Vape Pens vs. Heated Tobacco: What’s Better for You?

Heated tobacco products were launched a few years ago, drawing a lot of people away from traditional cigarettes.

That’s always a good thing.

But, they also took a bite at the e-cigarette market.

While not specifically marketed as ‘better than vape pens’, these products are 100% legal in a lot of countries. They’re not being investigated by the FDA here in the United States… so there’s an air of legitimacy to them.

But… are heated tobacco products really better than vapes?

I say they’re not.

They might be slightly more convenient. But that’s it.

What Are Vape Pens?
Vape pens are devices that use e-liquid, a blend of specific VG and PG ratios, flavor, and nicotine to create vapor which is then inhaled by the end-user.

And while there is a broad range of devices and types of vape juices, all of them work on the same principle. The juice is heated to a point where it turns into a vapor containing nicotine. 

It’s important to note that there is no actual tobacco involved in the process of vaping.

And, while vape pens have a lot of variations and predecessors, in design, they are currently the closest thing that resembles devices that heat tobacco making them the perfect candidate for comparison.

What Are Heated Tobacco Products?

Heated Tobacco Product or HTP is a nicotine delivery system that avoids combustion and instead heats tobacco to a point where the user can inhale it. It’s important to note that there is no tobacco smoke when exhaling

First developed by tobacco companies Altria and Philip Morris (when they were operating under the same roof), a pen-shaped electronic device that heats tobacco instead of burning it was called IQOS. 

In the beginning, the media speculated that Philip Morris used this new product as an acronym for ‘I quit ordinary smoking’ however that was never officially confirmed. Later on, it has been confirmed that the IQOS device is not an acronym, but just a name of the product.

Unlike vape pens, where nicotine is added to the liquid mixture, IQOS uses tobacco sticks as a raw material to deliver nicotine to the end-user. Also known as HEETs, tobacco sticks contain less nicotine than a regular cigarette, however, due to the fact that a fair amount of nicotine is destroyed during combustion, which is not the case with heating nicotine amount the end-user receives is almost the same.

In addition, by avoiding combustion, IQOS has 95% fewer harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes. As a result, research conducted in 2018 cross-referenced carbonyl emissions from IQOS and regular cigarettes, proving that HTP emits approximately 85% to 95% decreased carbonyl exposure resembled smoking 20 tobacco cigarettes

Heated Tobacco Health Concerns
The biggest concern regarding heated tobacco is the fact that this method is too young to provide pros and cons on a larger scale. At the moment it’s hard to determine if HTP can be considered safer and better in comparison to regular smoking.

Yet, most companies are releasing their version of IQOS, increasing the number of consumers and turning them away from analogue cigarettes.

Most companies such as Philip Morris International have provided lengthy research papers and statistics showing the benefits of consuming their IQOS instead of regular cigarettes, the fact still stands that PMI is a part of Big Tobacco, and is keen on using these researches as a marketing campaign. 

From a professional standpoint, doctors around the globe are not a united front regarding the claims that heating tobacco is healthier than combustion. They still believe this topic requires more research as it can’t be taken with 100% certainty. Shortage of detailed research can be described as heading into the unknown which might end with worse repercussions in the upcoming years.

Of course, the matter is still being thoroughly researched, and a study published in 2021. summarizes that many independent studies over the past 5 years have confirmed that the concentration of chemical mixtures created by HTP is lower than that produced by conventional cigarettes. The main focus of these studies was to analyze and confirm the benefits of IQOS in comparison to smoking.

Regardless of the current state of mind concerning HTP, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), traditional smoking is still showing an extremely high number of mortality, almost 1 in every 5 deaths in the United States.

Vaping Health Concerns
Vaping has been around for quite some time, and over the years it battled many accusations and ridiculous speculations about how it causes popcorn lungs without ever being proven. On top of that, many states took it upon themselves to ban vaping to some degree which ended up with young people turning to the black market for untested products that caused even more damage.

Eventually, the bans were lifted to some degree. Vaping products, mainly talking about vaping liquids were restricted to only several flavors since vaping was known for having a lot of sweet and attractive flavoring, which is believed to attract kids, teens, and young adults.

In recent months, vaping products have been approved by FDA to some degree. At the moment, all flavors except menthol and other kid-friendly nicotine products have been ratified. 

However, similar to smoking, it’s still prohibited to vape indoors.

What Makes It Easier to Quit Smoking?
A study was conducted in 2011. proving that all traditional cigarettes are soaked in ammonia, among other additives, which increases the proportion of free nicotine, as well as the absorption by the smoker. This means that smokers’ body is exposed to larger doses of nicotine increasing overall addiction. And while it is marketed that additives in cigarettes help brands present their own flavor, the mentioned study may indicate that is not completely true.

On the other hand, tobacco heating products and vape juices are known to provide a specific amount of pure nicotine to their users without any additives that would amplify or spike nicotine cravings.

It has been proven that smokers would more likely go from a traditional cigarette to IQOS rather than vaping due to several reasons.

Guided by common sense, the reasoning is quite simple, HEETs very much resemble traditional cigarettes in both taste, shape, and use. From a psychological standpoint, it’s easier for a smoker to stick with IQOS longer than it would with vaping.

The fact that they are not fully changing their routines (the way they inhale, consume, and buy tobacco) makes it easier for the body to get used to something new.

Complete Nicotine Cessation – Which Option is Better?
However, while IQOS can be a perfect transition tool, when talking about completely removing nicotine from the equation, vaping could be considered a top choice since it does not use real tobacco as a product but simply as a source from which nicotine has been extracted.

In addition to that, vape liquids are customizable. That means the end-user (vaper) has the option to maximize or minimize the amount of nicotine that is inside the e-juice. And while IQOS does offer a variety of HEETs, they only differ in flavor, but have the same nicotine amounts determined by the manufacturer and can’t be adjusted by the user going forward. 

With that in mind, vapers tend to have higher chances to quit any type of nicotine consumption since their transition from higher dosage to low/none can be accomplished gradually.

The Verdict – Vapes or IQOS?
While both options are great to declare a farewell to traditional cigarettes, in the end, it all comes down to your preferences and what you wish to accomplish.

In short, from a health standpoint, whatever IQOS does good, vaping does better. For example, research has proven that while IQOS will reduce carbonyl exposure by 85% to 95% when compared with smoking 20 tobacco cigarettes; a 5g of vape juice would reduce it up to 99%.

Draw your own conclusions.