As mentioned before we are not all about the iQOS, sure it’s a great bit of kit but there are also many others out there. Here we see our very own HnB aficionado Fergus doing a hands on video review of British American Tobacco’s entry into the heat not burn market, the BAT Glo.
As Fergus rightly points out this is currently on limited release but as soon as it becomes available here in the UK we will do our best to add it to our online web store where we are currently selling the iQOS.
Also please see the “related” area underneath this video review for more posts related to the BAT Glo, including a very good tear down of the NeoStick, which is the name that BAT uses for its tobacco sticks.
We will be doing another video on the Vapour2 PRO Series 7 within the next couple of weeks along with an extensive blog post review so watch this space!
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!
If there’s a bad thing about heat not burn it’s that the latest products aren’t widely available yet. That’s slowly changing as they roll out across new markets, but when we reviewed iQOS last summer it was only on sale in a handful of countries – and the UK wasn’t one of them. Obviously we were very excited about doing one of the first UK reviews of a product that’s turned out to be a real game changer.
Well, now we’ve done it again. British American Tobacco’s new Glo is only available in Japan and South Korea right now, but Heat Not Burn UK have managed to get our hands on one and, as promised, it’s now been through a full review.
You might remember that we did a preliminary review of the Glo a while ago. That was interesting, but it did have some limits. The main ones were that it was a borrowed device, there weren’t many sticks with it, and the person who actually had it was at the other end of a Skype conversation and half way down a bottle of wine. It did give an idea of what Glo was like, but couldn’t match up to actually having one right here to play with and use regularly for a couple of days.
Anyway, on to the review:
Hands-on at last!
Unlike the last time we reviewed a Glo, this one came with the full retail packaging. The lid of the sturdy box comes off to reveal the Glo itself in a plastic tray; lift the tray out and you’ll find another one holding a USB cable, cleaning brush and warranty card.
Glo looks and feels very different from the iQOS. Instead of a slim tube about the size of a medium cigar, it’s more similar to a single-18650 box mod. In fact, although I haven’t taken it to bits, I suspect that’s what powers it. The wider edge of its nicely round aluminium body is exactly the right size to hold an 18650.
The device feels well-made and solid, without being too heavy – it’s noticeably lighter than a slightly smaller box mod. The end caps are grey plastic, with a glossy finish on the top one. The top cap also has a cover that slides open to reveal the NeoStik holder. On the bottom there’s a micro-USB charging port and a small plastic flap with a ring of tiny holes in the middle. Closed, this allows enough airflow for the device to work; slide it towards its hinge and let it go, and it springs open to allow access for the cleaning brush.
Apart from that there isn’t a lot to see. Everything is operated by a single metal button on the front of the device, set in an LED-illuminated ring. Well, I say “everything” but there isn’t really much to control except for turning it on.
To use the Glo, all you have to do is slide the top cover back and insert a NeoStik into the hole. Push it down until there’s only about an inch sticking out the top – it sometimes seems to stick a bit near the bottom, but you won’t break it. Then all you have to do is press the button and wait.
Glo seems to heat up slightly faster than iQOS – probably because it only goes to 240°C, instead of 350°C – and you can easily tell when it’s ready. Firstly, the LED ring around the button progressively lights up; when it’s fully illuminated you’re ready to go. Just in case you get distracted the device will vibrate and buzz when it’s at running temperature. Then all you have to do is start puffing.
When the device thinks the stick is done it will vibrate again and turn itself off; just pull out the stick, dispose of it and close the top cover. If you use it the way you’d smoke it runs for long enough to take ten or a dozen puffs – just like a cigarette. The question is, does it deliver the same experience?
Using the Glo
My Glo came with two packs of NeoStiks, one each in Menthol and Bright Tobacco flavour, both carrying the Kent brand. I played with the device for a few days, vaping a menthol stick every couple of hours as a change from my e-cigs – my plan was to keep the regular tobacco sticks for a full-day trial, as I was never a menthol smoker. I also cut one of them up for the last article.
I have to say, though, the menthol sticks were pretty good. The taste and sensation they delivered were exactly like a Consulate or Marlboro menthol, so these sticks are a definite win. If you smoke menthols right now, I think you’re going to like the Glo.
