Of all the stupid decisions I’ve made in my life, starting smoking was probably the worst. In this IQOS review, I look – in detail – at the product that finally moved me away from cigarettes after 27 years.
I’ve been a paying IQOS customer for over two years, and have lots to share about my experiences with IQOS and Heets. I am NOT an affiliate, nor being paid for this review.
Before we start, I want to make something perfectly clear: I’m not condoning or recommending smoking or vaping of any kind. Nor am I making any health claims about IQOS. This detailed IQOS review is about my personal experience of the product.
That experience has been largely positive. But IQOS is far from perfect. Most importantly, IQOS is still a tobacco product that the manufacturer makes clear is not “risk free.” Switching to IQOS, for me, was about harm reduction. And I subjectively feel much better since eliminating the cigarettes and switching to a “heat not burn” method of nicotine delivery.
The best strategy, of course, is not to use nicotine in any shape or form. However, if – like me – you have an enduring addiction to it, finding the “least bad” option is a wise move. If that applies to you, I’m sure you’ll find this IQOS review interesting.
A Little Background
I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow (inhale-by-inhale?!) account of my smoking history. But there are a couple of details that are particularly pertinent to my IQOS review:
I started smoking at 13 years old, and I was almost instantly hooked. I went from my first couple of “behind the bike sheds” ciggies to a full-blown addiction that I spent all my lunch money on. The addiction stuck, and I was always one of those smokers who nobody ever thought would give up.
Although the taste of cigarettes is now utterly repellent to me (more on that later), I don’t buy into the theory that there’s no pleasure in smoking. I appreciate that the science around nicotine is complex, and that the idea that smoking eases stress is largely flawed. But I’d never pretend I’ve not – on countless occasions – thoroughly enjoyed smoking, and used it to punctuate everything from times of trouble to times of celebration.
However, like most people who make that foolhardy decision to smoke, I spent most of my smoking career uncomfortably aware that the habit I enjoyed was doing me a lot of harm.
As soon as vaping became a thing, I tried every generation of products. I spent hundreds, probably thousands, on eLiquids, eCigs, mods, and pod systems. I spent countless hours researching vaping, and tried desperately to make it stick. But it didn’t. Vaping liquids always left me wanting.
That’s when IQOS entered the frame.
What is IQOS?
IQOS is a “heat not burn” tobacco product. It uses a small electronic device to heat cylinders of real tobacco that look like tiny, short cigarettes.
IQOS’s “HeatControl” technology restricts the temperature so that the material doesn’t combust. Instead of inhaling smoke, with all the tar and carbon monoxide thrown in free, you inhale a vapour, which IQOS’s manufacturer describes as “like steam.”
One way of looking at IQOS is as a hybrid between smoking and vaping. As you are consuming real tobacco, it is, in my opinion, the closest you can get to smoking without actually smoking. However, there are many important differences, which we cover below.
What does IQOS Stand For?
Many people believe that IQOS stands for “I Quit Ordinary Smoking.” However, it’s important to note that this isn’t an official acronym and isn’t used by the manufacturer. In the absence of an official alternative, it’s the acronym that’s stuck.
Who Makes IQOS?
IQOS is made by Philip Morris International. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because PMI has been in the tobacco game for a long time, and is also the manufacturer of household-name cigarette brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield.
The fact that IQOS comes from Philip Morris makes the product more than a little controversial. Many people are sceptical of the company’s morals and motivations, especially as the firm promotes a “smoke free future” while continuing to actively market old-school cigarettes across the world.
I’m here to write an IQOS review, not to debate the politics. You will find plenty of discussion online if that’s what you’re looking for. One thing I would say, however, is to carefully examine the agenda of anybody discussing IQOS online, including scientists and vaping “experts.” People have a lot of conflicting views and, in some cases, financial interests in the smoking and vaping industries.
Once again, this is an IQOS review based on my personal experiences. You can find the arguments elsewhere.
How Does IQOS Work?
IQOS works using small cigarette-like tobacco sticks called Heat Sticks (HEETS). They include a small “plug” of specially rolled tobacco. When you insert a Heet into the IQOS device, it pushes onto a blade which heats up when you switch the device on. You then inhale the tobacco “vapour” in exactly the same way as you would a cigarette.
