mesh in its box.

The new Mesh comes in a neat cardboard box; pull the top off and there’s the device itself, nestled in the usual plastic tray. It didn’t take long to start spotting differences. The new Mesh is much longer and slimmer than the old one, and also has a higher quality feel. My old Mesh has a rubberized plastic body, quite short and with a flattened oval cross section; the new one is aluminium except for the plastic end cap, and it’s round. One nice touch is that there’s a flat strip down one side to help stop it rolling away if you lay it on the table. Two-thirds of the body has a nice satin finish; the hollow top end is highly polished.

This is a very simple device. There’s a single power button which turns the Mesh on or off when pressed for three seconds. On the end cap is a micro-USB charging port and an LED indicator that tells you it’s charging. The other end is open; that’s where you plug in the VEEV pod.

Overall the iQOS Mesh feels very solid, but it’s also remarkably light. It’s a much bigger device than a JUUL or MyBlu, roughly the size of a large cigar, but every time I pick it up I’m surprised by how little it weighs. It’s pretty impressive, considering the all-metal body and the fact there’s a 900mAh battery packed away in there.

Apart from the mod itself, there isn’t a huge amount in the box. Lift out the tray and open the cardboard lid underneath, and you’ll find a charging cable and a UK plug adapter for it; that’s all.

IQOS MESH BANNER

The review

Anyway, I don’t believe in messing about, so after playing with my new toy for not very long I plugged it in and topped up the battery. It was pretty well charged straight out the box, so the next time I looked away from my screen for a minute it was ready to go (a full charge takes about an hour, and it has a passthrough feature, so you can vape while it charges).

Old (left) and new Mesh pods. They both hold 2ml of liquid.

With the battery fully charged I dug out a Tobacco Harmony-flavoured VEEV pod and unwrapped it. These are also very different from the old Mesh pods. For a start, they’re a whole lot smaller. The old pods clipped over the end of the battery, and had a lot of empty space inside; the new ones plug into the hollow cone at the top of the mod, so they can be a lot more compact for a similar liquid capacity (I can’t remember how much the old ones held, but they were TPD-compliant, so no more than 2ml; the new ones contain 2ml of 6mg, 11mg or 18mg liquid). The actual heating element is the same idea, though; instead of a coil it’s a small square of fine wire mesh which seems to double as a wick, so there’s no risk of anything burning. In fact the Mesh is actually a temperature control device; it regulates the power going to the wick to prevent overheating and the dreaded “dry puff”.

To stop liquid moving around inside unused pods and dribbling out the mouthpiece there’s a small rubber seal fitted to each pod. Once you’ve unwrapped the pod all you have to do is pull out the seal and plug the pod into the end of the device. They fit either way up; just don’t use any force to insert it. If it’s not going in just twist it gently until it does.

With a VEEV loaded, all you have to do is press the button for a couple of seconds until it lights up, then take a puff. It’s not a fire button; the Mesh has an automatic switch that heats up when you puff. The button is purely an off/on switch. If you don’t take a puff for three minutes the Mesh will automatically power down again.

As for the actual vaping experience, I was impressed! I’ve read one review that said the vapour production and throat hit were disappointing. Well, all I can say is they must have been doing it wrong, because I get plenty of vapour out of mine. Is the throat hit the same as I get from my usual combo of a Rouleaux RX200 and Limitless RDTA loaded with 24mg liquid? Of course not. Then again you could put the Rouleaux in a sock and beat rhinos to death with it, and it dribbles like a senile dog. The Mesh is slim, light and compact, and it never leaks. At all.

My Mesh came with two flavours – Tobacco Harmony is a rich tobacco blend, and Cool Peppermint; you can probably guess what that one tastes of. Both flavours were excellent; although I never liked menthol cigarettes I really got to like the peppermint, in particular. For the average user a VEEV pod should last about a day, making it roughly equivalent to a pack of cigarettes – and, at £2.99 for a pack of two, a lot cheaper. The battery holds enough charge to get through a whole pod and part of the next one, but I tended to recharge it between pods anyway.

