IQOS: Good Thing, or Bad?

IQOS: Good Thing, or Bad?

Ever since I tried an early heat-not-burn device when I attended the Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) I have tried to keep an eye on the developing technology. At the end of the day, it’s really a simplistic concept. Instead of setting fire to loose-leaf tobacco wrapped in a slow-burning paper, it’s simply heated in a not too dissimilar way that an e-cig heats e-liquid.

As with the now popular e-cigarette, heat-not-burn didn’t exactly get off to a rip-roaring start. The device we recognise as an e-cig today is due to commercial viability, whether Hon Lik found the original 1963 patent and based his work on that, or came up with a different approach altogether is neither here nor there. The early devices didn’t take the market by storm, and neither did the early HnB products.

Unsurprisingly, when the latest generation of HnB products was announced, the usual suspects repeated the tired old mantra of ‘insufficient evidence’ and ‘must be regulated the same as cigarettes’. As I mentioned in my post from 2016, I wanted to try one just to see how good (or bad) it was.

When I spotted this promotion, now seemed like as good a time as any. After I tried the early device at GFN, I wasn’t entirely sure how the IQOS would fare so I had few, if any, preconceptions about the product.

The first thing that struck me about the IQOS was the presentation in the box:

IQOS Unboxing

IQOS Unboxing

The packaging strongly reminded me of an Apple iPhone. Neat and tidy.

IQOS Accessories

IQOS Accessories

The pocket charger comes with a ~50% charge if you want to just get cracking, which is useful. However, I decided to wait until the pocket charger was fully charged before having a proper go.

One point here, it doesn’t appear that you can charge the pocket charger and have the pocket charger charge the holder, so no pass-thru charging, which is a shame. It isn’t that much of a problem as a full charge on the pocket charger does last a while. In my case, it was fully charged late afternoon and I’ve used 15 Heet sticks and the pocket charger has only used ~25% of its charge.

IQOS Pocket Charger

IQOS Pocket Charger

At this rate, I’ll need to charge it again in a few days. So battery life of the pocket charger doesn’t appear to be a problem at first glance. Speaking of the pocket charger, I opted for the navy version instead of white, the case itself reminds me of a cigarette case in its general design. Charge port at the bottom, a release button on the side with some LEDs and a power/cleaning check button. It isn’t particularly heavy either. It’s heavier than a pack of smokes, but not as a heavy as most small mods.

IQOS Pocket Charger and a HEET stick

IQOS Pocket Charger and a HEET stick

I’m not going to go into much detail on the HEET Sticks themselves, Fergus has already done that here. All I will say is that they are much smaller than I expected them to be.

The burning question - pun intended - I had is “is it any good?”

As I had opted for the Yellow Heets which are supposedly the rough equivalent of Marlboro Lights, so are meant to offer a smoother taste. For reference, the Amber HEETS are meant to be the equivalent to Marlboro Red, while the Turquoise HEETS is a Menthol flavour.

When I used to smoke, I didn’t have any particular brand loyalty. I smoked Marlboro Lights, Superking Black, Richmond Superking, West Black, Camel and Mayfair Superking, as well as some menthol variants (mostly when I had a cold). Basically, I wasn’t overly bothered by what brand I was smoking, because I enjoyed smoking.

I did tweet my quick first impressions of the IQOS, and now having used the device for a while, much of my initial impression is confirmed.

I’m still not a big fan of the warm-up time, and watching the LED on the holder is a pain in the arse. It couldn’t be much of an ask for the device to emit a short, discreet tone (or something) as an additional indicator that the warm-up is complete and the device is ready for use.

It is used exactly like a cigarette, which I did initially struggle with - having been a vaper for the last four years, but I soon found myself reverting back into a more “traditional smoking behaviour”.

This, I think, is key. As discussed in the Pleasure of Smoking report :

The most commonly expressed criticism of vaping (66 of 133) was it was simply “not the same” as smoking. A small number of the smokers commented that they did not like what they described as the lack of a nicotine “hit” from vaping.

The criticisms of vaping are entirely valid. It isn’t the same as smoking. It is, however, very similar and, in my personal opinion, relatively easy to adapt to. But, vaping isn’t for everyone and this is where HnB comes in.

The IQOS experience is much more akin to smoking a cigarette, so the actual sensation I get from using the IQOS is what I would expect if I had set fire to a cigarette. No wonder then, that where IQOS is available (regardless of whether vaping is available or not), it is proving to be popular.

Did vaping prompt the tobacco industry to accelerate development of their respective HnB products? I doubt that very much. It is likely that with the development of heat-not-burn and PMI’s application to the FDA, the proliferation of heat-not-burn can only draw more attention to alternative nicotine products.

The taste of the Yellow HEETS is very good indeed. The vapour emitted is nice and warm with a very slight (and it is slight, it might have even been a fluke) caramel twang to it. One thing I did notice is that towards the end of the “cycle” it does tend to taste somewhat more burnt. The instructions suggest 14 puffs or 6 minutes (whichever comes first).

I found that when that happens, there’s an aftertaste in my mouth. It isn’t particularly unpleasant, as there used to be an aftertaste from smoking so it isn’t unusual, just unexpected after my four years of vaping.