Heets even have a filter tip that looks and feels exactly the same as a filter on a cigarette. The only difference is that the vapour doesn’t turn it a distressing yellow / brown colour.
Each Heet stick lasts for a set amount of time, emulating how long it takes to smoke a normal cigarette. This equates to six minutes or 14 puffs. The IQOS device vibrates towards the end of the “experience.” After consuming a Heet, you remove it from the device and discard it. The difference is that the Heet is still the same size, as the tobacco doesn’t burn away. Instead it is merely “toasted” in the middle where the blade has been.
IQOS Review: The Equipment
To switch to IQOS, you need to buy an IQOS device. There are various different versions available, and I list and describe each of those currently available below.
IQOS 2.4 Plus: The most recent version of the original IQOS design, the 2.4 Plus uses a small holder (containing the heating blade) that charges inside a compact charging case. The holder battery lasts for the duration of a single Heet, and recharges in around five minutes ready for the next.
In turn, the charging case is good for recharging the holder around 20-30 times before you need to charge it via mains or USB. It uses a micro-USB connetion.
IQOS 3 Duo: The IQOS 3 Duo is the most up-to-date IQOS device. It’s a sleeker and shinier evolution of the holder and pocket charger combination, with the holder sliding into the side opening of the main device rather than via a hinged lid at the top. It also uses a USB-C connection instead of Micro-USB.
The IQOS 3 Duo charges the holder faster than the 2.4 Plus. More significantly, the holder maintains enough charge for two Heets before you need to place it back in the charging case, allowing you to have two Heets “back-to-back” – essentially “chain smoking!”
IQOS 3 Multi: The 3 Multi is a rather different device. It’s still small and sleek, but is a slightly larger all-in-one device. It’s good for up to ten Heets between charges. The device has a USB-C connection for charging.
Other IQOS Models: The models listed above are those available in the UK at the time of writing. Depending on where you are, you may find others on the market. There’s the base-level 2.4, the predecessor to the 2.4 Plus, which is a little less refined and lacks a vibrate function to notify you when a Heet is nearing its end. There’s also the short-lived IQOS 3 – identical to the 3 Duo in design, but with a holder that only lasts for the duration of a single Heet.
What Do You Get?
When you unbox an IQOS, you get broadly the same things in the box regardless of the model you choose:
- The IQOS pocket charger.
- The IQOS holder (where the heat sticks go – in the case of the 3 Multi, the pocket charger and holder are one device).
- A mains charger.
- A USB cable (Micro-USB or USB-C, dependent on the model).
- A cleaning tool.
- A small packet of cleaning sticks (more on the cleaning process later in this IQOS review).
- A welcome guide.
If you’ve ever purchased an iPhone, you can expect a very similar experience from the IQOS packaging. These feel like high-end devices and a lot of effort clearly went into the design.
What Are The Devices Like To Use?
IQOS’s quality feel continues with the devices themselves. The 3 Duo’s pocket charger opens and closes with a satisfying high-end “clunk” and stands up a considerable amount of day-to-day travel and abuse. It’s fair to say that the 2.4 Plus doesn’t score so highly on durability, due to a small and delicate hinge on the pocket charger.
The accessories are high quality, with IQOS branding on the mains plugs and cleaning tool. Even the cotton-bud style cleaning sticks are branded, and come individually wrapped and in a small box of their own.
In fact, if you’re environmentally conscious, you may feel the packaging is a little over-the-top. This is particularly the case when you order Heet sticks online. Each carton comes in its own large, branded IQOS box. While this, no doubt, protects the delicate contents, it’s hard not to be aware of just how many of these boxes I’ve tossed in the recycling in the years I’m been using IQOS. It’s a minor criticism, but one that occurs to me with every single IQOS delivery.
What is Using IQOS Like?
We’ve concentrated on what IQOS is, how it works, and what you get in the box. But if you’re a smoker wondering about a switch to IQOS, the most important thing is what the actual experience is like. That’s what I shall try to describe now.
The bad news is that it doesn’t feel exactly like smoking a cigarette. The good news is that it feels WAY closer to it than the most carefully selected tobacco-flavoured liquid you could find to vape.