The point to keep in mind is that the Mesh wasn’t designed to replace your favourite mod and dripper. It’s an easy to use, but very effective, device aimed at people who just want a simple alternative to cigarettes. I think it’s ideal for that – and it’s a great choice if you want some thing compact and non-dribbly to take to the pub, as well. In short, it does exactly what a pod mod is supposed to do, and it does it very well.

Verdict

I liked the original Mesh when I tried it last year, and I like the new, improved version even more. PMI have taken a good basic concept and made it even better, producing a very well-made pod mod that’s simple, effective and great value. If you’re looking for an e-cig that just works, with no messing around with refill bottles or coil changes, the iQOS Mesh is an excellent choice.

To see our entire iQOS Mesh and VEEV collection please click here.

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The Lil Solid from KT&G – Exclusive Heat not Burn UK review!

Lil Solid

You probably remember that, a couple of months ago, the Heat not Burn UK team were very excited about the Lil from Korean Tobacco & Ginseng. As far as we know we did the first review of the Lil that wasn’t written in Korean, and I have to admit we were impressed by it. Maybe more than any other device we’ve tested, this was a genuine rival to the iQOS. Easy to use and pretty compact, compatible with Heets and delivering both decent battery life and a very good vape, the Lil is a really good package.

What really impressed us, though, was that by the time our Lil arrived a new version was already hitting the shelves in South Korea and racking up impressive sales figures. That’s a pretty quick product life cycle, especially for a major company. Vapers are used to products that come and go in a matter of a few months, because that market’s driven by small and medium independent companies that need to innovate constantly to stay in the game. I expect something similar to happen in the emerging independent HnB sector, with devices getting updated or replaced every few months.

It’s a bit different for the major tobacco companies, though. They have to be more cautious, because unlike a small engineering firm in Shenzhen they’re going to face major blowback if they get it wrong. That’s why products like iQOS and Glo spend a couple of years on sale in limited test markets before they get rolled out globally; the company has time to identify and iron out any issues, while limiting their exposure if there’s a problem.

KT&G don’t seem to be as cautious as other tobacco companies, though. We hadn’t even heard of the Lil until last October, and a few months later I had one in my hand. By that time its replacement was already on sale. KT&G might not be a global player, but they’re still a big company – and for a big company, releasing two generations of a product in less than a year is fast.

Anyway, back to the gadget. We said at the time that we’d get one for review as soon as we could, and now it’s here. In fact it’s been here for a few days, and now it’s been through our intensive Heat not Burn UK testing process. Read on to find out what’s new in South Korean heated tobacco products!

The Review

The new product is called the Lil Solid, and it comes packed in exactly the same neat cardboard box as its older brother. Strip off the plastic wrapping and lift the magnetically-closed side flap, and you’ll find the Lil Plus sitting securely in a plastic tray. That lifts out to reveal an instruction manual (which I didn’t read because a) it’s all in Korean and b) reading the instructions is for girls) and, under that, a flap which covers another tray packed with accessories.

After giving the Lil Solid itself a bit of a double take I pawed through all the extra bits, which are identical to what comes with the original Lil – a USB cable and plug, some alcohol-soaked cleaning sticks and a neat little brush. Everything feels high quality and does its job very well. So, finding no surprises there, I went back to the actual device.

I mentioned that I gave it a double take when I opened the box. That’s because we’d been led to believe the Lil Solid would be smaller and lighter. Well, it isn’t. In fact my first impression was that the only difference between the new Lil Solid and my old Lil was that the new one is blue.

On closer inspection this wasn’t quite the case. The Lil Solid is about an eighth of an inch shorter than its predecessor because the base, which was slightly convex on the Lil, has been flattened. That means you can stand it upright if you want. I was always trying this with the Lil and even succeeded a few times, but it falls over if you look at it funny. The new one is a lot more stable, which I like.

They’re the same size, but the blue one stands up.

Apart from that tiny difference, though, they’re exactly the same size. In fact, just to check, I swapped the top caps around and they fitted perfectly. So if you were hoping for a device that packed the Lil’s performance into a smaller package, this isn’t it. On the other hand that’s not a big deal, because it’s a pretty compact unit anyway.