Anyway, last Friday morning I made sure the Glo was fully charged, put all my e-cigs away in a cupboard for the day, and broke out the bright tobacco sticks. I loaded one into the device, hit the button and waited for it to heat up. Then I vaped it.
Well, it was pretty good. It wasn’t like the high-tar cigarettes I used to like, but if you smoke Marlboro Gold it’s very close to that experience. There’s no shortage of nicotine hit, and the vapour replicates the taste of cigarette smoke very well.
One stick isn’t much of a test though; what I wanted to know was, could I use the Glo all day? Would it be satisfying enough to keep a smoker off the cigarettes? So, after my first stick, there were nineteen more to go. And I got through them all.
It worked, too. At no point did I feel that the sticks weren’t satisfying enough, and I usually sub-ohm 24mg e-liquid. I found myself reaching for the pack of sticks about every 40 minutes through the day. Using it was easy, too, and I didn’t find the short wait for it to heat up all that annoying. Once a stick is finished you can just drop it in the bin – there’s no need for ashtrays, and you won’t get flakes of ash all over the place either.
One thing I did notice was that there’s a distinct tobacco smell. By the end of the day my office smelled as if someone had smoked a couple of cigarettes in it. That was completely gone by next morning, though, with no stale aroma hanging around. Would it become more persistent if you used Glo every day? I don’t know the answer to that one.
Compared to iQOS the Glo isn’t quite as satisfying, probably because of its lower running temperature. To compensate, it’s a lot easier to use because you don’t need to worry about battery life so much.
When we first discussed the Glo, one interesting point was the claimed battery capacity. iQOS needs to be recharged frequently; the larger Glo packs in a lot more power storage, and BAT said a single charge would be enough to vape more than 30 NeoStiks. I admit to being sceptical about this, but it’s true.
After vaping a full pack of twenty sticks, the power indicator – that LED ring around the button again – showed the battery still had half its charge left. That’s pretty impressive, and means a single charge should keep a Glo in action all day.
Does Glo deliver exactly the same experience as smoking? Not quite – but it’s very close. If e-cigarettes don’t quite do it for you this gadget will definitely be worth a try when it starts appearing in your market.
A couple of months ago we looked at what’s inside one of the Heets that PMI’s iQOS is fed with. That’s turned out to be quite a popular post, which isn’t really a surprise. After all, it’s an exciting new technology and people want to know how it works.
Heat not Burn UK is an impartial site, though, and we don’t want to give too much free publicity to PMI, so the next two posts will be dedicated to British American Tobacco’s Glo. This has featured in our articles before, and we even did a limited review of it, but now we’re in a position to go a bit further. Although Glo has only been released in a couple of test markets so far, we now have one and a supply of NeoStiks for it. The next article here will be a full review of the Glo, based on using it exclusively for a couple of days.
This time we’re going to look at the innards of a NeoStik, just to see how it compares to a Heet. The two products are very similar in concept, so as you’d expect they’re put together quite similarly as well. The most obvious difference is the shape – NeoStiks are much longer and slimmer than Heets, so there’s no way to use one kind of stick in the other kind of device.
We’ll look inside a NeoStik in a minute, but first let’s go back to something that’s been said on this blog a few times – that you can’t put a Heet or NeoStik in your mouth, light the end and smoke it. Well, I still don’t know if you can do this with a Heet (and I suspect you can’t) but with a NeoStik? Yes, you can. They burn just like a normal cigarette, so you can smoke them. It’s not a good idea, though.
For a start, they only last for a few puffs, so even if the sticks end up being significantly cheaper than cigarettes it would be a very expensive way to smoke. The other problem is that after those few puffs there’s a strong taste of burning plastic. The internal components of the NeoStik are made to resist its operating temperature of about 240°C; if you light it things get much hotter. The smoke from a burning NeoStik isn’t any healthier than a cigarette, and once you start inhaling the plastic bits it’s probably a good bit worse. So don’t smoke them.
Investigating the NeoStik
Let’s assume you’re going to be sensible and use your NeoStiks in your shiny new Glo, like you’re supposed to. What exactly is it you’re slotting into the gadget?
