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Convenience and competition are key for emerging products

More and more of my time is spent discussing and researching emerging tobacco products.

I credit two readers because it was Mark Butcher's enthusiasm for PMI's iQOS device and Juliette Tworsey's similar passion for Ploom, another heat-not-burn product (now owned by JTI), that encouraged me to delve a little deeper.

PMI has a useful guide to iQOS here. The first generation heat stick (Platform 1) isn't on sale in Britain (as far as I know) but Mark is convinced it would be popular with smokers here.

Like a lot of e-cigarettes it looks a bit clunky to me but I'm not the target market. What's interesting is that the Platform 2 device (described by PMI as being at "an earlier stage of development than Platform 1") looks just like a cigarette.

My gut feeling – based on no research whatsoever – is that if hundreds of millions of smokers worldwide are to switch to vaping (e-cigarettes or HNB products) the device has to be as simple to use as a combustible cigarette.

I base this on the observation that the main reason cigarettes were so popular in the 20th century was convenience.

Compare cigarettes to pipe-smoking. The late Lord Harris, chairman of Forest for 20 years until his death in 2006, was an enthusiastic pipe smoker. Then, in his early Eighties, he suddenly gave up.

I won't go into the circumstances (it was nothing to do with health) but the principal reason was the amount of paraphernalia he had to carry around – his pipe (or pipes), tobacco pouch, pipe cleaners, lighter and so on.

Throughout the 20th century I suspect many pipe smokers quit for the same reason, with many switching to cigarettes.

Like a pipe, cigars generally take far longer to smoke than a cigarette so, leaving aside the cost, cigarettes were more convenient than cigars as well.

My guess is the majority of smokers will only switch to vaping if the device matches the convenience of cigarettes and offers a similar tobacco-related experience.

Second generation e-cigs are the pipes of the 21st century; vape shops are like specialist tobacconists. The niche will hopefully survive TPD and other insane regulations but it will never be mass market.

Truth is, a significant majority of smokers aren't attracted by the initial generations of e-cigarettes. The future, I believe, lies elsewhere. Will that be HNB? It's too early to say.

The reason I'm interested in HNB products is because, wearing my Forest hat, anything that offers a safer method of consuming tobacco ought to interest smokers, especially if it mimics the act of smoking and still involves tobacco.

I was encouraged therefore when it was reported that BAT is also entering the HNB market although I'm equally intrigued that a fourth company, Imperial Brands (formerly Imperial Tobacco), is said to be shunning "heating products".

From a consumer and media standpoint it creates a compelling narrative and it will be interesting to see what the future holds. BAT, for example, is also developing a hybrid product "that combines e-cigarette technology with fresh tobacco".

Of course there are enormous hurdles for emerging tobacco products to overcome, including opposition from politicians, public health campaigners and even some vapers whose reluctance to embrace HNB alongside e-cigarettes is rather sad.

Personally I like the fact that at least three tobacco companies are developing a new generation of tobacco products that could, perhaps, offer similar harm reduction benefits as e-cigarettes.

Even if the benefits aren't as significant as using e-cigs I welcome the additional choice they could provide.

The fact that HNB devices are genuine tobacco products, unlike e-cigarettes, counts in their favour.

Forest, after all, is an acronym for Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco. The longer we can resist the need to change our name to Forecn - Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Consuming Nicotine - the better. At that point I might just retire.

My personal view is that competition drives technology and innovation. As long as governments don't over-regulate any of these products (and others still to be invented) the long-term winner ought to be the consumer.

History of course shows that the best products don't always come out on top. Betamax famously lost the videotape format war to the inferior VHS. Likewise the 8-track cartridge lost out to the compact cassette, and so on.

I suspect something similar may happen with rival nicotine delivery systems. Commercially the most successful product won't necessarily be the best or most technologically advanced.

Quality matters, up to a point, but what matters most to consumers is cost and convenience.

In terms of risk, common sense suggests that HNB products will sit somewhere between combustibles and e-cigarettes but we won't know for some time.

The continuing appeal of combustibles for millions of smokers suggests they will balance the health risks of a product against other factors - pleasure, for example.