Once I’d examined the Lil Solid in detail I found a few more small differences. The sliding button that covers the heating chamber is a lot less plasticky, for example. The power button now has a neat metal trim, and the LED indicator in it is hidden until it lights up. Overall it feels like a more polished product. The top plate is still stamped out of some copper-coloured alloy, but it’s neat enough and completely functional.

There’s obviously been some work done inside, too. One of the things I liked about the original Lil was how easy it was to clean (or remove tobacco plugs that had detached themselves when I removed a used stick). All you have to do is pull off the plastic shroud that surrounds the heating chamber, and the tobacco comes out with it. The Solid keeps this neat system, but while the Lil’s shroud will fit in the Solid, the Solid’s won’t fit the Lil. I’m not totally sure what the difference is, but KT&G clearly thought it needed a tweak.

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Testing!

Playing with shiny things is always fun, but the important thing is how it vapes. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect here. We’d heard that the Solid would have an upgraded heating element, but then we’d also heard it would be smaller and lighter; well, you already know how that turned out. Anyway I plugged it in to top up the charge – a full charge takes about an hour – then dug out some sticks and got vaping.

This time I had four packs of KT&G’s own Fiit sticks to play with. Three of them were different varieties of Change Up sticks, which have a breakable flavour capsule embedded in the filter. The names of the flavours were a bit unhelpful – Change Up, Change and Sparky – but I was able to guess what they were. Change is a fresh spearmint, Change Up is a classic menthol and Sparky seems to be a mint/citrus blend that really was very nice. The fourth pack, labelled Match, was a medium tobacco blend that tasted pretty similar to an Amber HEET.

With the battery fully charged and a Match in place, I held down the button until the device vibrated and then started my stopwatch. I was hoping that it would heat up faster than the Lil’s impressive 15 seconds, but it didn’t. In fact it took a couple of seconds longer, but I’m putting that down to my office being a hell of a lot colder than it was on those sweltering days in June when I reviewed the original. Just to verify that I tested the Lil too, and got the same result.

Anyway, 17 seconds after I pressed the button the Lil Solid vibrated again, letting me know it was at running temperature, and I took a vape. How was it? Well, it was exactly the same as the Lil, which is to say it was very good indeed. I’m going to repeat what I said about this device being at least as good as the iQOS. There’s plenty of vapour, and it’s warm, satisfying and richly flavoured. Interestingly, although I was never a fan of menthols when I smoked, I found myself really enjoying the Change Up sticks.

I soon found one change that’s been made to how the device works; while the Lil ran for four minutes or 14 puffs, the Lil Solid shuts down after three and a half minutes. That makes sense; by that time the stick is pretty much done anyway. Like the Lil it gives you a warning buzz ten seconds before it powers down, so you can grab a last dash of nicotine.

Battery life was pretty much exactly the same as the original Lil. A full charge was good for roughly one pack of sticks, which is respectable. Combined with its quick charging time, there’s no reason to be caught short during the day unless you’re a really heavy user. Of course I am a really heavy user, but I was testing it at my desk. Plugging it in for a few minutes between sticks kept the battery fully charged.

Cleaning was as easy as I’d expected. I did find the Solid a little more prone to pulling the tobacco out of used sticks as I removed them, but it’s so easy to clear the residue that I wasn’t really bothered.

Conclusions

After testing the Lil Solid I think I can see how KT&G managed to get it on the market so quickly. This isn’t really a new device; it’s basically the original Lil with the rough edges polished off. So is it worth getting one if you’re in Korea? Definitely! Yes, it’s a slightly tweaked Lil. That’s fine; the Lil is an excellent heat not burn system. The Solid is just as good, a bit more refined, and it’s still compatible with Heets. If for some reason the iQOS isn’t for you, this is a great alternative.

I might be the only person in the western world who can do this.
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Dud or diamond? – The VCOT from Ewildfire

VCOT from Ewildfire

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

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vaping the VCOT

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few little issues

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

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

Burned and broken Heets – not a good sign.