Like a Heet, a NeoStik sort of resembles a miniature cigarette. However, where a Heet is the same diameter as a cigarette but much shorter, a NeoStik is about the same length as a cigarette but much slimmer. Here’s a side by side comparison of the two. If the Heet looks a bit scruffy that’s because it’s the empty paper from the one that was dissected for the article back in June, but you can still get a good idea of the size:
The NeoStik on its own is a very neat, slim item. As you can see from the grid on the board, it’s about 84mm long – the same length as a standard king-size cigarette. It’s only about half the diameter though. So anyway, what’s inside it? Time to get the scalpel out and slice it down the middle:
Straight away we can see why it’s possible to smoke a NeoStik. Unlike the Heet, which contains a small plug of rolled, reconstituted tobacco sheet, half the length of the NeoStik is filled with what looks like normal cigarette tobacco. So that answers that one. Now, what’s the rest of it?
Unfortunately the NeoStik couldn’t be dismantled the same way as the Heet could, because apart from the tobacco all the bits are firmly glued to the paper and can’t be removed without ripping the whole thing to shreds. It’s possible to see what’s in there, though.
Just above the tobacco is a rigid plastic lining that extends the full remaining length of the stick. Over half of it is empty, and there’s nothing between this empty section and the tobacco, which is why there are little bits of shredded leaf visible inside it in the photos – the scalpel blade pulled them with it. However, unless you cut the stick up the tobacco is firmly packed enough that it won’t go anywhere, and it wouldn’t matter much if it did.
Next there’s the filter. Like the Heet’s filter it’s very short, probably so it doesn’t absorb too much of the vapour. With these products there isn’t really any need for much of a filter, because the vapour contains little or no solid particulates. Finally, the end that forms the mouthpiece is empty – there’s just the plastic lining to keep it rigid.
A familiar concept
So the internal structure of a NeoStik isn’t that different from a Heet; it has most of the same parts, although they’re put together differently. This is probably because it works in a different way. The iQOS has a blade that the Heet is pushed down onto, and when the device is switched on this heats up.
Glo doesn’t have a blade; if you open the cover on the air intake at the bottom you can look right through the device. Instead, there’s a heating coil around this tube; it heats up the part of the NeoStik with the tobacco in it. If you look at a used stick you can see where the heat has slightly darkened the paper in and above this section:
So there you have it. This is BAT’s take on a heat not burn product, and while it follows the same principles as iQOS there are a few tweaks to how they’ve done it. How does it compare? The next article will be all about that!
When someone mentions Korea most of us think of the mad regime in the North. That’s a pity, because South Korea is much nicer – and, if you’re a fan of Heat not Burn, it’s also a lot more interesting right now. South Korea is now an expanding market for the leading HnB products, so much so that a local company is planning to join in.
Unlike its bizarre Stalinist neighbour South Korea is an advanced industrial country, with a relatively low smoking rate of 19.9% – slightly lower than Germany, but slightly higher than Japan. It also has tough anti-smoking laws that make it illegal to light up in almost any public place. The government is pretty serious about persuading its citizens not to smoke.
Unfortunately it has a couple of serious problems. The first, and probably the biggest, is the army. The country has the world’s sixth-largest standing army and second-largest reserves; in total it can mobilise 3.7 million troops, and all South Korean men have to do an obligatory 21 months of military service. This is a great way to defend against insane, highly militarised neighbours, but not so good if you’re trying to stub out smoking.
Soldiers smoke, often because it gives you something to do while you wait for the army to decide what’s happening to you next, and lots of Koreans pick up the habit while they’re in uniform. That 19.9% smoking rate? It breaks down into around 5% of South Korean women, but about 40% of men.
At the same time, vaping hasn’t really taken off in Korea the way it has in the UK or USA. It is possible to buy e-cigarettes, and there are some local manufacturers, but it hasn’t made a big dent in the smoking figures. Now, major tobacco companies are wondering if Heat not Burn can do a better job.
Here comes iQOS
HnB products are very new to the South Korean market; Philip Morris released its popular iQOS device on 27 May, and now has two stores in Seoul (if you like Korean music you’ll be pleased to hear that one of them is in Gangnam). They’re also selling the iQOS through the CU convenience store chain, which has about 3,000 branches across the country.
Philip Morris say they don’t have any firm sales figures yet but are seeing “growing popularity”. That sounds about right; an employee at a CU store says, “They have been all sold out every day.” It wouldn’t be surprising if this is the case because iQOS continues to do very well in Japan; it took a 0.8% share of the cigarette market in the first quarter of 2016, but had climbed to 4.5% by the end of the year. PMI say it’s now at around 7%.