For that reason, even if they are not as 'safe' as e-cigarettes, HNB products may prove more attractive to smokers in the long run.

What HNB devices will provide, if regulations allow it, is even greater choice for smokers who want to cut down or quit or use a smokeless product when they're working or socialising in enclosed public spaces.

In Geneva, with the exception of fumoirs, smoking is banned in bars and restaurants. When I met him a few weeks ago, however, Mark Butcher was able to use his iQOS heat stick all evening without comment or complaint.

The biggest threat to HNB and other emerging products will probably be those whose ideological aversion to the tobacco industry and tobacco in general has defined an entire generation of public health campaigners.

The real breakthrough will come when governments stop hiding behind Article 53 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and engage openly with the industry in a full and frank discussion about all tobacco products - including HR and combustibles.

Their current refusal to do so suggests governments are more interested in political gamesmanship than public health.

That's the real scandal the media consistently overlooks.

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Reader Comments (9)

Some people prefer Smash to real potato, powdered egg to fresh egg, artificial sweetener to sugar or Caffeine tablets to fresh coffee. Each to their own but I'll stick with the real thing and I suspect most people will too, once the novelty has worn off.

Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 16:38 | Unregistered CommenterTony

As Simon says, I'm now a complete convert to PMI's Iqos system - and I'm convinced committed smokers will find the 'Heat not Burn' technology far more attractive than ecigs.

I've been using the Iqos now for about 5 months - almost exclusively (I admit to cadging a real cig occasionally) but from a pack and a half a day down to practically none. I think I've probably had no more than 20 real cigarettes in all that time.

There are drawbacks - which I'll get to in a moment. But the pluses: it's far more like smoking a real cigarette. It has the taste (although it's a bit different), it has the 'throat hit' far more like a real cigarette (I do find some ecigs too harsh) and it has an end. When you've finished, you've had a fag!

As for health, my wife and friends have said my 'smoker's cough' has stopped. I was generally unaware of it. But recently I had a cold. In the past I would develop a nasty cough with a cold, which I blamed on smoking. This time I didn't. Just a runny nose and then it stopped. I am utterly convinced they are far healthier.

I think a little explanation on how they work -which links to the drawbacks.

The Iqos is divided into 2 parts - not counting the 'heat stick'. A battery pack and the stick holder. To use, you take the holder out of the battery pack (which is about the same size as a normal cigarette pack) you insert the heat stick - which contains the tobacco - and a small prong then heats up the tobacco. That takes around 20-30 seconds. An LED tells you when it's ready.

You then simply suck.

The smoking lasts for the same length of time as a real cigarette - it does depend on how hard you suck and how often.

After about 5 mins or so, the LED on the holder goes out and the battery in the holder is now exhausted (as is the heat stick -I've tried using the same one twice - it doesn't work!).

Then you place the holder back into the battery pack and it takes about 5 mins to re-charge before you can use it again. The main battery pack will allow for about 20 uses before you need to plug that into the mains (like a phone, it uses a micro USB socket).

This highlights the drawbacks. For me, certainly if I'm having a beer, I sometimes want another one before the first one has charged back up again. So I have 2 and alternate (I actually have a third for emergency back-up, but I keep that at home).

So, as Simon points out, there is a bit of paraphernalia. But not much. It's like having 2 packs of cigarettes on you at all times. I don't normally carry a spare plug to charge it up with as it uses a mobile phone socket - there's always one of those available.

The main problems: make sure you charge it every night. I have converted a couple of colleagues to Iqos, but they're not as organised and me and tend to forget - so have to buy normal cigarettes! But they are now fans of the system and are annoyed at themselves if the battery runs out.

I'm currently writing this from my 'man cave' with a beer and I have the battery pack plugged in. You can still use it while the battery pack charges.

The main problem at the moment is simply distribution. PMI have launched the product in Switzerland, but the devices and the heat sticks are only available from a limited number of shops - so I buy three cartons of heat sticks at a time. The price is the same as a normal pack of cigarettes as they attract the same tax (its real tobacco after all).