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

 

 

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Heat not Burn news roundup – August 2018

Heat not Burn news roundup

Over the last few weeks we’ve been pretty busy finding new Heat not Burn devices to review, and we have a few on their way to us right now. We still find time to check the news, though, and we decided it was time to give you another update on what’s happening with HnB around the world.

As usual the news is a pretty mixed bag. There’s some good news from the UK, where a parliamentary committee has given HnB a thumbs-up in its latest report on reduced-harm products. There’s bad news from India, where anti-tobacco activists are spreading misinformation about iQOS before it’s even on sale. Philip Morris are challenging New Zealand rules that force Heets to be sold with the same packaging and health warnings as cigarettes, and slowing growth for iQOS is being chalked up to increasing competition as other companies enter the market. Overall the last few weeks have been pretty lively for HnB, and we don’t expect that to slow down any time soon.

Indian ANTZ take aim at iQOS

iQOS is currently on sale in 38 countries around the world, but hasn’t yet challenged cigarettes in one of their biggest markets – India. PMI is now planning to launch the device in India, most likely in the first half of 2019, but anti-harm reduction activists are already mobilising to protect the status quo. The first salvo in this battle was fired in mid-August with an article in The Hindu, one of India’s two leading newspapers.

The article was written by Vandana Shah, South Asia Programs Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an American organisation that’s already notorious for its fanatical opposition to e-cigarettes. As would be expected from Tobacco Free Kids it’s very light on science, and very heavy on alarming but unfounded claims. Shah tells us that there’s no evidence HnB is safer than smoking (there is) and that the products are aimed at young people (they’re not). He claims iQOS is “designed and packaged to resemble a sleek smartphone” to appeal to under-25s – the only thing its design has in common with a smartphone is that it’s vaguely rectangular.

In another article, published by the Deccan Chronicle, cancer specialist Dr Vijay Anand Reddy claimed that “any form of tobacco is carcinogenic. The new method of heated tobacco does not mean that the chemicals in the products are reduced.” This statement is simply false; tests conducted by independent labs have found dramatic reductions in all significant toxins in iQOS vapour compared to cigarette smoke.

Almost a quarter of a billion Indians use traditional tobacco products, so a successful iQOS launch in the country has the potential to save a huge number of lives. However, that goal is threatened by extremists like Shah and Reddy. Indian harm reduction advocates need to come out fighting before this propaganda swings public opinion against safer products.

HnB competition heats up

Investment experts are talking down PMI shares this week in what many have interpreted as a sign of weakness in the market. Leading adviser Jefferies Group have changed their “Buy” recommendation to “Hold”, meaning that while hanging on to the shares is a good idea this isn’t the right time to be buying more.

Jefferies Group’s actual explanation for the change is good news for Heat not Burn, though. The downgrade was triggered by slower than expected growth in iQOS sales – and that’s happening because rival products are hitting the shelves. While iQOS is still growing and will continue to do so, it’s now facing some serious competition at last; BAT’s Glo is rolling out across Europe this year, KT&G are mounting a strong challenge in the important South Korean market with their Lil, and Chinese industry is piling on with a series of devices that piggyback on the availability of PMI’s Heets (and will probably help keep Heet sales rising).

Despite the downgrade, PMI is still outperforming Altria – the cigarette-only side of Philip Morris. That’s being driven by strong iQOS growth in Europe and other new markets, while Altria’s cigarette sales are sharply down.

PMI challenges NZ packaging rules for Heets

The last legal obstacles to selling Heets in New Zealand seem to have been removed, but PMI says the country’s laws are still too restrictive. In early August the company announced that to comply with the Ministry of Health’s interpretation of the law, they’ll put the HnB consumables in cigarette-style standardised packaging with the usual gruesome health warnings. However they’re only doing that under protest.

James Williams, general manager of Philip Morris NZ, says that labelling Heets with health warnings meant for cigarettes is “inappropriate and misleading”. With a growing body of evidence to say that HnB products eliminate almost all the health risks of smoking, the company wants the laws on packaging to reflect that key difference. While PMI are happy to note that Heets are not risk-free and do contain nicotine, they object to warnings that falsely claim iQOS produces smoke and causes the same health issues as cigarettes do.