With the iQOS apparently doing well in South Korea, British American Tobacco are aiming to introduce their rival Glo device in August. Glo is a similar format to iQOS and BAT Korea say they’ll be selling it at a slightly lower price. If they can get the device and its NeoStiks into enough shops it’s likely to catch on too.
A home-grown rival?
The global tobacco companies can’t expect to have it all their own way, though. HnB devices are consumer electronics, and when it comes to developing and manufacturing these South Korea is one of the world’s giants. The country that’s home to companies like Samsung and LG isn’t likely to let imported electronics flood its home market, is it?
No, it’s not. Clearly impressed at the popularity of the new technology, one of South Korea’s own tobacco companies is already looking at moving into the market. KT&G (it stands for “Korea Tomorrow & Global”, but used to be “Korea Tobacco Ginseng”) is the country’s largest tobacco manufacturer. It’s a major player locally, with 62% of South Korea’s cigarette market, and its Esse superslim brand is also popular in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Now KT&G want to release a HnB product to take on Glo and iQOS – and they’re not hanging around. According to the company they’ve been watching the heated tobacco trend since 2012 and want to have their own device on the market by the end of this year.
That’s quite an ambition. If they can pull it off, they’ll be in on the ground floor with PMI and BAT. The multinationals will have a bit of a head start, but not enough to let them build up real dominance, and that’s likely to be balanced by consumers’ familiarity with KT&G brands.
The real question is what will the product be like? Unfortunately KT&G haven’t released any details yet, but if they think they can get in on the shelves by the end of the year – even as a trial product – then its design must already be fairly advanced. A HnB device isn’t something you can just throw together; PMI have invested more than $3 billion in iQOS so far, and BAT can’t have spent much less on Glo. iQOS is the latest version of a basic concept first trialled in 1998, as Accord, then redeveloped in 2007 as Heatbar.
So will it happen?
If KT&G are going to have any chance at all of getting a product on the market by December, it would need to be pretty much ready to go into production by this point. That means it would need to have been tested already, and probably tried by a good number of consumers to get their feedback on it. If this has been done, it’s been done unusually discreetly – we can’t find any details or images of a KT&G device anywhere.
Of course, South Korean companies are very good at keeping innovations quiet until they’re ready to start marketing them, so it’s very possible that KT&G really do have a product ready to launch over the next few months. If they do, it will be interesting to see how it compares to iQOS, Glo and other existing devices. Hopefully we’ll know more about it – and whether it will be marketed outside South Korea – soon.
As Heat not Burn products become more popular they’re steadily generating debate among the public, health activists and scientists. So far, the medical profession want to know how much safer they are than traditional tobacco products. Activists want to know if they’re part of a cunning plot to create more smokers. Smokers want to know how good they taste. This already seems like quite a lot to discuss – but it turns out some people are already thinking a lot further.
A few days ago Heat Not Burn UK had the opportunity to interview David O’Reilly, the director of science, research and development at British American Tobacco. David is a real expert on HnB and I had a fascinating discussion with him (so expect to see his name a few times on this blog over the next month or so), and he’s been thinking way ahead of just about everyone else I’ve spoken to.
This Is The Future
One thing David was very clear on is that BAT, like Philip Morris, see non-combustible products as the future. While I was talking to him I noticed that he mentioned, more than once, moving to HnB. Eventually I asked him if he saw it as expanding their product range or repositioning it. “Our customers are moving to safer products,” he said. “We can move with them, or go out of business.” So BAT definitely seem committed to technological change.
What I hadn’t thought about was how far-reaching these changes could be. One of the products we talked about was Glo, BAT’s heated tobacco product. Glo uses “Neostiks”, similar to the Heets that feed PMI’s iQOS, and as you probably know there really isn’t a lot of tobacco in these. David explained just how inefficient a traditional cigarette is; about 90% of the tobacco in it ends up either in the filter or escaping as sidestream smoke; only about 10% of it is actually inhaled.
