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How the Japanese Are Slowly Giving up Smoking Thanks to IQOS

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International laws on smoking are crystal clear; whether you travel to France, Luxembourg, or Toronto, you’re not allowed to smoke in a restaurant, café, or any other space used by the public.

Vaping, however, is a bit of a gray area. In the UK, vaping is legal, as it is in many other countries, but if you go to Japan, as of 2010, the sale of nicotine vapes of any kind is illegal. Why? It’s the use of nicotine, which is banned due to health concerns and the fact that vape pens burn the liquid to release an inhalable vapor. So, if you’re traveling to Japan, you can take a vape pen, provided it has only nicotine-free e-liquid in it. Vape devices and liquids that do contain nicotine are considered medical devices; therefore, you should respect the import limit of 120ml for one month of personal use.

As a result, this law has led to a surge in a different kind of tobacco consumption in Japan. Rather than burning tobacco or nicotine, to get the same effect, you heat the product instead, which allows for the nicotine to be absorbed without breaking any laws. Great!

Here, our team at the Electric Tobacconist will look at this trend in a bit more depth, and we’ll explore its international impact on the smoking and vaping trends. So, read on and enjoy!


What is IQOS?

IQOS devices were introduced in Japan in 2014. As mentioned before, these devices heat tobacco sticks rather than burn them, allowing the person using the product to inhale nicotine vapor, which can have multiple flavors.

Marketed by Philip Morris International, these cigarette-like products have taken Japan by storm so far. The IQOS device is pitched as being less harmful to use to consume nicotine products. As the battery and the heating elements don’t need to burn the tobacco sticks, these devices have less chance of overheating and causing burns or other injuries. Not that this is common with regular vapes, but you get the idea!

Popularity: Why Has It Taken Off?

Now, you may be wondering why this trend has taken off. Well, there are a few reasons to note, and the first is health. Much like the reasons for switching from smoking to vaping, IQOS aims for their devices to be the less harmful alternative to vape pens. In the same way that lighting a cigarette burns the tobacco, using a vape pen atomizes the e-juice - this exposes the person using the vape to harmful chemicals. As IQOS only heats the tobacco, fewer dangerous chemicals related to combustion are produced, making for a less damaging option. Of course, this also makes the IQOS a not-as-bad alternative to traditional smoking.

You also need to think about the market position. If vaping is illegal but people still want to engage in something similar, then there’s an area to develop an alternative product. As IQOS devices aren’t breaking any laws in Japan, they offer the perfect middle ground for those who want to consume tobacco and nicotine products.

Health: IQOS vs Vaping

The IQOS device is marketed as being less harmful, and it has made its impact by being so, but how does it actually compare to vaping?

It's worth considering that when it comes to vaping versus IQOS, the devices and materials used are different. In an IQOS device, you would use a stick made from tobacco. Rather than vaporizing e-liquid like a vape, the IQOS device heats tobacco sticks, allowing you to breathe in the vapor.

The exposure to the higher concentration of tobacco (rather than nicotine in the e-liquid) does mean that, while the chemicals released via the IQOS are lower than those released by a cigarette, they’re still present. A study from the UK Department of Health compared the chemical composition of standard cigarette smoke to the vapor of both an IQOS and a vape kit. The IQOS did have fewer carbonylated compounds than a standard cigarette, but it still produced a lot of similar chemicals.

So, it may be best to see an IQOS for what it is: a step between traditional smoking and vaping in a country where those two things are moderately restricted!

Using HEETS & TEREA Sticks

If you’re curious (and you probably are at this point), you may be wondering how you use an IQOS.

As stated in the instruction manual, you’ll need to charge the device via a computer or USB port. Once the IQOS reaches full battery, you can insert a HEETS or TEREA tobacco stick (depending on the make of your IQOS device). When the silver line on the stick reaches the top of the device, it’s in place. Then, all you need to do is hold the activation button to heat the stick, and then you can start your session.

Each HEETS & TEREA stick lasts about 14 puffs, or 6 minutes, giving a more authentic smoking feel. These sticks aren’t reusable - once the HEETS/TEREA stick is finished, you’ll need to replace it with another one.

International Impact

So, will IQOS have the same success worldwide that it has had in Japan? All the evidence points to no. Although we sell IQOS devices at The Electric Tobacconist UK, this product isn’t as popular in the UK as in Japan. Here in the US in 2021, the US Trade Body ruled that Philip Morris International would not be allowed to sell or import this device, meaning that this product was unavailable in the US. However, as of 2022, the FDA has authorized IQOS, and it's only one of two heated tobacco brands approved for sale in the US. Thanks to this ruling, IQOS is looking to launch its product range sometime this year, with a wider rollout in 2025! In Northern Ireland, you also can’t import or purchase an IQOS, so if you live north of the Emerald Isle, sorry!

Again, the reason behind the popularity of IQOS in Japan is because, in our opinion, it hits a niche; it allows consumers to enjoy tobacco products without the use of e-liquid. The same goes for another new(ish) nicotine product gaining traction on both sides of the Atlantic, nicotine pouches. These are pouches you slip under your gum and absorb nicotine without having to inhale it. Philip Morris are also leading the way there with their best selling Zyn product

Facts & Figures

Here are some graphs we’ve gathered directly from IQOS & PMI that show the prevalence of overall tobacco product use in Japan from 2016-2022, patterns of tobacco product use among adult users of the IQOS, and tobacco initiation rates with the IQOS compared to cigarettes among adult never-tobacco users.

As you can see, there is a downward trend in cigarette and vape usage, while heated tobacco products like the IQOS are on the rise as years go by. Furthermore, nearly all participants in the data were cigarette smokers before they transitioned to heated tobacco, further proving that IQOS is widely used as a smoking cessation tool.


Trends in the use of a heated tobacco product (IQOS™) in the general adult population of Japan


The Electric Tobacconist stocks e-liquid of varying nicotine levels, including nicotine-free, as well as all your favorite e-cigs from the likes of VUSE, VUSE Pods, JUUL, blu, and Zyn. Spend over $150 with us on any eligible order and get FREE shipping.