There’s been a lot of excitement among American vapers about Friday’s announcement from the FDA. The big news was that the deadline for submitting paperwork under the Deeming Regulations, which was set to wipe out 99% of all vapour products next November, has now been delayed for four years. But there was a lot more to the FDA’s announcement than that, and some of it is also important for Heat not Burn.
In his speech on Friday morning, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb outlined a new anti-smoking strategy for his agency. For the first time the FDA has publicly admitted that there’s a spectrum of risk for nicotine products, with traditional cigarettes at one end, nicotine replacement therapy at the other, and a whole range of products like e-cigs and HnB in between (in reality, very close to the NRT end). This moves the agency away from seeing reduced-risk products as another kind of cigarettes to acknowledging them as a potential solution.
As well as pushing back the deadline for Pre Market Tobacco Authorization submissions, Gottlieb says he’s also planning to make it easier to submit them. Up to now the process has been a complete nightmare. According to the FDA an application takes about 500 hours to complete and costs around $300,000 per product. Those who’ve actually done it say it takes thousands of hours and costs well over a million. Worst of all, it’s hard to tell exactly what should be in it. The FDA guidance document is 500 pages of impenetrable legal guff that nobody can understand, so for most businesses filling out the paperwork is guesswork – and, after spending all that time and money, there’s no guarantee the application will be accepted.
Expensive rules, unclear outcomes
So far we only know of one PMTA application for an HnB product; in March, PMI submitted one for their popular iQOS. That’s now under review by the FDA, although it could take more than a year for it to be approved or declined. The industry will be watching closely; if iQOS is approved it opens the door for rivals like BAT’s Glo, although iQOS will have a useful head start.
The PMTA process has been worrying a lot of people, because it hasn’t been clear how strict the FDA were planning to be. Up to now they seem to have looked at new nicotine products as a menace that should be kept off the market, and that was obviously bad news for HnB. There was a real risk that they’d want to avoid the “mistake” they’d made by letting e-cigarettes get onto the market, and take a hard line from the beginning.
Gottlieb’s new direction could change that. The FDA now seems interested in having healthier options available, and encouraging smokers to switch to them. Although the companies making HnB products are being careful so far not to call them reduced risk, there’s no doubt that they are. If the FDA has been keeping up with the science, they know that too.
Bad science strikes again
It has to be said that the FDA’s strategy has a huge problem. From what Gottlieb said, it seems that they want to cut the amount of nicotine in cigarettes as a way to force smokers towards alternatives. However, it’s not so clear why this should work. After all, we have evidence from when something similar was tried before.
Tobacco controllers still love to rant about how the industry “lied” to smokers when they released light cigarettes in the 80s and 90s. What they don’t mention is that it was tobacco control who pressured the industry to do that. The result, of course, was that people simply smoked more and took deeper puffs; they ended up inhaling exactly the same amount of nicotine, but a lot more toxic smoke.
Now the FDA seem to think they can try the same trick again but get a different result, which just begs for comments about the definition of insanity. To be fair they might get a different result this time, because now there are real alternatives to smoking, but it’s more likely they’ll just create a massive black market in smuggled high-nicotine cigarettes.
What will decide that is how effective the alternatives are at delivering nicotine. If the FDA’s brave new cigarettes aren’t very satisfying, but neither are the safer choices, most people will just either smoke more or call their dealer and ask when the next batch of proper Marlboro are due in from Mexico. On the other hand, if cigarettes don’t give enough of a nicotine hit but other products do, then people are a lot more likely to switch.
Vape or heat?
So far that’s been the big problem with e-cigs; unless you have decent kit and know how to use it, the nicotine hit isn’t as satisfying as a proper cigarette. Experienced vapers can completely turn that around, but for a beginner – especially somewhere like the EU, with its stupid 20mg/ml cap on liquid strengths – it can be a struggle to get as much nicotine as you’re used to.
Now a leading tobacco harm reduction researcher has compared a HnB product – iQOS – against both cigarettes and e-cigs. The results are interesting, especially in the context of Gottlieb’s plan.
Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, a cardiologist at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre who’s well known for his research into the safety of vaping, compared the amount of nicotine delivered by a tobacco cigarette, several e-cigs ranging from cigalikes to an advanced mod, and the iQOS. What he found was that while the iQOS still isn’t as efficient as a cigarette, but it comes very close – and it’s well ahead of the sort of e-cig people usually try when they think about switching.
If Gottlieb does push ahead with trying to cut the nicotine in cigarettes, a lot of US smokers are going to be very unhappy. Some of them – those who live near Canada or Mexico, for example – will probably just nip over the border to do their shopping. But the rest might be tempted by a product that has a familiar cigarette company brand, is distributed through the same retailers and delivers almost as much nicotine as their cigarettes did. This could be just what it takes to help Heat not Burn become huge in the USA.
A couple of months ago we looked at BAT’s glo, their stick-fed iQOS rival that’s currently being trialed in Japan. It still hasn’t been released in other markets, and BAT haven’t revealed their plans for it yet, so it could be a while before smokers in the UK have a chance to try it. Just so you know what you’re waiting for, however, Heat Not Burn UK set out to track one down. It was a struggle, but last week one of our agents finally managed to get his hands on the elusive device.
Because of how our glo was obtained (no, we didn’t steal it) it didn’t come in its usual retail packaging, so that won’t be included in this review. It did come with a full pack of Bright Tobacco sticks to feed it with, so it was thoroughly tested as well as being poked, prodded and generally fiddled with. So what’s it like?
The glo device looks like a small, simple box mod e-cigarette. It’s about the height and thickness of a pack of cigarettes, and maybe two-thirds of the width. The aluminium body is rounded on both sides, making it comfortable to hold, and it’s not too heavy. It does feel solid and well made, and the build quality looks excellent. The end caps are textured plastic, the metal body has a nice satin finish and there’s a laser-etched glo logo on the front.
Looking at the top, there’s an oval silver cover. On the bottom is a micro-USB charging port and a small cover that looks like it should open, but was left well alone in case it broke. After some discussion we think that’s the airflow vent; there has to be some place for air to flow into the heating chamber so you can inhale the vapour, and we couldn’t see anything else that might do that job.
The only actual control on the glo is a single button on the front. Its placement looks odd if you’re used to e-cigs; most box mods now have the fire button on one side, because that way it falls naturally under your thumb. However the glo’s button is just the on/off switch, and you won’t need to touch it when you’re actually using the device. The button itself is metal and surrounded by a ring of translucent plastic, which turns out to be LED-illuminated – but we’ll get to that.
Like the iQOS, glo uses cigarette-like sticks which BAT call NeoStiks. Compared to PMI’s HeatSticks these are longer and slimmer – almost exactly the same size as a traditional cigarette. Instead of a filter there’s a hollow plastic tube, which makes sense – why fit a filter when there’s no smoke? The centre of the stick is filled with finely shredded tobacco. Actually it looks like the bottom is, too, but BAT say that’s not tobacco. It could be shredded cork or something similar.
In Japan the NeoStiks are priced about the same as normal cigarettes, as are iQOS HeatSticks. Industry gossip suggests the reason for this is that nobody’s quite sure how they’ll be taxed yet, so BAT and PMI are both playing it safe. If they end up being taxed at a lower rate the price may fall in the future.
How does it work?
Using the glo is very simple. The cover on top slides to one side, revealing a hole about the size of a cigarette. All you have to do is insert a NeoStik into this hole until it won’t go any further. This is quite simple, like the iQOS, as long as you don’t rush it.
Once the stick is fully inserted all you have to do is press the button to turn the glo on, then wait for it to warm up. Progress can be tracked by watching the surround on the button; this progressively lights up as the coil temperature rises, the glow of the LEDs advancing clockwise wound the circle, and when the whole thing is illuminated it’s ready to go. Just in case you miss that the glo will also vibrate with a faint buzz when it reaches operating temperature. Then all you have to do is take a puff.