With a Glo this inefficiency just doesn’t exist. A Neostik has a filter but, like the one on a Heet, it’s mostly just there to give a familiar cigarette-like fee; it’s small and permeable enough that it traps very little of the vapour. Meanwhile there’s no sidestream problem either. In fact once a Glo is powered up and at working temperature it’s generating vapour constantly, but this stays in the heating chamber until you take a puff and inhale it – it doesn’t escape.
The end result is that a Neostik contains about 10% as much tobacco as a traditional cigarette, but it’s pretty much equivalent to it; if you smoke a pack of twenty every day, you’ll probably get through a pack of twenty Neostiks when you switch to Glo – but that’s as much tobacco as just two cigarettes.
I have to admit, I was sitting there making admiring noises about this efficiency when David said, “Of course, we have to think about what effect that will have on the tobacco farmers.”
Well, of course we do. After all, tens of thousands of people rely on tobacco farming for their livelihood. Many of them are in poor countries, too. A 90% fall in tobacco production could have a devastating effect on their economies. Tobacco controllers sometimes argue that tobacco takes up farmland that could be used for food, but the truth is the world isn’t short of food. When famines happen, which is a lot less often than they used to, it’s generally because there’s no way to get the food to the people who need it. Cutting tobacco production by 90% isn’t going to solve world hunger, but it could make a lot of people unemployed.
Then again it might not. The truth is, right now we simply don’t know. Will tobacco production fall significantly in the first place? We don’t know. A lot of it depends on what sort of reduced-risk products smokers actually move to. If they all switched to Glo then yes, a lot less tobacco would be needed. But so far the most popular alternatives are snus and e-cigarettes. Snus is made of tobacco, and e-cigs need nicotine – which is extracted from tobacco.
The most likely outcome is that there will continue to be a range of products, including snus, dissolvables and e-cigs as well as Heat not Burn devices. Total demand for tobacco will probably fall, but not dramatically at first. From the point of view of the farmers that’s likely to be good news. If demand changes gradually they can adjust and cope with it; it’s a sudden shock that would cause mass poverty.
What matters is that people are thinking about issues like this – and they are. Ironically it’s the tobacco industry, usually painted as the villain of the piece, who’s looking into the possible future effects of changing technology. Public health tend to just dismiss the fate of tobacco farmers, airily assuming that they can all start growing organic quinoa instead. Unfortunately life is rarely that simple.
Upping Their Game
The tobacco industry has a bad reputation, and leaked documents from the 1960s and 70s show that, a few decades ago at least, it was far from undeserved. They do also deserve some credit, though. BAT’s research facility in Southampton has been trying to develop a safer cigarette for decades; now they’ve abandoned that apparently hopeless quest and moved on to alternative products instead. They might have been late to the game on HnB and e-cigs, but they’re putting a lot of time and resources into it now.
In the last ten weeks I’ve spoken to researchers and senior executives from two of the world’s largest tobacco companies, and the impression I get is that they’re very serious about harm reduction. It’s unrealistic to expect them to stop selling cigarettes tomorrow, but they seem very determined to stop selling them at some point in the not too distant future. Another thing David O’Reilly, his colleagues from BAT and their opposite numbers at PMI all stressed to me is that products like Glo, iFuse and iQOS are early iterations of the technology. Some very clever people with very large research budgets are already working on improved versions that are simpler to use and give even better performance. The future for Heat not Burn, and every other category of reduced-risk tobacco product too, is looking very exciting.
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.
Philip Morris have been watching the Japanese tobacco market with interest, and probably quite a lot of satisfaction, this year. Japan was the first major test market for their iQOS heat not burn product, and it’s performed remarkably well. In September 2015 the HeatSticks it uses to create vapour accounted for 0.7% of the country’s cigarette sales; twelve months later that had risen to 5.2%. PMI say that around a million Japanese smokers have switched from traditional cigarettes to iQOS, and that 70% of people who’ve tried the device have fully switched.
Now the iQOS could have a fight on its hands, as British American Tobacco prepare to launch a rival product in mid-December. BAT are already testing a hybrid e-cigarette/HnB product, the iFuse, in Romania (I’ve tried it, and will write about it soon) but this new one is going to be exclusive to Japan for a while.
