Dissecting Heat-not-Burn

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

iQOS kit

WASHINGTON -- With Philip Morris International (PMI) taking steps toward federal approval of the company's heat-not-burn product called iQOS, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently published several of PMI’s filed documents, revealing a wide range of details, including a description of the product itself, advertising plans and studies to prove various health claims as compared to traditional, combustible cigarettes.

According to the documents, the overall aim of the product is to “significantly reduce the levels of harmful and potentially harmful constituents generated in the aerosol [of combustible cigarettes] whilst retaining an acceptable sensory experience for the user.”

The product achieves that by heating tobacco rather than burning it, the documents said.

The filing also called the product a “tobacco heating device,” saying New York-based PMI will brand the device iQOS, refer to the tobacco sticks used in the device as HeatSticks and sell the product under the Marlboro brand name.

Here’s a breakdown of the product …

Tobacco stick

iQOS cross section

Like a cigarette but with different dimensions, the tobacco stick goes into the device holder that heats the stick to generate a filtered, nicotine-containing aerosol. That mist provides the taste and flavor similar to a conventional cigarette, according to the filings.

The stick consists of two parts, a tobacco piece called a plug made from reconstituted, cast-leaf tobacco and a nontobacco piece. That second piece is made up of a hollow, acetate tube; a polylactic-acid filter; an acetate, mouthpiece filter; and various papers. The plug, tube and polylactic-acid filter are held together with cigarette paper and attach to the mouthpiece filter using “tipping paper.”


iQOS pieces

The user pushes the tobacco stick into the holder, or the main heating device. The act of pushing the stick into the holder inserts a ceramic blade into the tobacco stick. That blade is the source of heat. The holder has a small battery that stores enough energy for the user to puff through a single stick. An embedded, electronic system in the holder moderates the temperature to a predefined heating profile. The user activates the holder by pressing a button, and the status of the heating process is communicated with an interface that includes a colored, light-emitting diode or LED light.

The photo above shows the tobacco stick, the holder and the charger with its lid closed.


iQOS charger

The charger is a pocket-sized, recharging case that carries the holder. It contains a larger battery than the holder and electronics that charge the holder when placed inside. The charger has enough battery power to charge the holder 20 times and has an accessory chord that allows users to plug it into a regular, AC-power source.

Besides charging the holder, the user can also initiate a blade-cleaning process, whereby the system heats the blade to a higher temperature than needed for normal use. Doing so removes deposits left when users inhale.

The user controls the charger and knows its charge level using two buttons and LED lights.

Using the device

Man using iQOS

To use the device, a customer inserts the tobacco stick into the holder. He or she presses a button on the holder. A LED light indicates when the preheating process is complete.

The user then draws on or inhales upon the tobacco stick to create an aerosol. During inhalation, the device follows a controlled temperature profile, which allows for a consistent experience. The holder and tobacco stick deliver 14 puffs over a single use period or works for 6 minutes, whichever comes first. The user must recharge the holder before the next use.