So the big question is, what’s it like? The answer is that it’s very good. Our agent was lucky enough to try the iQOS and glo together, and thinks the glo is just as good at producing vapour and has a slightly better taste. This was a bit surprising, as it runs at a much lower temperature – 240°C, rather than 350°C for its PMI competitor.
Each stick gives about as many puffs as a traditional cigarette, and when the glo decides you’ve fully vaped it, the device will vibrate again and turn itself off. This seems to be aimed at making sure you don’t overheat the tobacco to the point where it starts producing nasties.
Looking at the used stick was interesting. The heat seems to be applied in a narrow ring, just below the end of the plastic tube. It’s hard to say how much of the tobacco is being affected by it. On the other hand it doesn’t matter much, because whatever the glo is doing, it works.
The overall concept of glo is very similar to the iQOS, but BAT have taken a different approach to the hardware. Our first impression is that this has paid off. Battery life is much better than the PMI device – although it’s hard to say yet if it lives up to BAT’s claims of a 30-stick life between charges, because we didn’t get that many sticks. The downside is that the device itself is much bulkier, and unlike iQOS you certainly can’t hold it like a traditional cigarette.
It does seem to do the job, though. There’s a satisfying amount of vapour and the taste is very good. The device itself is simple and well made, and disposing of used sticks is a lot less messy than emptying an ashtray. This is a very interesting product, and if it’s released in the UK we think it has a lot of potential.
There’s more interest than ever before in safer alternatives to smoking, with millions of smokers either thinking about moving to new technology or already having taken the plunge – mostly with electronic cigarettes. E-cigs aren’t for everyone, though. Many smokers have tried them and found that they didn’t really work for them; some have been put off by misleading newspaper articles claiming that vaping is just as unhealthy as smoking; still more simply don’t want to give up their real tobacco.
Heat not Burn technology is the new hope for smokers who want that authentic tobacco taste, and although the devices aren’t all that widely available yet they’re steadily being rolled out. iQOS is now on sale in the UK, for example. By the end of the year HnB products should be on sale in a lot more places, giving a new option for smokers.
HnB or e-cigs – What’s better?
It’s likely that the next few years will see a lot of arguments about which technology is better – e-cigs or HnB. They both aim to do the same thing, but take different approaches to it, and we can safely assume that each side will have plenty of enthusiastic supporters. Which will win in the long run? Who knows? However, British American Tobacco have already tried to combine the best of both worlds with their iFUSE device.
So what’s iFUSE? Basically it’s a hybrid device that starts with a fairly standard e-cigarette, then adds some elements of HnB technology aimed at creating a more authentic tobacco taste. It’s an interesting concept, so have BAT managed to get it to work?
If you’re familiar with latest-generation tobacco industry e-cigs like PMI’s Mesh, the iFUSE will have a familiar feel to it. The designers have obviously put a high priority on making it easy to use, and they’ve done a very good job of that. It isn’t quite as simple as the Mesh, but then nothing is as simple as the Mesh – and the iFUSE has a lot more going on inside.
Externally, there are two visible components. The battery is a fairly standard looking unit about the size of an eGo battery, but with a more flattened cross-section. It feels well-made and has a nice rubberised coating which, along with its light weight, makes it very comfortable to hold. There’s a USB charging port and a single large button, which appears to be metal and has a reasonably nice clicky feel. It’s not up to the standard you’d expect on a high-end e-cig, but then the iFUSE device costs just £14.99. At the top end of the battery is a proprietary connector for the cartridges it uses, which we’ll come back to.
The cartridge isn’t visible when the iFUSE is assembled; a large cover, which BAT call the mouthpiece, slips on over it. This is in two parts – the actual mouthpiece is black plastic, and is inserted into the end of a metal cone that covers the cartridge. The cones are available in a couple of different colours – silver and gold ones are for sale through the iFUSE site, but the same site has illustrations of some more options. Presumably they’ll be available soon.
When it’s all put together the overall effect is a simple, clean-looking little device. It’s not much larger than a standard eGo-type electronic cigarette, and no heavier. It is bulkier than an iQOS, but not by much – and it feels lighter, too.
