IQOS vs. Vaping: What Is Heat-Not-Burn (HNB)?
When vaping first appeared a little over a decade ago, many in the tobacco industry could plainly see that the cigarette’s days were numbered – but then, that’s really been the case for decades now. By the middle of the 20th century, medical experts universally agreed that smoking causes chronic diseases and that people should either quit smoking or shouldn’t start at all. Despite the tobacco industry’s best efforts to continue drawing new customers into the fold, smoking rates continue to decline with each passing year.
On their own, though, the decreased smoking rates haven’t necessarily represented an immediate existential threat to the tobacco industry because populations are continuing to grow. In 1982, for instance, the smoking rate in the United Kingdom was estimated to be at 35 percent. In 2018, that number had decreased to 14.7 percent. Given population growth over those years, though, the actual number of smokers in the UK has only decreased from about 19.7 million to about 9.7 million. As long as the population keeps growing – and as long as smoking rates continue to decrease slowly – it could be decades before the tobacco companies would really need to start worrying.
Vaping, however, represented an entirely new threat to the tobacco industry. Never before had an alternative form of nicotine consumption appeared and proved so disruptive that it potentially had the power to rapidly and drastically cut smoking rates worldwide. As of 2018, the number of vapers worldwide was estimated to be around 41 million. By now, it’s likely that the number is much higher. That’s tens of millions of people who are no longer customers of the tobacco industry.
Because vaping has the potential to one day make cigarettes completely irrelevant, it has forced the tobacco companies to come up with reduced-harm alternatives of their own. The best-known product among those alternatives is IQOS from Philip Morris. Reading this article, you’re going to learn what IQOS is and how it compares to vaping.
What Is IQOS?
IQOS is an electronic product that’s similar in principle to vaping in that it delivers nicotine to the user via inhalation but doesn’t produce smoke. However, while vaping uses nicotine-infused liquid, IQOS uses actual tobacco. The system heats the tobacco to the point at which the nicotine turns to vapour, but it doesn’t cause the tobacco to combust and doesn’t produce smoke.
The IQOS itself is an electronic device with a battery and a temperature-controlled heating blade. You use it with cigarette-like products called HeatSticks or HEETs, which are sold 20 to a package just like cigarettes. You remove a HeatStick from the package and place it inside the IQOS, and the heating blade of the IQOS pierces the centre of the HeatStick. When you puff on the IQOS, the blade heats the tobacco to release the nicotine and aroma into your mouth.
On its own, tobacco doesn’t release a great deal of vapour when it’s heated. For that reason, the tobacco in a HeatStick is impregnated with propylene glycol – the same ingredient that’s in most e-liquids. The propylene glycol helps to carry the nicotine from the HeatStick to your body, and it also creates a visible cloud resembling smoke.
When you consider the surface features, IQOS and vaping aren’t so different from one another. They are both reduce the harm associated with nicotine use by allowing you to inhale nicotine as a vapour rather than in smoke form. It’s only when you examine the details of IQOS vs. vaping that the differences really start to become evident. We’ll do that next.
IQOS vs. Vaping: Flavour
In terms of flavour, IQOS compares favourably to vaping in just one area, and that is in delivering the flavour of tobacco. It’s not that IQOS tastes like a cigarette as such; since the tobacco doesn’t burn, it doesn’t produce smoke – and smoke contributes a very large portion of a cigarette’s flavour. An IQOS HeatStick does contain real tobacco, though, and you’ll taste that when you use the device. Compared to vaping, IQOS definitely does deliver real tobacco flavour in a way that vaping can’t hope to match.
IQOS has a serious shortcoming compared to vaping, though, in that no matter what flavouring agents the manufacturer happens to add to a particular style of HeatStick, it’s still going to taste like tobacco. The e-liquids that you use when vaping, on the other hand, can taste like virtually anything. It’s not unusual for new vapers to feel a bit disappointed when they try vaping for the first time and learn that no e-liquid really tastes like a cigarette. You’ve probably heard, though, about people regaining their senses of taste after they quit smoking – and you can expect the same thing to happen when you switch to vaping. You’ll realise that you never liked the flavour of cigarette smoke in the first place, and you’ll be thankful for the fact that, although e-liquid doesn’t taste like tobacco, it can taste like almost anything else.
IQOS vs. Vaping: Safety
If you’re currently a smoker, there are two things that you probably want to know about the safety profile of IQOS. First, you want to know if IQOS is safer than smoking – and second, you want to know how IQOS vs. vaping compare from a safety standpoint.
Regarding the safety of IQOS, we have good news and bad news. First, the good news is that IQOS appears to be less harmful than smoking. After reviewing the available scientific information, the Food & Drug Administration in the United States authorised Philip Morris to sell IQOS with the claim that switching from smoking to IQOS reduces one’s exposure to harmful chemicals.
The bad news for IQOS, though, is that it’s still a tobacco product. As such, it appears less safe than vaping. A 2018 study published in the Addiction journal compared the carbonyl emissions of IQOS vs. an e-cigarette (a device with the Aspire Nautilus Mini tank) and a tobacco cigarette (Marlboro Red). The carbonyl emissions of IQOS were significantly lower than those of the cigarette, but the emissions of the e-cigarette were significantly lower than those of IQOS.
Dr. Michael Siegel is an addiction specialist and a professor at Boston University. He is a proponent of vaping as a reduced-harm alternative to smoking, and he doesn’t see IQOS as a good thing for public health. In a 2019 TIME article, Dr. Siegel said that IQOS only provides a benefit to public health in places where e-cigarettes aren’t available. He also said that IQOS could actually be negative for public health if it draws people away from the safer alternative of vaping.