You can tell you’re “consuming” real tobacco, but it tastes closer to the smell of a freshly opened packet of cigarettes than a burning cigarette. Think of it this way: an IQOS Heet is like a perfectly toasted slice of bread, while a cigarette is like one you’ve left in the toaster until it’s turned to cinders and set the smoke alarms off.
This analogy isn’t actually as stupid as it sounds, because it’s a surprisingly accurate comparison. In my experience, once you get used to the taste of IQOS, you come to vastly prefer it. After all, who would choose to have their toast blackened all the way through?!
However, it’s not quite as simple as that in the early days. Smokers get used to the taste of burning paper and plant material, and the brain associates that with the addiction relief of a cigarette.
Effects-wise, a Heet replicates a cigarette remarkably well. You feel the “buzz” of the nicotine, to the point it can make you a little woozy if you have one too many! It certainly scratches the same itch if you’re used to having a cigarette to “relax” you or to get you going in the morning. Any non-smokers reading this would no doubt wonder why there’s any attraction in a slightly light-headed and wired nicotine buzz, but I’m not trying to claim it’s a sensible habit. One could argue the same about caffeine.
Where IQOS does diverge from cigarettes – in a good way – is in a huge reduction in smell. Your hands and your mouth don’t retain the smell as they do with a cigarette. While I don’t tend to use my IQOS indoors, when I have, the smell doesn’t linger in the air for any length of time. I’d not condone you using an IQOS in a non-smoking hotel room…but you’d probably get away with it.
One more thing on smell: I don’t know why, but sometimes the IQOS emits a rather unpleasant smell while it’s warming up. There’s no other way to describe it than as a “fart smell!” I’m not alone in noticing this as it’s mentioned a lot on discussion boards.
A few seconds of this unpleasant aroma is far from ideal, and it does make you conscious of who might be down-wind of you when you fire the device up. Overall though, a few seconds of this beats everything from your clothes to your hands to your house constantly smelling of cigarette smoke.
I think the best way for me to conclude this section is to say that once you’re used to it, using an IQOS can easily replace the “enjoyment” of a cigarette, in every situation where that would apply. But you have to stick with it.
To begin with, it doesn’t feel quite the same when you have a Heet with a beer or a coffee, or when you’ve finally made it outside after disembarking a flight. But it doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t take nearly as much willpower as you might expect. As I said, this was NOT the case for me with vaping, and I know that applies to many people.
About two months after I started using IQOS exclusively, I went to a music festival. I was surrounded by smokers, and despite consuming Heet after Heet, I was convinced I was missing out and having a horrible time.
I gave in and bought some Marlboro Lights. I didn’t make it through half of one. The smell, the taste, the instant cough – all of it was disgusting. That was it for me – the switch was done, and I never looked back.
How to Clean the IQOS
As I’ve mentioned IQOS devices come with a cleaning tool and some cleaning sticks. You’re advised to clean your device regularly, with the suggestion being every time you’ve finished a packet of Heets.
The cleaning process is simple. The cleaning tool slides onto the blade end of the holder, and you simply twist it to remove any debris and tap it out. You can do the same with the other part of the holder, and then do a deeper clean with the sticks if necessary.
When I first switched to the IQOS, the sticks used to be moist, I think with a ISO-alcohol based solution. This used to really help to give everything a deep clean. However, IQOS cleaning sticks (in this country at least) are dry now, and not as effective. I did check with IQOS customer service about this, but for whatever reason the company has switched to dry sticks – a shame.
What is in IQOS Heets?
The tobacco plug in IQOS Heets is primarily composed of ground tobacco and propylene glycol, which allows for the production of the vapour / steam that you inhale.
However, this is far from the only thing in Heets. Philip Morris provides full ingredients lists for all the countries where Heat sticks are available. These lists are long, and include various chemicals and flavourings.
As I’ve made clear, I’m not here to debate the morality behind these products, nor to scientifically analyse the ingredients. However, to anybody who wants the simple answer to the question of “do Heets contain chemicals?” that simple answer is “yes.”
It may be that it’s the presence of some of these chemicals and flavourings that makes using IQOS feel so close to “real” smoking. As I’ve explained, vaping eLiquids, most of which are literally just nicotine, propylene glycol (or vegetable glycerine) and flavourings never scratched the itch for me.
