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Anti-vaping nuts take aim at iQOS, too

Last week one of my friends, knowing of my interest in Heat not Burn products, pointed me to an article in the Washington Post. This was written a couple of weeks ago, apparently in response to Philip Morris submitting their
iQOS device for FDA approval as a modified risk tobacco product, so it was a great opportunity to write an informative article about the technology and its potential as a safer alternative for smokers.

Instead, of course, journalist William Wan decided to write a festering pile of alarmist manure. The start of the headline says it all – “Big Tobacco’s new cigarette”. iQOS isn’t a cigarette. A Heet may resemble a cigarette, but it isn’t one. You probably could put one in your mouth and light it – I know I’ve said before that you can’t, but now I’ve tried it with a Glo NeoStik – but why would you? The iQOS itself is an electronic device, just like an e-cig.

iQOS gets the Matt Myers treatment

Wan starts off by describing iQOS fairly accurately, but quickly moves on to the fuss being created by anti-nicotine fanatics in the public health industry. These are the same people who’ve been campaigning noisily against vaping for the last few years, so as you’d imagine, the idea of HnB has twisted their knickers so tightly that I can hear them twanging from here. Not only are HnB designed for the same purpose as e-cigs – as a safer, recreational way to use nicotine – but, unlike 99.9% of the vape devices on the market, they really are made by big tobacco companies!

The article quotes extensively from Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Despite the name, CTFK doesn’t actually seem all that interested in keeping tobacco out of the hands of children; ever since e-cigs appeared they’ve taken a fanatically hostile position on harm reduction, while doing basically nothing about actual tobacco cigarettes.

Revealingly, Myers didn’t talk about iQOS at all. Instead he confined himself to ad hominem attacks on PMI, harping back to their attempts to downplay the dangers of smoking between the 1960s and 1980s. Of course, PMI itself is an organisation, and it’s people who make decisions and do things. It goes without saying that the people who ran PMI in the 1980s aren’t running it now.

None of this seems to matter to Myers, though. He seems obsessed with the idea that iQOS is part of some cunning ploy by PMI. Calling the company “masterful liars”, which he says is “a fact proven by decades of experience” (see the last paragraph…) he openly questions their motives, asking “What’s their ultimate game plan with this thing?”

If Myers really wants to know what PMI’s ultimate game plan is, I suppose he could always ask them – not that he’d believe anything they say, because in his mind the company is still what it was in 1963. In fact PMI are very open about the risks of smoking, and they have a clear plan to move their entire business to reduced risk products. And the reduced risk leads on to the worst thing about Wan’s article.

Wan claims that there has only been one independent study of iQOS’s emissions. This is quite simply not true; PMI themselves have commissioned several independent labs to look at the product, and the results are freely available. The study Wan is referring to was carried out by three Swiss researchers, and calling it controversial is a serious understatement.

The researchers claimed that they’d found much higher levels of toxic substances than all the other research that has been done, and understandably PMI weren’t too happy about that. In fact they were so unhappy that they wrote to the researchers’ universities to complain. Wan makes this out to be some sinister plot to silence any criticism, but in fact, reading PMI’s online rebuttal of the study it’s not hard to see why they were so annoyed about it. The study, frankly, is junk science.

Good intentions? Maybe. Bad science? Yes.

To get consistent results, scientists have to use consistent methods. Because cigarettes have been studied for so long there are standard ways of creating, capturing and analysing the smoke; using these methods lets researchers compare their work with other people’s. PMI have released about thirty studies on iQOS so far, and they all used these methods. Importantly, while they’re all open to the charge of being released by a tobacco company, they’re also all peer-reviewed. This means they’ve been examined by independent experts, who agree that the science is sound.

The Swiss researchers, for unknown reasons, decided not to use one of the standard scientific methods for their experiments. Instead they created a hybrid method of their own. This is a serious problem. Firstly, it makes it almost impossible to compare their work with the existing research. Secondly, it seems to have created some very odd results.

According to the new study, levels of several toxic chemicals in iQOS vapour are much closer to the levels in cigarette smoke than PMI are saying. PMI have pointed out that the Swiss team’s results for cigarette smoke seem to be wrong – and not just slightly wrong, but wildly wrong. For example, using a standard reference cigarette, they detected levels of acetone that were less than half of what everyone else has found. For formaldehyde they got a tenth of the correct result, and for aromatic hydrocarbons – which they say iQOS has more of than a cigarette – the real level of these chemicals in a cigarette is fifty times higher than what they reported.