Japan is an interesting market for HnB products. Strict rules on nicotine-containing liquids mean that e-cigarettes, which the tech-happy Japanese would be expected to enjoy, are still rare. That means the only real competition for HnB is traditional cigarettes, so it’s the perfect place to see how many smokers are willing to switch. For BAT there’s a bonus; they also get to see how their new device performs against the already-established iQOS.
glo-ing with satisfaction?
So anyway, let’s look at BAT’s latest product. It’s called glo, and the concept is very similar to iQOS. The device itself is a bit different, and as expected there are positive and negative aspects to those differences. Overall, however, it looks pretty interesting.
Like iQOS, glo is fed with cigarette-like tubes which are inserted into the unit and heated. These have a filter on top of a stick of reconstituted tobacco, which probably also has some propylene glycol and other additives to help generate vapour. BAT are calling them Neostiks, and say each one should last about as long as a regular cigarette – a dozen puffs or so. As far as pricing goes they also cost about the same as cigarettes; in Japan a pack of 20 Neostiks will sell for 420 Yen, which is roughly the same as a pack of BAT’s Kent king size.
When glo launches there will be three Neostik flavours available: Bright Tobacco, Intensely Fresh (a menthol blend) and Fresh Mix, which has a less dominant menthol flavour. They’ll all carry the Kent brand initially – it’s one of the leading brands among Japanese smokers – but if it rolls out globally expect to see differently branded sticks and possibly a wider range of flavours.
Like iQOS, but more so
As for the actual device, it follows the basic iQOS system – insert a Neostik into the top, turn it on, wait for it to heat up then puff away as normal. Visually it’s very different, though. Where iQOS is a pen-style device, glo looks more like a small box mod. The case has an oval profile and is very uncluttered; there’s a laser-etched logo and a ring-shaped LED indicator on the front, and on top a large button and the socket for the Neostik. BAT say they aimed for the simplest interface they could manage, and the single button controls everything on the glo. That’s actually not too hard, because like iQOS – and unlike a box mod – there aren’t a lot of settings to manage. Basically all you have to do is turn it on and off.
So why have BAT gone for this larger format? PMI deliberately made iQOS as small and slim as possible, to keep it as close as they could to the size and weight of a traditional cigarette. There’s a down side to that, though – battery life. The iQOS handset simply doesn’t have enough space for a lot of power storage, and a full charge will be mostly used up in vaping a single HeatStick. It does come in a portable charging case that can recharge the handset on the go, but there’s an enforced break of about ten minutes between HeatSticks while it tops up.
By going with the box mod style, BAT have given themselves a lot more space for batteries – and it shows. They claim that a fully charged glo holds enough power to vape over 30 Neostiks. If that holds up in real-world use it means a single charge should last most smokers a full day, which makes it a lot more practical.
Gambling on power
So there are real advantages in the glo’s bulkier dimensions, but it’s definitely a gamble on BAT’s part. It’s likely they’re hoping that smokers will value the extended battery life enough to use a device that’s less familiar in shape (and a good bit heavier) than iQOS. One advantage of them both being tested in Japan is that they can compete head to head; apart from the size they’re similar enough in concept to make for a fair comparison.
There is one other difference between the two, which is that glo heats its tobacco sticks to a significantly lower temperature. iQOS runs at around 350°C, while glo reaches 240°C. The lower temperature is likely to mean fewer toxicants in the vapour, but the big question is what impact it has on the user experience. If the vape itself is less satisfying that’s going to count against it.
BAT say that lab tests show that glo vapour eliminates around 90% of the toxicants found in cigarette smoke, although they’re being careful not to make any health claims right now. They are emphasising that it’s less messy than smoking and doesn’t leave a strong smell on clothes. As far as price goes, the glo handset will sell for around 8,000 yen, which is about $77. That makes it roughly 20% cheaper than iQOS in Japan. If glo rolls out in the UK it will be interesting to see how it’s priced, because iQOS is currently selling for £45. If the same price difference carries across that will put it at about £36. Of course the real cost of these systems is in the tobacco sticks, which aren’t much cheaper than traditional cigarettes.
Overall glo looks like an interesting device. Anyone who’s used a box mod is unlikely to be bothered by its size and shape, so the real question is how smokers will take to it – and, of course, what the actual vapour is like. BAT have invested heavily in it, though, so it’s probably safe to assume their consumer trials have been positive. Hopefully UK smokers will soon get a chance to try it, too.
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