You have to make your own call on these things. IQOS isn’t risk free. It’s not marketed as being risk free. But for me it feels like the lesser of two evils.
How Safe is IQOS?
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has permitted Philip Morris to market IQOS as a “Modified Risk Tobacco Product.” It’s crucial to understand that this doesn’t in any way mean it’s a safe product to use, but it does imply that the FDA has some belief that using IQOS is somewhat less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes.
The FDA permits the manufacturer to say that IQOS “significantly reduces your body’s exposure to harmful or potentially harmful chemicals,” when compared to smoking.
I can only give a non-scientific and subjective view on this, so let’s do that next:
How Do I Feel After Switching to IQOS?
I’d smoked for a LONG time before switching to IQOS.
I used to have a bad and permanent cough. I don’t any more.
I used to feel out of breath walking up the stairs or bending down to pick something up. I don’t any more.
I used to get really bad indigestion and heartburn. I don’t any more.
I used to need my asthma inhaler quite often. I rarely need it at all any more.
All of this is despite consuming 10-20 Heets every day. I do feel a bit “chesty” if I’ve hit the IQOS too hard one evening, but it’s nothing compared to how I’d feel after cracking open a second packet of cigarettes on a big night out.
Reading this back, I’m conscious that this section alone makes for a seriously glowing IQOS review. But I’m telling it like it is. As I’ve emphasised repeatedly, I’m not here to dig into science or make health claims. However, all of the above points are true.
I’ve talked to lots of smokers about IQOS, and I have converted a few. It does frustrate me that some determined smokers seem unwilling to endure a relatively short period of flexing their will-power to move on to something that has seemed – for me at least – really rather transformative for my health.
For fear of repeating myself too many times, using IQOS isn’t without risk. The company’s website makes that clear, as does every packet of Heets you unwrap. But compared to what I was doing before, something that was clearly doing me a LOT of harm, I can only hope that the elimination of almost all my worrying physical symptoms reflects the vast reduction in smoke, tar and chemicals.
With all of those compliments out of the way, let’s look at some of the less positive points about IQOS.
I’m aware that much of my IQOS review seems positive, but there are some really frustrating things about the product.
Heets can be inconsistent:
Some Heets just don’t seem to work that well, producing insufficient vapour. This seems linked to the packing of the tobacco. I can tell, if a Heet meets too much resistance when I push it into the holder, that I’m in for an unsatisfying “experience.” There are few things in life more annoying than not getting the nicotine hit you are searching for(!) so I tend to discard Heets that do this, but this is wasteful and far from ideal.
Devices deteriorate over time:
IQOS customer service is very good (discussed below), and the company does replace devices under warranty in the event of a problem. However, I do feel that the IQOS holders, especially, have a rather limited lifespan. They just don’t function quite as well past the six-month mark, and I have just ended up buying replacements a few times to avoid the hassle of warranty claims.
The learning curve:
IQOS is easy to use, but there is a fair bit to learn. This is particularly annoying when friends want one, and you have to explain to wait until the device vibrates before taking a puff, to remove the cap before removing a Heet stick, etc. etc.
You also see plenty of people complaining on forums because they’ve damaged the device by, for example, snapping the blade by cleaning a holder incorrectly.
In fairness, all of these things can be avoided by reading the instructions and how-to guides. But I think it’s a legitimate downside to raise. Not understanding these intricacies gives determined smokers lots of reasons to dismiss the IQOS and stick with the cigarettes.
With the IQOS, you have to do more than just throw a packet and a lighter in your pocket. When you’re travelling, that includes keeping the thing charged. I don’t see how much of this stuff could be mitigated, but a downside it remains.
Don’t get me wrong, the IQOS packaging is beautiful, and I was wowed by it once again when I dug it out the cupboard to photograph it for this IQOS review.
But while I don’t have an issue with the packaging of the devices themselves, I do wish PMI would find some slightly less excessive packaging to use when you order Heets and accessories. If you use IQOS regularly, you end up ordering a lot of Heets, and it just seems unnecessary getting endless thick boxes in the post – however good quality they are!
Lack of Transparency:
IQOS gets plenty of bad press, especially among vaping companies who hate seeing a big tobacco company edging in on their market.