According to Williams smokers deserve access to accurate and non-misleading information about reduced-risk products. Right now, New Zealand’s packaging laws aren’t giving them that.

UK parliament committee backs HnB

A report last week by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee was praised for strongly supporting e-cigarettes – but it also recommended that the government should ease restrictions and lower taxes on other tobacco harm reduction products, including HnB and Swedish snus. According to the influential committee tobacco products should be taxed at a rate that reflects the health risk they present.

HnB devices like iQOS are, conservatively, at least 90% less harmful than cigarettes, and that could make a big difference to the price of Heets. Right now, Heets are priced at roughly the same point as cigarettes, but that’s a hedge against them being taxed at the same level in the future. If they benefited from a much lover rate of tax there would be room for PMI to cut the price dramatically while still making a profit. iQOS and similar devices are already a tempting alternative to cigarettes; if the price of Heets fell in proportion to the reduced risk they deliver they’d attract even more smokers.

 

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Another New Gadget – the NOS Tobacco Vaporizer

NOS Tobacco Vapouriser

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

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

The Review

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

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

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

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

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

The NOS in action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, we test these things pretty thoroughly

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

Conclusions

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

 

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What growth path can we expect for heat-not-burn in new markets?

Growth

The explosive growth of heat-not-burn products in Japan and Korea, which has taken a huge chunk out of the market for traditional cigarettes, has everyone wondering where else we might see that happen. No one knows the answer for sure, of course, but there are a few patterns that seem fairly safe to predict.

 

Modeling work I did about the uptake of e-cigarettes a few years ago (example) suggests that the uptake of a low-risk tobacco product will have two distinct periods of rapid growth. The first is caused by pent-up demand. Before the product was introduced, there were people who wanted it, though they did not know this yet, of course. As soon as it was introduced, and knowledge about it became widespread, they started buying it. This causes an initial uptick in consumption rather than steady growth along the lines of “X new consumers per week, every week, for a year.”

 

Of course, that increase might not stick. Japan Tobacco introduced an alternative product, Zero Style Mint, in 2010 which was superficially like an e-cigarette or heat-not-burn device. However it basically just consisted of inhaling room-temperature air through a tube past some processed tobacco. This delivered neither enough nicotine nor a sufficiently smoking-like experience to be appealing to smokers. Sales spiked (pent-up demand for an alternative to smoking) and then crashed (almost no one actually liked it). Heat-not-burn has cleared that hurdle. Lots of smokers in Japan and elsewhere really like it.

 

The perfect low-risk substitute for many smokers would be something that was exactly like a cigarette in all ways (aesthetics, appearance and other factors that contribute to cultural acceptability, delivery of nicotine and other psychoactive chemicals, price) except that it posed little health risk, and as a possible added bonus did not make such a mess. Heat-not-burn checks most of those boxes.

 

Of course some smokers actively embrace contrasts with cigarettes, such as the variety of flavors available for e-cigarettes. Some are not be willing to accept any variation on their beloved cigarettes in pursuit of lower risk. But for many, heat-not-burn is close enough (in terms of what they want) and enough lower risk to make that worthwhile.

 

After the initial spike and after the acceptability hurdle is cleared, we can expect a period of slower growth until a particular critical mass of consumers is reached. My modeling was built around the assumption (correct, I still believe) that the “cultural acceptability” hurdle is one of the largest. Someone’s culture, in this case, is a combination of the people who influence him the most (relatives, friends, patrons of the same pubs) and overall popularity in whatever he considers “his” population to be (everyone in the country, people in the region, people in his socioeconomic class). If someone has no friends who use a product and only a tiny portion of the population does, it takes greater determination and confidence for him to make a switch, and he might not even know about the product. If the new product seems just as normal as regular smoking in his culture, acceptability and knowledge are no longer barriers.

 

My modeling suggested that for almost any parameterization (i.e., input assumptions about the distribution of preferences and how people interact) there would come a point when slow growth hit a critical mass. The next few people who switched would be enough to raise the cultural acceptability enough to ensure that even more people quickly switched, and so on. This would feed-forward, creating a rapid rise until most of those who have not switched really do not want to.