So you need to carry enough packs of heat sticks to last you if you're out. No dashing to the newsagent for a refill, yet.

For the legality of using them indoors: in Geneva, as Simon says, I used them all evening. But there is a slight odor and it smells like a cigarette - although faintly. And there's no vapor when you're not sucking on it.

But I have experienced some problems in bars that have also banned ecigs.

If anyone from PMI is reading this: I would caution about making the next generation look too much like a real cig. Smokers don't need that and it could also create more problems in public spaces.

When these are rolled out in more territories, the public health lobby will be even more confused and divided. They've been blindsided by ecigs - the arrival of these will only deepen that - especially if it coincides with a fall in sales of regular cigarettes.

Governments should be supportive as it maintains their tax base on tobacco.

But in conclusion. I firmly believe this is a game changer. If a smoker hasn't embraced the ecigs - then give these a go.They are different.

Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 17:07 | Unregistered CommenterMark Butcher

I suspect something similar may happen with rival nicotine delivery systems

Ouch Simon, you've really got the anti-smoking lingo haven't you?

Would you similarly describe a plate of roast beef as an iron delivery system?

There is a great deal more to tobacco than just the nicotine.

Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 17:14 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

IQos not on sale in the UK yet, but PMI is expanding its markets quite rapidly and I'd be surprised if it's not here by the end of year.

Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 20:53 | Unregistered CommenterJon Fell

Certainly expanding choice is desirable, but the choice of using tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, snus, and chewing tobacco) is being eroded as we speak. Combatting the tobacco control lies about smoking (second hand smoke myths and exaggerated risk) and the imposition of ever-increasing smoking bans should remain the priority among smokers.

Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 21:02 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Article 5.3

When I found out about it I was shocked that a British government could even sign up to such a thing, let alone help write it.

6 May 2009

Baroness Thornton
"Article 5.3 guidelines were agreed at the third conference of the parties to the FCTC in November last year, and the UK worked with EU counterparts to refine, improve and gain consensus for the final guidelines. The UK Government abide by their responsibilities under the guidelines for implementing Article 5.3.”

Guidelines for implemention of Article 5.3

on the protection of public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial interests and other vested interests of the tobacco industry ( and everyone else who objects to their social denormalisation campaigns against the public)

People can talk as much as they like but the government are not allowed to listen.

Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 21:28 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

BAT recently published some interesting research that consisted of an analysis of the aerosol produced by HnB products compared with regular cigarettes: the HnB product showed a reduction of about 90% in the compounds considered potentially harmful.

I'm sorry I can't provide the link, it's one of those thousands that go past you and are not grabbed at the time...

BAT will be able to point you at it. The info consisted of two parts: the usual complex tables of measurements, which are not really of any great use without a chemistry degree and significant time, and the researcher's associated comment stating he believed it conveyed about a 90% reduction in unwanted materials.

Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 23:42 | Unregistered CommenterChris Price

Thank you Simon for shedding light on the potential of HnB.

With regards to vaping the Ploom modelTwo (as originally designed in San Francisco) in bars and restaurants where smoking (and sometimes even vaping) are banned, I have found that most of the time people don't even notice or care when I vape real tobacco around them, even in close proximity. Thus, my experience with vaping tobacco in some "public" places has been similar to that of Mark's, although I have to admit that I am a bit jealous that I have not had the chance to try the iQOS yet. I hope that it will become available in the U.S. soon.

I also believe that HnB has the potential to be a game changer, and in more ways than one. It is true that many smokers prefer the taste and feel of real tobacco and there is no shame in that.

...and speaking of pipes, I can even see a niche market for tobacco vapor pipes (ie., with higher pH tobacco) as an alternative choice for pipe and cigar smokers in the future. Why not? Some cigarette smokers may even like this alternative. Many won't, but some will. It worked for me.

At the end of the day it should be about freedom of choice.

Thanks for your consistency Simon.

Sunday, March 20, 2016 at 3:58 | Unregistered Commenterjredheadgirl

Choice also includes being able to smoke in places where smokers are welcome inside. To keep pushing alternatives on people who have been denied that choice is not fighting for choice.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 at 8:58 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

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