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Pod Mod Review – The Vype ePen 3

Vype ePen 3

I’ve talked about pod mods a couple of times recently, and last month I reviewed the new iQOS Mesh from Philip Morris International. I have to admit that although I usually vape on complicated high-power devices that could give military smokescreen generators a run for their money, I do like these simple but effective new e-cigarettes. They’re small, and easy to carry around. They don’t dribble liquid into my pockets. They don’t need backed up by a pocketful of liquid bottles, massive spare batteries and recoiling kit. And they give a decent vape, too.

Anyway, I’ve spent the last week testing the latest pod mod from British American Tobacco – the Vype ePen 3. This follows on from previous Vape pod systems, and it’s pretty state of the art. Is it like JUUL? Not quite – that’s a unique product and, thanks to the EU’s idiotic laws on nicotine levels, is only available in the UK in a watered-down version that everyone is telling me doesn’t work very well. The ePen 3 was designed from the start to work within the restrictions imposed by our masters in Brussels, and that means BAT have taken a different approach.

What I’ve been playing with recently is an ePen 3 starter kit and three packs of refill pods, so let’s cut the waffle and see how it went.

The Review

The ePen 3 comes in a neat little cardboard box. Slide off the outer sleeve and open the lid, and you’ll find the device wedged into a couple of recesses in a plastic insert. Lift it out and underneath is a pack of two pods – one Blended Tobacco and one Crushed Mint. You can also open a flap at one end of the box and rummage around inside the insert; there’s a USB charging cable hidden in there. It’s not fancy packaging, but it works.

Getting back to the device, this is a sleek and lightweight unit. In fact it’s very lightweight. The body is entirely plastic, which makes sense in a pod mod. It doesn’t need the extra strength of metal to cope with heavy batteries or attaching an atomiser, so plastic both cuts costs and reduces weight. The ePen 3 is so light that I could slip it in my pocket and forget it was there. That doesn’t really happen with my usual Rouleaux RX200, which is approximately the same size and weight as a young elephant.

I’d call the ePen 3 cigar-shaped, except it isn’t. Well OK, it’s the shape a cigar would be if it was flattened into a rounded-off diamond profile. Again this makes it easy to slip in a pocket, and there’s no danger of it rolling off your desk either. It’s pretty simple, too; there’s a micro USB charging port in the base, and an open top end to plug in the pod. Apart from that the only control is a single power/fire button on the front of the device, with a nice embossed Vype logo below it.

The pods just snap into the open end of the device; they seem to work either way up, so there’s no chance of screwing up here. Each pod holds a TPD-compliant 2ml of liquid, and there’s a choice of three strengths – 6, 12 or 18mg/ml. Personally, with a relatively low-powered device like this I’d go with 18mg/ml every time, especially if you’re a smoker looking to quit, but if you really want the lower strengths they’re available.

You get a choice of seven flavours with the ePen 3 – Golden Tobacco, Blended Tobacco, Crisp Mint, Infused Vanilla, Dark Cherry, Fresh Apple or Wild Berries. As well as the starter pack that came in the kit I got packs of Blended Tobacco, Crisp Mint (although for some reason they actually said “Master Blend” and “Crushed Mint. Oh well; same thing) and Wild Berries.

Vaping the Vype

Anyway, after I got bored of fondling the ePen – which took a while, because it has a rather nice soft-touch finish – I plugged it in to charge. A full charge takes around two hours, but it arrived with the battery about half full. The LED in the power button glows red while it’s charging, so once that went out I grabbed a pod and went to work.

Actually getting a pod out of the packaging was the worst part of the ePen experience. They come in blister packs, and they’re pretty tough. I tried just pressing the pod out through the foil backing as usual, and I couldn’t do it. This wasn’t a case of weak fingers either; I shoot an English longbow as a hobby, so if anyone ever sets up a finger-wrestling tournament I’m probably in with a good chance there. These packs are just tough. I eventually took a knife to the foil and got it out that way.

Once you’ve managed to extricate a pod it all gets much easier. Snap the pod into the device – as I said, there’s no way to mess this up – then press the fire button quickly five times to power up. A green LED will glow for a few seconds to show you it’s switched on, and then all you have to do is press the fire button and take a puff.