As is probably clear, I see it rather differently: I’m rather attached to the IQOS brand, because it helped me crack a really damaging habit that has been with me for decades. But I’d be even happier if there was more easily-accessible information available on the flavourings and added ingredients and why they’re used.
It’s good that you can access a full ingredients list, but I don’t know my beta-ionone from my ethyl hexanoate, so it just adds an uncomfortable air of mystery!
There’s a huge market for food products that only contain a small number of easily-recognised and safe ingredients. I’d love to see a tobacco product that took the same approach.
IQOS Heets / Heets by Malboro: Flavour by Flavour
I’ve been using IQOS for a long time, and tried most of the available Heets varieties.
In case you’re wondering which might be suited to you, here’s a very quick summary of what I think of each of the ones I’ve tried. Please note that I am in the UK, and the different Heets varieties available can vary from country to country.
Heets Yellow: The lightest of the tobacco flavours, this was my variety of choice when I first switched to IQOS. It’s a light tobacco with a lemony edge. I smoked Marlboro Lights before I quit, and this was the best fit for me when I made the switch.
Heets Amber: I’m not a huge fan of these as I find the tobacco taste rather rich and cloying. However, in the early days of moving to IQOS I had some of these on hand for the times when I was really strongly craving a cigarette. These could also be a good choice for somebody who previously smoked strong cigarettes such as Benson and Hedges.
Heets Sienna: I migrated to Sienna after using Heets Yellow. Somewhere between Amber and Yellow, they are rich but not too rich, and quite aromatic. They are more “cigarette like” than the Yellows, which could be a good thing if you’re switching. The closest cigarette equivalent would probably be Camel Blue.
Sienna Caps: These are Siennas but with a clickable menthol capsule. They are now what I buy all the time, and I usually consume half the Heet before clicking the cap for a minty blast!
Heets Teak: The newest flavour, a “toasted” tobacco. These are a step down flavour-wise from Sienna, and remind me of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Perfectly agreeable and a good switch for fans of light cigarettes.
Bronze: Bronze Heets are not available here in the UK, but I’ve picked some up on my travels. They’re a very rich and intense tobacco flavour – more like a cigar than a cigarette. Not to my taste but will probably appeal to some people.
Heets Turquoise, Green and Blue: These are the three menthol options on offer in the UK, and grow more intensely minty in ascending order. Menthol cigarettes were outlawed in the UK in 2020, so these offer an alternative. I’ve never been much into menthols so only have limited experience of these.
IQOS Customer Service
Just a quick word on IQOS customer service – they do it well.
You can always get helpful answers on live chat, and in “normal” times there are shops open with knowledgeable assistants. There’s also a great international guarantee to help you out if a device fails while you’re travelling.
IQOS pricing is a hard thing to pin down, because prices vary from country to country, and there are lots of introductory and trial offers available.
Here in the UK, at the time of writing, you can do a 14-day trial for £10, which includes a device, and four packets of mixed Heets. Following the trial, you can return the device or pay to keep it. The price is £39 for the IQOS 2.4 Plus or £69 for the IQOS 3 Duo.
Although I’m not an affiliate, I do have a referral code you can use to get 20% off, IF you’re a current smoker considering the switch. Sign up here and use code M242P4.
One thing that is notable is the price of Heets here in the UK. They are (currently) £5 per packet. If you currently smoke cigarettes this is a huge saving that can amount to more than 50% less.
I’ve been meaning to write this IQOS review for a long time. It’s a product that’s genuinely changed my life.
Yes, I’ve swapped a bad habit for a still bad but hopefully less bad one, but sometimes that’s the best you can do – and smoking is an incredibly tough nut to crack.
I do intend to work on consuming fewer Heets in the months ahead. For now I’m glad that I’m consuming my nicotine in a way that at least feels notably less harmful. The best I can do is judge by how my own body reacts.
If you smoke now, I can assure you that you can come out the other side using IQOS, and enjoy it just as much. It just takes a little perseverance. You may not think that you’ll one day be a person who’s repelled by the taste and smell of old-school cigarettes, but I never thought that would be me either!
IQOS: A Good Choice for Aspiring Ex Smokers