Look at all these rumours, surrounding me every day
It looks like Japan Tobacco are going to be releasing a new Heat Not Burn product later this year, if news reports are to be believed. Japan Tobacco is one of the world’s leading tobacco companies, producing famous cigarette and hand rolling tobacco brands including Camel, Silk Cut, Winston, Old Holborn and Amber Leaf. Seeing global cigarette sales on a downward trajectory throughout most of the developed world they have announced that they will be bringing out a new Heat Not Burn device.
Japan Tobacco must be really concerned at the success of the iQOS in their home territory, where it has proven to be incredibly popular. Sales of HnB products in Japan are massive, leading to an analyst predicting that HnB products will account for a quite astonishing 29% of Japan’s tobacco market this year – up from 16% in 2017. Japan Tobacco did release the Ploom Tech Mevius in mid-2017, but obviously they are not putting too much faith in that or they wouldn’t be aiming to bring out another similar product so soon afterwards.
One of the reasons that Heat Not Burn products are so popular in Japan is because of Japan’s crazy attitude towards e-cigarettes, which are to all intents and purposes banned. There could be many reasons for this absolute madness, including the fact that the government owns at least one third of Japan Tobacco, and they don’t want to lose even more revenue to those pesky e-cigarettes.
Things can only get better
Here at Heat Not Burn UK we think it is great that there is potential for another HnB product to be released, because we believe that the more devices there are on the market the more this competition will drive forward innovation. Just like in the early days of e-cigarettes, when most of the products were bloody awful, the technology will only get better as time goes by, exactly as it has done in the global vaping market. Will this new Japan Tobacco device be better than the iQOS or Glo? Currently we don’t know the answer to that question, as details are extremely scant, but Japan Tobacco have said they will be investing a staggering $917 million on the development and production of reduced risk products (RRP) over the next three years, so you would expect it to be pretty good, wouldn’t you?
One thing for sure is that we are going to be in for some very interesting times, seeing the big players all bringing out new devices; it can only enhance the whole HnB experience for the consumer, which is a very good thing, and we will be here as usual bringing you all the very latest info.
Here at Heat Not Burn UK as we have said before we are very interested in all kinds of heat not burn products from all around the world. Well we have managed to find a heated tobacco product from China that is called the iBuddy i1, and it is an interesting bit of kit.
It is supposed to come with some “iBuddy sticks” that are specially designed for the unit but so far we haven’t been able to find any! Now as luck would have it the tobacco sticks from the iQOS actually fit into the iBuddy. What are the odds of that happening? In truth we have a sneaking feeling that it was designed for the HEETS that go with the PMI iQOS, we would like to be proved wrong so if any of our readers have actually seen any then please let us know.
Our effervescent staff member Fergus has managed to do a excellent unboxing video where we will show you what the iBuddy i1 is all about and what exactly comes with the kit. How will it measure up to the iQOS? Wait and see in our next video in a couple of weeks time.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the next device we looked at on Heat not Burn UK would be the PAX 3 from Pax Labs. That’s sparked some excitement from just about everyone I know who’s ever used a loose-leaf vaporiser to inhale anything, which didn’t really come as a surprise. After all, if there’s a device that every other vaporiser on the market ends up being measured against, the PAX 3 is it.
This gadget is the follow-on to the already legendary PAX 2, and it follows the same basic principles. There are some significant upgrades, though, including improved battery life and better software. It also adds the ability to use wax concentrates, but that isn’t something we’ll be looking at – our only interest in the device is how good it is for vaping tobacco.
Last month we reviewed the Vapour 2 Pro Series 7, which works on the same principle as the PAX 3; it has an internal chamber that you can load up with tobacco, and when you power it up the contents of the chamber get heated enough to release a vapour that you can inhale. It doesn’t get heated enough to actually burn the tobacco, so you avoid all the tar, carbon monoxide and other assorted cag that cigarettes create.
Although the basic principle is the same as the Series 7, the PAX 3 has a few major differences in how it’s laid out. In fact, while the Series 7 turned out to be pretty impressive after I figured out how to use it, the PAX feels like it’s in a whole different class. The question is, did its performance measure up? Let’s find out.
I think I mentioned in one of my videos that HnB products tend to come in really nice boxes. Well, the PAX 3 takes that to a whole new level. This is the nicest box I’ve seen for any kind of vaporiser. In fact it’s probably the nicest box I’ve ever seen for anything that didn’t come from a jeweller’s shop and cost a month’s wages.
The usual cardboard sleeve slides off to reveal a box that opens like a book, revealing two fold-out covers. One has a discreet Pax logo in the middle; the other side says, equally discreetly, “Accessories”. The two halves of the box don’t flap about, by the way. They stay respectably closed, although there aren’t any visible magnets. I investigated with a magnetic field detector (I have some odd stuff) and, sure enough, there are two small but powerful magnets actually embedded in the sides of the box.
Desperate to get to the good stuff, I opened the flap with the Pax logo and there was the vaporiser, sitting all alone in a little cut-out. It’s much simpler than the Vapour 2 Pro, bordering on minimalist; the body is a single piece of anodised aluminium, polished to a glassy finish, with a rubber top cap and plastic base. It’s slightly chunkier than the PAX 2 but still very compact and slim. There are no visible controls; on the front there’s just a Pax logo illuminated by four LEDs; on the back you’ll find two brass contacts, the device name and serial number.
It turns out the only control is under the rubber top cap, which also serves as a mouthpiece; to turn it on you just press down on the centre of the cap until the Pax logo lights up. Holding the button for two seconds opens the temperature select mode. There are four temperature options; press the button to cycle through them, and the petals on the logo light up one by one to show how hot it will get.