So this was the moment of truth. How well does the ePen 3 actually vape, and is it good enough to act as a replacement for cigarettes? Well, as you’d expect this is no sub-ohm powerhouse, but does it work? Yes it does. Vapour production isn’t massive, but it’s definitely more than adequate. The vapour is dense and satisfying, much more like a good clearomiser than an old-style cigalike. The flavour was also excellent with the Blended Tobacco and Mint pods, although I found the Wild Berry a bit weak and artificial.

When a pod is empty the power switch blinks red and the device shuts down, telling you it’s time to wrestle with the packaging again and fit a new one. I got through about two pods a day, which at £3.49 a pack makes this a lot cheaper than smoking. Vype say a full charge on the battery will last a whole day. I think that’s a bit optimistic myself, but it does have a pass-through mode, so you can easily vape as you recharge.

One thing to be aware of is that the ePen 3 does like turning itself off. If you hold the fire button for more than eight seconds it turns off. If you don’t press the fire button at all for ten minutes it turns off. If the pod runs dry it turns off. You’ll probably find yourself clicking away at the button quite regularly, but this is a minor nuisance at worst; overall, vaping this little Vype is a pretty positive experience.

The Verdict

I have to say, I was impressed with the ePen 3. It’s compact and lightweight, simple to use and works well. If you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful pod mod that gives a good vape and a painless user experience, this one from British American Tobacco is definitely worth a look.

 

 

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So What’s A Pod Mod?

Pod mod

When I started writing about Heat not Burn I didn’t think it was going to be controversial. Well, I was wrong. The thing is, I’m a vaping advocate and my name isn’t exactly unknown in the e-cigarette debate. As far as I was concerned, HnB was all part of the same concept – a safer alternative to cigarettes that has the potential to save the lives of smokers.

Unfortunately, it seems not all vapers agree. Over the last couple of months there’s been an astonishing string of attacks on HnB by some people who, even if they’re just YouTube reviewers, really should know better.

The actual arguments these people use are silly, with a bit of ignorance sprinkled on top – did you know a Heet was just a cigarette that’s been dipped in PG? I sure didn’t, and I’ve watched them being made. There’s also a lot of conspiracy theory rubbish about how PMI are trying to take over vape shops by asking them if they want to sell iQOS. PMI have enough money that, if they wanted to take over vape shops, there’s a much simpler way to do it – just buy them.

Anyway, after a few conversations, I’ve worked out that what really annoys them is they think HnB is the “wrong” way to use nicotine. Part of that is that it that they use tobacco. It’s amazing how completely some vapers have swallowed the line that tobacco itself is bad, when in fact it’s just the smoke you should avoid. The involvement of the tobacco companies seems to cause a lot of tears, too; some vapers sound scarily like Deborah Arnott of ASH when they get onto the subject of PMI, BAT and all the other companies whose products they were happy enough to buy for decades. Lastly, some of them just seem to be vape snobs. If you’re not getting your nicotine from a boutique liquid, vaporised by hand-built coils powered by the latest high-end mod, you’re no better than a filthy smoker.

Well, I don’t care about any of this. I’m fine with tobacco, I’m too adult to blame the tobacco industry for all the cigarettes I freely chose to buy from them, and I’m not a snob. If someone couldn’t care less about fancy mods and liquids, and just wants a nice simple device they can pick up at Tesco’s tobacco counter, I’m fine with that. And this brings us, finally, to pod mods.

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What’s a pod mod?

The first thing I should say about pod mods (also known as pod vapes) is that they’re not really mods; the name seems to have stuck to them because it’s sort of snappy and it rhymes. What they really are is the latest incarnation of the old-style cigalikes a lot of us started vaping with. The difference is that while cigalikes were awful, pod mods are actually rather good.