A few points I’d like to mention, sometimes the tobacco “plug” comes out of the HEET stick, or specifically, the HEET stick becomes detached from the tobacco plug during use. It’s easy enough to just push it back down again, but it has caught me out a couple of times.

The taste and ‘vapour’ production actually die off far sooner than the instructions suggest - for me anyway. That could be due to how I’m using the device, however, and not an actual flaw. I have, on more than one occasion, pressed the button after it has warmed the HEET stick up - just like I would when using an e-cig, and it isn’t a simple case of pressing the button again to get it to re-heat.

I found I had to place the holder back into the pocket charger (I didn’t remove the HEET stick) and wait a few minutes before starting again. That’s just me being a dunce and pressing the button after the heater is ready (which turns it off) instead of just taking a puff.

I’ve also encountered the old “ciggie lips” phenomenon. That used to happen to me a lot when I was smoking, the cigarette would get stuck to my lips (usually my top lip) causing me to effectively ‘pull’ the cherry out, burning my fingers in the process (and quite often sending said burning ember entirely unpleasant). In this case, the HEET stick stuck to my lips and left the tobacco plug inside the holder. It was a simple case of pushing the filter part of the HEET back into the device (carefully), but that’s something to watch out for.

One final point with this product in comparison to smoking, there’s no audible cue. When you take a drag on a cigarette, there is an audible ‘hiss’ as the paper and tobacco burns. That’s missing from using the IQOS. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing however as the experience is meant to be slightly different.

Overall, I am rather surprised by IQOS. It is far better than the device I tried in Warsaw. The experience is actually very enjoyable, and I found the slight tobacco smell during use an appealing addition to the whole experience, and I’m sure that many smokers that have been looking at this product will enjoy it too.

This product is not aimed at vapers, though that doesn’t stop anyone from trying it as I (and a few others) have. It is a very good, viable alternative to combustible tobacco, and I would like to think that smokers looking to stop the use of combustible tobacco give heat-not-burn some serious consideration, especially if they’ve tried e-cigs and found they didn’t like them (for whatever reason).

The IQOS is better than I expected and a very good, and much-needed addition to the market. Like vaping, it isn’t for everyone but, isn’t that the point? It’s another option for folk to choose from, and that is a win.


This is more in relation to the experience of using the IQOS than anything else, but it is something I’ve observed during my time with the IQOS today. When smoking a cigarette, the individual sets aside (consciously or otherwise) a set amount of time to consume one cigarette. With vaping, it is entirely ad-hoc. It is rare that a vaper sets aside 5 or 6 minutes to vape exclusively. Usually, it is a few seconds to take a puff, and, speaking entirely for myself here, two or three puffs are all I want.

With the IQOS, it is more like the smoking. By that, I mean that once you start a HEET, it isn’t recommended to stop halfway through. Therefore when you choose to “go for a HEET”, it is a set session of 5 or 6 minutes.

This serves to reinforce the smoking-like behaviour which, I feel, is a good thing as it makes the overall experience much more familiar and therefore an easier transition for smokers - for those that want it.

Who knows, after a while, those migrating from smoking to heat-not-burn may decide to give vaping another go (if they’ve tried it before). It’s possible, albeit unlikely. Especially if the smoker had already tried vaping and didn’t get on with it.

2 Days In

Since I started using the IQOS exclusively since starting this post I have to admit that I am rather impressed. It is, as I’ve already mentioned, very close to the experience of smoking that it will probably be good for smokers that don’t want to try an e-cig or snus. As I noted earlier in this post, the battery life of the pocket charger is also very good. Mine was charged by mid-afternoon on Thursday, and it is only now (almost two days later) at 25% charge, which I wasn’t really expecting.

IQOS Pocket Charger after two days use

IQOS Pocket Charger after two days use

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised after all the pocket charger is exactly that. A charger.

I have now used a full pack of HEETS, which means I’ve had to clean the holder. In the starter kit, you’ve got two choices for cleaning the holder. You can either use the cleaning tool or some q-tips which are soaked in some kind of cleaning alcohol.

Picture of the inside of the IQOS holder showing charred debris

The manual recommends cleaning after using 20 HEETS to ensure you get the ‘best experience’ from the device. I did notice a slight decrease in taste as I progressed through a pack of HEETS, along with a slight increase in burn taste. After all, the holder is heating the tobacco plug to 350C or thereabouts.

Cleaning with the q-tip is a tad fiddly but, I suspect, it is marginally more effective due to the cleaning solution.

Questions from Twitter

  • What’s the throat hit like?

There isn’t really a throat hit per se. There is a sensation of warm vapour being inhaled, but it isn’t in any way harsh. As mentioned earlier in this post, it’s more akin to smoking than vaping.

Final Thoughts

It does do a very good job of mimicking smoking. If the IQOS is going to evolve it can only get better. I’d like to see improvements in the HEETS so that the tobacco plug doesn’t get pulled out so easily if the filter gets stuck to the lips - though that could easily be something to do with the heating blade. The Yellow HEETS do give a nice buzz when used after a lengthy period of abstinence, which is nice.

I suspect this would serve many smokers well, although they might find having to clean the holder a pain in the arse. They would probably find the warm-up time irritating too.

All in all, it’s a solid offering and a viable option. It won’t be for everyone but then, it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be for some.

(Image credit @anImaginaryEcho)