What does all this mean? Well, it means that their measurements are so hopelessly inaccurate that nothing in their study can be taken seriously. They might not be dishonest, but at the very least they’re incompetent. The level of carbon monoxide they reported for the reference cigarette was actually higher than the machine they used is capable of measuring, so where did they get the number from? Did they just make it up? Bluntly, they might as well have. It wouldn’t have made any difference to this study, which is total crap from start to finish.

Is IQOS a new product that it’s legitimate to have questions about? Of course. Did Philip Morris lie about the health risks of smoking three decades ago? Sure. But they’ve done a lot of science on iQOS,and they were quite happy to have it checked by independent experts and release it to the public. This time, they’re the ones who’re being honest.

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E-cigs don’t work everywhere – Heat not Burn does

I’m a freelance writer, and I love e-cigarettes. Since I switched to vaping my desk isn’t cluttered with smelly ashtrays anymore, and I don’t have to brush ash off my keyboard twice a day. I spend most of the day at my PC, so I can keep a charger on the desk for my batteries and there’s a nice long USB cable for pass-through mods. The top shelf in one side of the desk holds an assortment of e-liquids; in my job, vaping works perfectly.

On the other hand, before I became a writer I spent years in the British Army. Like many soldiers I smoked, and I remember a lot of early mornings happily puffing away in some cold, wet forest. No matter how soaked, frozen and miserable you get, a cigarette is a reliable way to inject some very welcome morale into your life.

The thing about cigarettes, of course, is that they couldn’t be simpler. You take one out the pack, stick the brown bit in your mouth and set fire to the other end. Unless you’ve let them get soaked, or you’ve sat on the packet and squashed them (a waterproof tobacco tin will avoid both these issues) they’re guaranteed to work.

War is hell – for e-cigs

But how is an e-cig going to cope with the hardships of a soldier’s life? All the liquid is probably going to leak out, turning the contents of your pocket into a slippery mess. The tank’s probably going to get broken the first time you trip over a stump in the darkness and fall flat on your face. The ability of most box mods to survive being soaked with rainwater is pretty dubious. Worst of all, your batteries aren’t going to last forever and there won’t be any USB ports in the tree you’re living under. E-cigarettes are great as long as you’re surrounded by civilisation, but they’re not going to work out in the field.

It isn’t just soldiers, either. What if your workplace is the deck of a trawler? The first wave that knocks you down, and leaves you flailing around in a pool of seawater and fish guts, is going to destroy every electronic device in your pockets. Let’s not even start thinking about rebuilding a coil in a cramped cabin that’s rolling through sixty degrees.

So it’s pretty obvious that there are some people who e-cigarettes just aren’t going to work for. But does that mean they’re doomed to a lifetime of smoking? Not so fast. There’s probably a heat not burn product that’s going to work just fine.

What’s the solution?

Last month I visited Philip Morris International’s research facility at Neuchatel in Switzerland, where they’re making the Heets that feed their iQOS device as well as working on the next generation of HnB technology. It was a very interesting visit – I’ve already discussed their latest research on safety – and left me feeling very optimistic about the future of heated tobacco products. There were some lively discussions, too, and during one of these I explained that I’d been a soldier for a long time and, based on my experiences, I didn’t think iQOS was going to be much use in the field. The PMI rep didn’t even blink. “We know,” she said. “That’s why we’re working on three other products.”

One of those products is the Mesh e-cigarette, which is already on the market. I have one, and it’s pretty good; the Mesh is an extremely simple and fairly sturdy gadget, and its disposable cartridges are more compact and probably a lot tougher than cigarettes, but if you’re doing hard work outdoors in bad weather it has the same drawbacks as any other e-cig; it isn’t very waterproof, and it needs charged a couple of times a day. Then there’s a completely different product in the development pipeline that isn’t HnB, but isn’t an e-cig either; it uses a chemical reaction to create a nicotine-containing vapour. The interesting thing about this is that it doesn’t need any batteries, so it might be a good solution for people who don’t have regular access to a charger; that depends on how robust it is, and I can’t comment on that because I haven’t seen one yet.