If you’ve already seen a pod mod you’re probably thinking that they don’t actually look very much like cigalikes. You’re right; they don’t. The basic concept is pretty much the same, though. They have a compact battery with an automatic switch, no controls, and the liquid is contained in a disposable cartridge (the pod) that snaps on to one end. There are three main differences, though:

  • Abandoning the cigarette shape lets them pack in a lot more battery capacity while staying slim and compact enough to be held like a cigarette.
  • The coils are a lot more powerful and efficient than a traditional cigalike
  • Using sealed pods, rather than wick-stuffed open cartridges, leaves space for a lot more liquid

So that’s the advantages of a pod mod over cigalikes; how do they compare to the typical devices used by experienced vapers like myself? Well, this is where things get subjective. I like my big, heavy, leaky devices. I spend most of the day at my desk writing articles and blog posts for you, so the fact my mod is stuffed with multiple 18650 batteries and is about the size of a half brick doesn’t bother me at all. All my tanks are a bit dribbly, and my favourite RDTAs tend to dump their entire contents if you tip them too far, but when they’re sitting on my desk that isn’t a problem.

On the other hand, when I actually have to go outside for some reason the e-cig I always reach for is my Vype Pro Tank, which is small, light and never leaks (and it’s sold by a tobacco company, if anyone cares). If I had an even smaller device that was still capable of delivering a decent vape, I’d take that. I’ve actually had some experience of this, thanks to a couple of pod mods I was given to test last year; I wouldn’t use them at home, but for going out and about they’re excellent. Here are some of the leading pod mods:

 

JUUL

JUUL starter kit

The pod mod everybody’s talking about right now (although mostly for the wrong reasons) is the JUUL. This ultra-slim device was only available in the USA and Israel, but it’s now available in the UK and the company, in between arguing with idiots who’re imagining an epidemic of teenage “JUULing”, is planning to roll it out around the rest of the world over the next couple of years.

JUUL is a tiny rectangular device with a USB port at one end, so it can be plugged directly into a laptop to charge. It’s fed on tiny leakproof pods that hold 0.7ml of liquid; the liquid itself is a bit special, and part of the reason for JUUL’s amazing success – it currently makes up 70% of e-cig sales in US convenience stores. Instead of the usual freebase nicotine it contains nicotine salts, which deliver a faster, cigarette-like hit, and it’s also very strong at 5% nicotine (although this has to be cut to 2% for the European market, thanks to the ridiculous EU TPD).

Heat Not Burn UK being all about harm reduction has a sister website that may well start selling the JUUL here  in the UK in the very near future, so watch this space!

MyBlu

MyBlu starter kit

Previously sold as the Von Erl until Fontem Ventures (part of Imperial Tobacco) bought the brand, MyBlu is about the same size as JUUL but has a more rounded shape. It’s also generally more conventional – it uses standard e-liquid at 1.6% concentration.

Mesh

IQOS Mesh

PMI’s Mesh is much larger than the JUUL or MyBlu (so it also has better battery life), but it’s exactly the same concept – you just plug disposable pods onto the end of the battery. I have one of these and it’s very good. It also produces more vapour than the other pod mods, so it might be a better option for anyone who’s used to conventional e-cigs. We have also done a full review of this device.

Heat Not Burn UK are now selling the Mesh pod mod along with VEEV flavour caps right here on this website!

iFuse

BAT iFuse

About the same size as the Mesh, BAT’s iFuse is a sort of hybrid – its pods contain a layer of finely shredded tobacco which is supposed to give the vapour a tobacco flavour as it passes through. It’s a great idea, but we’re not sure how well this pod mod actually works.

Pebble

BAT Vype Pebble

BAT’s Pebble is the most unconventional-looking of the pod mods. It’s shaped like the sort of flat stone you’d skip across a pond, and while it looks odd it’s also very comfortable to hold. There’s a nice big battery in there too.

 

So there are already a few pod mods to choose from, but the runaway success of JUUL means we can probably expect to see a lot more options appearing soon, as manufacturers jump on the bandwagon. Overall that’s great news, because pod mods are exactly what a lot of smokers are looking for – a reduced harm option that’s smaller and simpler than a conventional e-cig.

EDIT: Just as we predicted more options are indeed entering the market, including the Vype ePen 3 from British American Tobacco. In November 2018 we did a full review of the device.

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Meet the JUUL menace

JUUL

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

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

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

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

JUULmania

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

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

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

What is JUUL anyway?

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

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

One.

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

 

First do no harm

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

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

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


Here at Heat Not Burn we are primarily all about heat not burn technology but Phillip Morris have released their own pod mod system called the iQOS Mesh and we are selling it right here on our website! Please click the Mesh banner below for more information.

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