 

I did this in the context of e-cigarettes, which had a rather larger cultural acceptability and knowledge hurdle than heat-not-burn. The better early generation products were sufficiently strange and challenging that the pent-up demand spike was modest. The easiest cigarette-like product were not very satisfying, so suffered the Zero Style Mint problem. For almost all smokers, this was not the alternative they were looking for, but just did not have yet. The second phase of growth in those models was much greater, as it seemed to be in real-life where vaping really took hold (particularly England).

 

Heat-not-burn will probably not play out the same way. The first growth phase ought to be a lot bigger for reasons already noted. That, however, means that it will comprise a larger portion of the total potential market, reducing the potential size of the second fast growth phase before everyone who is a good candidate for switching has switched.

 

So, how many is that? And what happens after the second period of rapid growth? Will it be indefinite continuing inroads into the smoking market, or a hard ceiling?

 

That depends. Indeed, that is the answer to every other quantitative question you might be asking here (e.g., How big is each period of high growth? How long between the various phases?) Unfortunately, to answer any of those requires having great precision in model inputs. It is fairly clear that those modeling the market for heat-not-burn have no idea, as evidenced by the irrational spike in PMI’s market capitalization due to the iQOS’s early success in Japan, followed by a crash when investors discovered that the initial growth phase does not continue forever (a bit more about that here).

 

Switching patterns can vary wildly. For example, it took decades before smokers Norway, which shares a great deal of cultural influence with Sweden, started to switch to snus in droves. Why the delay? Snus has been popular and mainstream in Sweden for almost half a century and has long been more popular than smoking. But Norway only saw a major shift a few years ago. Meanwhile, Finland and Denmark, where the influence might acted sooner, were hobbled by the European Union ban on snus (Sweden has an exemption and Norway is not in the EU), which is one of a whole different set of policy variables.

 

Still, it seems safe to draw a few conclusions. Japan was probably the best-case-scenario for pent-up demand for heat-not-burn. Smoking is popular among relatively well-educated and well-off people who are strong candidates for switching. Adding a bit of tech gadgetry to a stick is not exactly going to be seen as odd in such a tech-forward population. Meanwhile, e-cigarettes are banned and snus was always a cultural non-starter. In a population where e-cigarettes have already grown in popularity there is less pent-up demand. Some vapers might switch, of course, but most have settled in to what they do. Thus, we will probably not see as bit an initial growth phase for heat-not-burn sales in new markets.

 

However, it seems likely that there is a much higher ceiling for uptake compared to e-cigarettes, because heat-not-burn better checks all of the boxes. This is not based on any modeling, but rather is the type of observation that is needed as an input into the modeling. It is possible that a large fraction of smokers in some countries could switch over the course of five or ten years.

 

However, both heat-not-burn and e-cigarettes fail to check one of the boxes in most of the world: These tech products are only price competitive because of the high prices for cigarettes in rich countries (which include high taxes, which have usually been lower for low-risk products in markets where they took off). Cigarettes are a simple product whose price reflects the local cost-of-living like food prices do, and the same is true for smokeless tobacco. But high tech imports will have prices that reflect their higher real resource costs and the higher costs of doing business where they are made. Thus, the idea of migrating more than a small fraction of the world’s smokers to heat-not-burn seems like fantasy for the foreseeable future.

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HnB UK Exclusive Review – the Lil from KT&G

KT&G Lil and Fiits

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

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

The Review

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

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

Lil plus accessories

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

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

Testing!

Lil top view showing slider cover

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

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

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

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The Lil Experience

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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BAT invests a billion dollars in Romanian HnB factory

HnB Factory Romania

There’s been a lot of talk recently from opponents of Heat not Burn – including, regrettably, some of the less intelligent vape reviewers – about how the technology has already peaked. Growth has slowed, they say; fewer smokers are switching to HnB, and the market is already saturated. It’s true that iQOS sales in Japan have slowed over the last quarter, but does this mean the great heated tobacco experiment is fizzling out?