That’s three of PMI’s Smokefree nicotine products. The fourth one is a heat not burn product that uses the same concept as RJ Reynolds’s Revo. It’s a disposable item that contains a stick of processed tobacco and a charcoal pellet that provides the heat. All you have to do is light the pellet and puff away.

Revo isn’t really a new product; it’s basically a rebranded version of the 1990s Eclipse, which was a complete flop. Reynolds relaunched it under the new name because they decided the market had moved enough to make it viable this time around, but it’s still basically the same thing. I’m not very familiar with it but I do have some doubts about how effective it is.

So far, at least, those doubts don’t apply to the PMI product, which the company are currently calling Platform 2. It works on the same principle as the Revo, but it’s a completely new design. That gives PMI a chance to iron out any bugs, and hopefully come up with something that delivers a consistent vape with no risk of accidentally burning the tobacco.

Keeping it simple

The benefits of this sort of design are obvious. If you can manage to smoke, you can use a HnB product like Revo or Platform 2. It works exactly like a cigarette; you just have to take it out the pack, put it in your mouth and light it. There’s nothing fiddly to play with, it doesn’t need electricity and it’s no more vulnerable to the weather than a cigarette. In fact it’s probably less likely to get damaged by water; Revo has a metal foil tube to hold the tobacco, which is a lot more waterproof than cigarette paper.

A lot of smokers have switched to vaping – probably over ten million by now – but it’s not going to work for everyone. Improved technology will eventually increase battery life and make the hardware easier to use and more robust, but it’s not likely e-cigs will ever be as simple as a traditional cigarette. Heat not burn has the potential to solve that problem, because the basic principle – get some tobacco and heat it – is a lot more flexible. Inside a few years there will be HnB products that anyone can use, no matter how tough their job is.

 

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How safe are tobacco vaporisers?

Rumours are circulating that tobacco vaporisers and other heat not burn products might not deliver on the reduced harm that justifies the products’ existence. Not all these health claims are new, of course – they’re as old as the products themselves. Heat not burn probably has more potential now than ever before, though. Earlier attempts to sell the technology failed, probably because it was just too different from what smokers were used to.

That’s all changed over the last few years. The popularity of electronic cigarettes has grown at a stunning rate, and despite the fake concerns of many public health charities almost all the people who use them are, or were until recently, smokers. The key point about that is that by any sensible definition e-cigarettes are far more different from traditional cigarettes than any heat not burn product is. E-cigs don’t even contain any tobacco, while heat not burn products do. In fact most of the ones in the pipeline just now include something that’s recognisably like a cigarette. The only exceptions are loose tobacco vaporisers like the excellent PAX 2. Phillip Morris’s iQOS uses cigarette-like tobacco sticks, while RJ Reynolds’ Revo looks just like a cigarette and even works like one; you simply put it in your mouth and light the end.

So the companies interested in heat not burn technology are gambling that if smokers are willing to switch to something as unfamiliar as a tank full of liquid with a battery to heat it, they’ll be even more enthusiastic about something that retains the familiar tobacco. They could be right; although vaping has become widely accepted among smokers there’s still a significant number who aren’t tempted.

The fear industry

The problem is that heat not burn is still at the stage where it’s very vulnerable to health scares. E-cigarettes have suffered badly from this; media coverage has been so bad, and misinformation from anti-vaping groups so vicious, that a majority of American smokers believe vaping is at least as harmful as smoking; the truth is it’s at least 95% safer. If so many terrifying rumours can be spread about vaping, though – where users are inhaling vaporised liquid – what can the fearmongers do with a product that contains actual tobacco?

It’s complicated by the fact that heat not burn is a much broader category of device than e-cigarettes. There’s an incredible variety of vapour products, but no matter how different they look, they all function in basically the same way. The battery heats a coil, which draws up liquid through the wick and vaporises it. Once you’ve shown that one e-cig is relatively safe to use, you can be pretty sure that your conclusions apply to all e-cigs.

Heat not burn is different. Some devices heat loose tobacco in a chamber, using an electric heating element. Others wrap the element around a paper tube of tobacco. Revo doesn’t have any electronics at all; it uses a charcoal pellet to generate heat. These devices share the same basic principle – heating tobacco to liberate flavoured vapour and nicotine – but they work in very different ways. That means conclusions drawn from studying one product don’t mean much for others.

