IQOS: An Open-Minded Look At Heat-Not-Burn Technology
So what is ‘heat-not-burn’, and how does it differ from vaping?
Well, as the name suggests, the tobacco is heated – but not subjected to combustion. This is the critical difference, since nearly all of the harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke are produced as a by-product of combustion, not by lower level heating.
The IQOS in particular keeps temperatures below 350⁰ C – well below the level where most harmful combustion by-products are able to form. In fact, according to PMI Science, “an average of 90-95% reduction in the level of harmful and potentially harmful chemicals in the IQOS vapor is observed”. This result was mirrored in a peer reviewed study on the product all the way back in 2003.
So, this puts the technology in a similar ball park to the harm reduction we generally attribute to vaping. It’s interesting to note however, that even though the IQOS is producing vapor instead of smoke – and indeed achieving comparable harm reduction results to vaping – that’s about where the similarity ends.
The most obvious difference between the two technologies is in the user experience. Whereas every vaper knows that vaping feels significantly different to smoking cigarettes, the IQOS is actually very similar to smoking.
There’s a good reason for this, too.
The product was designed from the ground up to reproduce the smoking experience as closely as possible. The manufacturer even makes it clear themselves that they are targeting existing smokers, not vapers.
In spite of this, we note that there appears to be a certain crowd within the vaping community that takes issue with the whole heat-not-burn idea, and we suspect that those adopting such a defensive posture might be missing the whole point of harm reduction, which is the very reason vaping exists in the first place.
Consider, for instance, that not everyone can make the switch from smoking to vaping easily. Those who can are the lucky ones, but I can tell you that I’m not one of them. It took me the better part of nine years of switching, smoking, and dual-use before I was finally able to kick the habit.
It’s been estimated that in the UK – notably one of the most vape-friendly countries on earth – only around 40% of all vapers (including ex-vapers) have actually managed to quit cigarettes. This leaves a full 60% that have either slipped back into smoking or are in dual-use mode. Now consider what that figure might be like in countries with less civilised regulations when it comes to vaping.
Indeed in some countries, like Australia, vaping is being actively demonized by politicians and government agencies, whereas cigarettes are freely available (and generate enormous tax revenues by the way). In such countries where onerous vaping laws apply, it seems reasonable to assume that the ‘failure rate’ for smoking cessation via vaping would be far higher than the comparatively progressive United Kingdom’s 60% figure.
We believe this is where heat-not-burn may hold a solution, since the experience itself is far more like smoking than vaping. If even a small fraction of that 60% can be saved by some other means, then perhaps it should be given a fair chance.
Here at Vapetrotter, we prefer to stick with the notion of ‘leave no smoker behind’. After all, the real enemies confronting harm reduction are combustion by-products.
Not tobacco, certainly not nicotine, and (shock horror) not even ‘big tobacco’ – especially when it’s so obviously trying to be part of the solution now.
The IQOS tobacco heating system has three main components:
- A charging unit – roughly the size of a cigarette packet
- A battery/heating unit
- Treated tobacco ‘HeatSticks’ – branded as ‘HEETS’
To use the IQOS, you start by inserting the heating unit into the pocket charger, and after about 20 seconds it will be fully charged and ready to use. Note that the pocket charger is advertised as being able to recharge the IQOS heating unit about 20 times before it needs to be recharged itself by means of a USB cable. (In field testing we found that the pocket charger actually lasts almost twice that long before needing to be recharged).
Once charged, you can remove the IQOS from the charger, insert a HeatStick, and after about 20 seconds of pre-heating you can start using it.
The device remains in heating mode for six minutes or 14 puffs, whichever comes first. There is a warning vibration just before this to indicate that you have either two puffs left, or 30 seconds, at which point the device powers down. It is then reinserted into the pocket charger so it’s ready to go next time without having to wait for the initial charging phase.
The ‘processed’ tobacco contained in the HeatSticks is actually impregnated with PG – hence the ability to produce tobacco flavoured vapor via a heat process. It’s also interesting to note that the tobacco has been formed into discreet, uniform ‘flakes’, that when viewed under magnification display a clear corrugated structure. This presumably allows them to form a kind of fractal matrix when packed together in the HeatStick, and we suspect this promotes a more even flow of air throughout the material while puffing.
The IQOS delivers an experience very much like smoking – although thankfully without 90-95% of the harmful chemicals. The draw is tight, just like a cigarette, and the flavour is unmistakeably cigarette-like.
There’s not much than can be added to that.
It’s pretty much like smoking without actually smoking, so from that perspective the design objective has been achieved. Available flavors include two natural tobacco variants, and one in menthol.
Given its similarity to cigarettes, it’s perhaps not surprising to note that the ‘urge to smoke’ is periodically aligned with cigarette use – as opposed to vaping, which for many of us means the ‘urge to vape’ is relatively constant, or at least quite frequent. This has also been shown in clinical testing, where it was found that both nicotine uptake and the ‘urge to smoke’ from the IQOS were similar to cigarettes.
According to the study in question, “…this suggests that switchers do not seek to use [the device] more frequently than smokers seek to use cigarettes, and that switchers find the device acceptable and satisfying”.
Also worth noting is that since the IQOS produces no smoke, there’ll be no ‘smoker’s breath’ problems to worry about. Also, teeth won’t be stained, as evidenced by the fact that used HeatStick filters are just as white as new ones.
The IQOS system is a quality piece of engineering and definitely worthy of serious consideration by anyone wishing to quit smoking. As mentioned above, this is especially the case for those who have struggled to quit by vaping or other forms of nicotine replacement. If you are among this group, the IQOS might just be the solution you need.
Interested? To learn more about Heat-not-burn products, click here.