Well, I’m not convinced. Has iQOS reached market saturation in Japan? It might have done. That wouldn’t really be a huge surprise. After all, iQOS is the first generation of HnB that’s really gone mass market. Maybe all the Japanese smokers who feel like switching have done so already, and sales are going to fall back to existing users replacing their devices. This happens when a new product disrupts an existing market.

What’s the good news?

Japan isn’t the only market for HnB, though – not by a long way. iQOS, the most widely available product, is now on sale in most of Europe as well as in Asia, but it hasn’t hit the huge US market yet. It’s still going through FDA approval, but if it gets there (and it probably will) millions more smokers are likely to switch. Then there’s Glo, which so far is only available in selected countries. Maybe KT&G will release their Lil outside South Korea – and I hope they do, because I have one on my desk right now and it’s excellent.

Then, of course, there’s the technology itself to consider. HnB has been around since the 1990s at least, but iQOS, Glo and Lil are the first generation of really effective devices. Compare that with e-cigarettes for a moment. The first really effective, widely available e-cig was probably the JoyeTech eGo. Now compare an eGo with today’s entry-level devices. There’s a bit of a difference, isn’t there? Well, iQOS and Glo are the eGo of heated tobacco.

Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and others are all working to improve and refine the technology that’s gone into their existing HnB systems. Over the next few years we can expect to see improved versions appearing – devices that will be even easier to use, come even closer to the experience of smoking a cigarette, and reduce the harm even more. A lot of smokers who weren’t quite convinced by the first generation of products will decide to switch once something even better is on the market.

Again, this is exactly what we saw with vaping. I found my first e-cig on a market stall in Kabul. It was an old-style three piece cigalike, and it was bloody awful. There was no way a device like that was going to replace my smoking habit, which seeing as 200 Marlboro cost a whole $10 in the PX was pretty heavy. On the other hand it did work just fine to keep nicotine deprivation at bay on my regular seven-hour flights home, so it was enough to keep e-cigs in my mind. Later, when I decided I really had to quit smoking, I found an eGo-C kit and that was actually good enough to do the job. What I’m using now, of course, blows an eGo – or a Marlboro, for that matter – right out of the water.

Growth to come

Anyway, I don’t think the market for Heat not Burn products has peaked, or even come close to its full potential. And, it seems, neither do British American Tobacco. I can say that pretty confidently, because BAT have just announced that they plan to spend a billion dollars upgrading one of their factories and turning it into their European centre for HnB manufacturing.

Romania was the first European market for Glo – and also an early one for iQOS – and BAT already have an established manufacturing capability there. The company’s market share in Romania is around 55%, and to support that they have a large factory at Ploiești. This is the factory that’s going to benefit from that billion-dollar investment over the next five years.

BAT’s plan is to roll Glo out across more European countries in the second half of this year, and to do that they need a reliable supply of Neostiks – ideally a supply that doesn’t involve shipping them from Asia. The plan is for Ploiești to become the sole European manufacturing and supply centre for Neostiks. The plant already supplies the European market with pods for the iFuse hybrid device, so it looks set to become a major centre for BAT’s reduced-harm products.

A bright future

If BAT weren’t anticipating strong sales of Glo in Europe, they’d be very unlikely to spend €800,000,000 on the infrastructure to support those sales. Clearly they’re confident, and I think they’re right to be. Glo will suit a lot of smokers who just didn’t get on with iQOS. Personally I think iQOS comes closer to the taste and sensation of a cigarette, but that has to be balanced against Glo’s huge battery capacity. Both devices have their strong points and I think Glo is going to do well as it hits new markets.

I’m not the only one who thinks that, either. The Times made BAT last week’s Share of the Week, citing the company’s investment in reduced harm products as a likely source of future growth. PMI might have seen their profit growth slow along with iQOS sales in Japan, but investors can obviously see a big market waiting to be tapped into.

Meanwhile, BAT’s Ploiești factory is going to get an extra 7,000 square metres of manufacturing space and plans to take on an extra 200 people to work on the new production line. PMI are also expanding in Romania, spending over $500 million to convert a cigarette factory near Bucharest into a HEET factory. I don’t expect these to be the last HnB projects launched in Europe.