The product that’s causing the most concern is Revo. How much of that is down to the fact that it looks just like a cigarette, it comes in packs just like a cigarette and it’s used just like a cigarette? Who knows? There are some legitimate reasons to worry, though. For a start, heat not burn isn’t an entirely accurate description of the Revo. The tobacco isn’t burning – in theory, at least – but the charcoal pellet that heats the whole thing certainly is.

How much burning is too much?

Burning charcoal is a notorious producer of carbon monoxide; lighting half a dozen disposable BBQ grills in a closed room is an increasingly popular way of committing suicide. The level of carbon monoxide emitted by a Revo is obviously much lower – but regularly inhaling small doses of CO is one of the most dangerous things about smoking cigarettes. The constant respiratory stress caused by the gas eventually damages arteries and leads to heart disease. The fact that Revo relies on charcoal has to be a point against it.

There are also questions about what exactly the Revo is vaporising, and even if vaporising is all it’s doing to the tobacco inside. Electronic devices, like iQOS, can maintain precise control over the temperature of the heating element. There’s almost no way an iQOS or PAX 2 is going to burn the tobacco you load in, unless you abuse it. Is the same true of the Revo? RJ Reynolds say so, but it’s hard to be sure. Because it does involve combustion, adding more oxygen to the process can raise temperatures. Take an unusually hard puff, or use it outside on a windy day, and the temperature could easily spike above the point where the tobacco is actually burned.

There’s no evidence that this is happening with Revo, but it’s certainly a theoretical possibility. Even in normal use the tip gets hot enough that many of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke can be vaporised. These include acetone and ammonia, as well as the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) that make tobacco smoke many times more addictive than pure nicotine.

It’s still pretty safe

On the other hand, while these worries are real, they probably aren’t very significant. It still seems to be a no-brainer that, because the tobacco inside isn’t being burned to ash like it is in a cigarette, Revo is going to be much less dangerous than a traditional smoke. There is also a spectrum of risk with heat not burn products. Electronic devices are likely to produce a far cleaner vapour than anything that involves combustion. Are they as safe as e-cigarettes? Because they contain tobacco, probably not. Are they safer than burning anything and inhaling the result? Yes, they almost certainly are.

So far there’s no evidence that even begins to suggest smokers shouldn’t try heat not burn. Even a Revo is going to be a lot safer than a normal cigarette; iQOS should approach the safety of a typical e-cig. If you’re already a smoker, and thinking about giving heat not burn a go, safety is not something that should affect your decision. Compared to smoking they’re safe enough; that’s what matters.

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Does a good vaporiser have to be expensive?

Unless you live in one of the markets where the tobacco companies are trialling their Heat not Burn products, the best way to start vaporising tobacco right now is to get yourself something like the PAX 2. These devices aren’t cheap though, so it’s natural that many people would like to see something cheaper. It’s just as natural that there are cheap alternatives on the market, many of them made in China.

Continue reading Does a good vaporiser have to be expensive?

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How safe is Heat not Burn?

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?

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Heat not Burn and e-cigs – what’s the link?

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.

Continue reading Heat not Burn and e-cigs – what’s the link?

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Heat not Burn – Can it help you quit smoking?

The technology that goes into a Heat not Burn device is interesting, and so is the history behind them. It’s easy to forget about why they were developed in the first place, though. Heat not Burn exists because cigarettes are dangerous – but people smoke them anyway. The whole idea behind the technology is to offer smokers an alternative, one that will simulate smoking but without the actual smoke.

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How Heat not Burn works

How do you Heat without Burning?

Heat not Burn (HnB) devices are the next thing in alternatives to smoking. They’re not a new idea, and previous attempts to bring them to market have flopped. In the last few years e-cigarettes have become popular, though, and that’s raised hopes that smokers might be ready to give HnB another try. If you’re still a smoker, and you’re tempted by the idea of a safer alternative but e-cigs don’t quite do it for you, here’s a quick guide to how the new products work.

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An introduction to Heat not Burn

For centuries people smoked tobacco, then a few years ago e-cigarettes appeared, and now the next big thing is Heat not Burn, or HnB. This idea has actually been around for a while, but technology was never advanced enough for it to be a real success. Now electronics and batteries have caught up with the concept and a whole range of new devices are starting to appear.

So you’re probably wondering what, exactly, is heat not burn all about? The answer is it’s the latest alternative to smoking – so it’s a technology that could save a lot of lives.

Continue reading An introduction to Heat not Burn