Meet the Neopod
It’s inside that the iFUSE does things differently. It’s fed with disposable cartridges which BAT are calling Neopods; these carry the Kent cigarette brand, and they come in three flavours so far: Tobacco, Crisp Blue and Winter Green. Each Neopod is plastic, slightly tapered and a couple of inches long; inside it are three components, one of them unique to the iFUSE.
At the bottom of the cartridge, where it plugs into the battery, is a standard heating coil. This is fed from a reservoir of nicotine-containing liquid, which seems to be similar to regular e-liquid for an electronic cigarette. That’s what produces the actual vapour you inhale, so no surprises there. Where the Neopod is different from a Mesh or Vype Pen cartridge is that above the liquid tank, and directly below the mouthpiece, is a cylinder of finely chopped tobacco.
To use the iFUSE you just turn it on by pressing the button three times, and take a puff. It has an auto switch, so there’s no need to press the button every time you inhale, and because it’s creating the vapour from e-liquid there’s no need to let it warm up. This is an irritation with the iQOS; having to wait for the coil to reach running temperature isn’t exactly spontaneous. The iFUSE, on the other hand, is ready to go right away.
When you inhale the coil activates, vaporising some of the liquid. This is then drawn through the tobacco capsule, heating it and releasing the complex aromatics that give cigarette smoke its taste. Instead of being artificially flavoured, like e-cig vapour, you’re inhaling real tobacco flavour.
So does it work?
The iFUSE is a very interesting concept, backed up with simple and nicely made hardware. The only problem is, it doesn’t work very well. There’s a hint of tobacco flavour, but not really very much of it. The vapour itself is also quite thin, and the throat hit isn’t a patch on the Mesh or a conventional e-cigarette. It’s no match for an iQOS either.
Most likely, the problem is that the system just doesn’t apply enough heat to the tobacco. It’s not a full-on HnB product anyway, but the reason things like the iQOS work the way they do is that it takes quite a lot of heat to get a decent flavour from tobacco – and the iFUSE isn’t delivering it. There could be potential for it with a bit more development, but right now it suffers from being neither one thing nor the other. It’s a mediocre e-cigarette, and physics is against it really working like HnB.
It’s disappointing that the iFUSE doesn’t live up to its potential, because it is a nice and affordable little gadget. The vapour delivery is what really matters, though, and it just isn’t there yet. Buy a proper HnB device instead.
Right now the big tobacco companies are major players in the Heat not Burn market. Apart from loose-leaf vaporisers like the PAX series, all the products that are set to go global this year are produced by cigarette manufacturers. At first glance that makes sense; after all they already sell tobacco products, and HnB is a logical addition to their range.
One of the things you’ll hear a lot from anti-smokers is that 70% of smokers want to quit. If you actually talk to smokers you’ll probably hear a very different answer. Most of them don’t want to quit at all, because the truth is they enjoy smoking. They know they should quit, because smoking is undeniably bad for your health, but that’s not quite the same as actually wanting to. If scientists announced tomorrow that they’d got it all wrong and smoking was completely safe, you can bet nobody’d be interested in quitting. The appeal of Heat not Burn products is that, potentially, they can offer the enjoyment of smoking without most of the health risks. That raises a crucial question: How safe are HnB products really?
It’s been said a few times that the amazing rise of e-cigs is what’s opened the way for Heat not Burn technology. The concept has been tried before, and failed every time – but not because there was anything wrong with it. The idea was just too different, and most smokers were happy enough with what they had. If you wanted to inhale nicotine you lit a cigarette – it was that simple.
Heat not Burn products often get compared to electronic cigarettes, and in many ways it’s a good comparison. After all they’re both alternatives to smoking that work by letting users inhale a flavoured vapour instead of actual smoke. There are some differences though. All e-cigarettes work in the same way; they have a battery, heating coil and liquid reservoir. The shape and size of the parts might vary, but they all have the same basic parts – even the disposable cartomisers that some models use contain the coil and liquid.