The plastic bottom cap covers the heating chamber; just press one side of it and it pops out. The chamber itself looks slightly smaller than the Vapour 2 Pro’s, and there’s a replaceable metal screen at the bottom to keep tobacco out of the device’s innards.
The PAX 3 is beautifully made; there’s no other words for it. The finish is perfect (although a bit of a fingerprint magnet) and everything fits together immaculately. It’s also very light – lighter than the Vapour 2 Pro or any e-cig I own – but feels strong and solid. A definite ten out of ten for workmanship.
Anyway, as I took the vaporiser out, I noticed that the card around it was loose. Removing that, I found it concealed two more items – the charger and USB cable. The charger is a simple cradle that you lay the device on, and magnets will line the contacts up correctly. It’s very simple to use, and should also be well sealed and robust.
The other side of the box has lots of stuff in it, and some of it’s not too obvious at first. There’s a card on top, giving instructions on how to register the device and download the Pax app (do both). Then, underneath, is an assortment of bits and pieces. A white pad conceals the tiny instruction manual, which you should definitely read. There’s a key ring, which turns out to be a simple multitool; its rubber body is for tamping leaves into the heating chamber, and the inlaid metal strip with the Pax logo is a cleaning tool. A box marked “Maintenance kit” holds some pipe cleaners and a brush.
Next, there’s another mouthpiece and two bases. The standard mouthpiece is flat, with a slot at one side for the vapour. The spare one is raised, if you prefer that shape. There’s also a base with an inner chamber for wax concentrates, which we won’t bother with, and a second dry herb one with an insert to let you half-fill the chamber. That might be important for certain herbs, but it isn’t with tobacco – the chamber isn’t huge. So we won’t bother with that one either. Finally, you get three spare screens for the heating chamber and an extra O-ring for the concentrate chamber.
The next step was to charge the battery, which was easy and only took a couple of hours. The charger really is easy to use, and the Pax logo shows how the battery’s doing. The four “petals” of the logo will pulse white and progressively light up as the charge rises, and glow solidly when it hits 100%.
So, back to how it works. As you might have guessed, the heating chamber and mouthpiece are at opposite ends on the PAX 3. To load the chamber you remove the bottom cap, load your tobacco and put the cap back on. A narrow tube runs through the body and opens into a small chamber just under the mouthpiece. This arrangement lets the vapour cool down before you inhale it; apparently this helps when you’re vaping herbs, but I’m not sure it’s so necessary with tobacco.
Right, on to the test! I loaded the chamber with tobacco from a fresh pouch, taking care not to pack it too tightly, then activated the PAX 3. This is easy; just press the button – don’t hold; just press. Instantly the LEDs in the logo flash white, then turn purple – when they’re purple that means the PAX is heating up. And it heats up fast. Even with the temperature set to maximum the logo turned from purple to green in less than 25 seconds, and that was it ready to go. All that was left was to start vaping it.
This is where things get a bit mixed. Here’s the good news: With the temperature set at maximum, the vapour from the PAX 3 is the best I’ve found from any Heat not Burn device so far. There’s plenty of it and the taste is great. After one puff I was extremely impressed. After the second I was pretty much ecstatic. Then it started to go downhill.
The third puff gave almost no vapour at all, and the next couple were the same. There was still a faint taste, but it wasn’t very satisfying. At this point I put the device down and let it sit for a moment to build up vapour, then tried again. By doing that I got a couple more reasonable puffs out of it, but then it dried up for good.
Unlike the Vapour 2 Pro the PAX 3 doesn’t automatically cut off after a set time; you have to switch it off using the button (it will turn off if it’s left untouched for three minutes). So I turned it off, let it cool down, emptied the chamber (the cleaning tool works very well) and had a poke at the tobacco. It was bone dry, so my guess is that it stopped producing vapour because there was nothing left to evaporate.
What I think is happening is that the PAX 3 is a victim of its own success. The design of the heating chamber is obviously great. It’s very efficient, probably because of its shape – it’s quite long and narrow, so the contents heat up very quickly and evenly. That means the first couple of puffs are great. The problem is, the first couple of puffs basically contain all the moisture in the tobacco. I also tried it on a lower temperature setting, but this radically dropped the quality of the first puffs and didn’t really extend the session by much; you might get five puffs instead of two, but they were nowhere near as good.
If you’re trying to replicate the experience of smoking this is a bit of a drawback. You can expect to get about ten good puffs from a cigarette, but you’re going to have to reload the PAX 3 four or five times to match that.
From everything I’ve heard about the PAX 3, it’s unrivalled as a device for vaping substances of a more herbal nature – but, for tobacco, it doesn’t have the same edge. It’s a beautifully made device with good battery life (it packs in 3,500mAh, compared to the PAX 2’s 3,000mAh), and it’s simple to use, but if you’re mainly interested in tobacco I don’t think it’s the best option. If you really want a loose-leaf tobacco vaporiser the Vapour 2 is at least as good and a lot cheaper; if convenience and performance are what matters most, go for an iQOS.
As promised in our last blog post we now have another unboxing video from Heat Not Burn UK for you to enjoy!
For some time now the PAX 2 has been the worlds leading vaporizer but in the new and exciting world of heat not burn manufacturers are innovating all the time and PAX Labs have now released an updated vaporizer to replace the excellent PAX 2, imaginatively called the PAX 3.
Improvements include a better quality finish of the device, a much quicker device heat-up time, more heat settings, haptic feedback, better battery life and the ability to link it to your smart phone. PAX Labs are cleverly marketing this product for our modern tech savvy world!
It isn’t cheap but as anyone who owns an iPhone will know, you really only get what you pay for and this is a very nicely presented high quality built unit.
Next up video wise is the second part of our feature will be a video review so watch this space!
Above is a Youtube video of the unboxing of the new PAX 3.
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!
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.