E-cigarettes are not for everyone. We test Ploom's offering to see how heated tobacco fares as an alternative to disposable vapes in the quest to quit smoking...
What is heated tobacco?
As a source of nicotine, heated tobacco provides an alternative method of intake that differs significantly from more popular vape devices or, indeed, from smoking.
For smokers, heated tobacco claims to be a cheaper, healthier, more enjoyable alternative to help them quit cigarettes.
Based on the principle that the majority of harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke are produced by burning tobacco, the tobacco sticks inside a heated tobacco device instead are gently heated to a much lower temperature (around 350°C), releasing nicotine and producing vapour but with no smoke, ash or tar.
Heating tobacco instead of burning it releases fewer toxins and at lower concentrations than normal cigarettes, reducing the risk to the smoker compared to conventional smoking.*
*In test conditions, Ploom had a 90-95% reduction in the levels of 9 constituents recommended by the World Health Organization for reducing cigarette smoke.
There are multiple heated tobacco ranges on the market. Two of the most popular brands in the UK today are IQOS, developed by PMI (Philip Morris International) with their compatible HEETS sticks, and Ploom, created by JTI (Japan Tobacco International) with their compatible EVO sticks. It is Ploom that we will be reviewing here.
About the brand
Ploom and EVO products are marketed in the UK by JTI (Japan Tobacco International), a leading international tobacco product manufacturer and owner of established brands such as Silk Cut, Benson and Hedges, Old Holborn and Amber Leaf.
JTI entered the heated tobacco market when they acquired the Ploom brand in 2011.
Ploom is part of JTI's 'reduced-risk' strategy - alongside sister brands such as Nordic Spirit (tobacco-free oral nicotine pouches) and Logic (rechargeable vape kits with prefilled vape pods) - to develop, test and bring to market products with the potential to reduce the health risks from smoking.
How does the Ploom system work?
The Ploom heated tobacco system delivers nicotine vapour by gently heating small cigarette-like tobacco sticks (EVO sticks). These sticks contain Ploom's 'ActivBlend' tobacco, produced from precisely cut tobacco leaves optimised for heating, not burning. The sticks are inserted into a handheld electronic device where they are heated in an internal oven (HeatFlow system), in this case, the Ploom X device.
The Ploom X Kit is Ploom's second-generation heated tobacco device, launched to the UK market in 2022 after a successful rollout in Japan.
On opening, the first thing I noticed is that the sleek design, from the super-smart packaging to the gleaming device, has a particular Apple style of simplicity. It is a stunning device with a slightly tapered body and nice rounded edges. It is super shiny and is presented like a precious gem at the top of the box.
It feels fantastic to hold and is smaller than I expected (95g lighter than the previous Ploom model). After some slight confusion, I realised that the entire front panel serves as the 'button' (a mechanical button must be hidden behind it). The panel is secured magnetically, and different coloured panels are available, allowing for customisation of the device, which is a nice touch.
Many 'things' were in the box, which was slightly overwhelming. The user manual is housed in a similarly apple-esque envelope. It is a substantial book with clear diagrams and an awful lot of warnings. This could be off-putting to some, although I found it reassuringly thorough.
Multiple pages contain DANGER, WARNING, and CAUTION points until you eventually get to the instructions (on page 26), which thankfully are incredibly detailed, with fantastic diagrams explaining precisely what to do to get started.
This was a different experience for me, a first-time heated tobacco user and someone used to the super-convenience of disposables and pods. Still, the manual is so well documented it gave me the confidence to try it. I noted there's an extensive troubleshooting section should you need it.
There was no charge in the device on opening. Charging is via a USB-C port at the bottom of the device and takes around 2 hours (pretty standard for a heated tobacco device) with the charger provided.
When I plugged it in, it vibrated violently, and then a soothing pulsating light showed charging was underway. With a single LED strip and a lack of visible buttons, this device would not look out of place on the set of a SciFi film.
Online research tells me that the Ploom X can be linked with smartphones via Bluetooth to check the remaining battery level and activate a device lock function (although I did not explore this feature).
A box of 20 x EVO sticks (the compatible heated tobacco sticks for use with the Ploom X) looks like cellophane-wrapped teeny-tiny cigarettes, even down to the foil covering that you rip off the box's inner.
The sticks are currently available in ten flavours and claim to be half the price of an average pack of 20 traditional cigarettes. There are QR codes on the packaging 'for more information' although no flavour descriptions exist.
For this test review, we supplied three flavours of EVO sticks to our panel. After some online research, we identified that 'Amber' is a tobacco blend, the 'Green Option' is a menthol tobacco with a crush ball to click and release extra menthol flavour (it does genuinely smell like a menthol cigarette), and while 'Magenta' smells a bit like roses (definitely a floral aroma from that box) it is actually grape and mint tobacco flavour with floral aromatic notes.
Because the EVO sticks are so small, getting the first one out of the pack can be tricky, although my nails are long, so I managed.
Testing the device
Armed with my instruction booklet (page 26), I started a session and inserted the EVO stick as directed. It is snug, so you must push firmly. I pressed and held the button area on the panel (as directed by the diagram), and once the light strip reached the top (another significant vibration), it was ready for my first go!
Well, I have to admit I was left slightly speechless! The experience of the Ploom X replicates the sensation of smoking a cigarette SO much that it is pretty unnerving; you can really taste the tobacco, which is not something I have tasted for many years.
Initially, the filter tip of the EVO stick was quite hot (as is a cigarette filter), and although the first few puffs created little to no vapour at all, the vapour production increased the further I got into my session, and the heat in the filter tip calmed down.
I noticed there was no discernible smell in the air from the vapour, very little of which was produced compared to your average vape product.
Having your session timed is a strange experience but an excellent idea. I don't know if I took more puffs during the session than I would typically vape in that time frame with the added time pressure, or if I took less because I was slightly scared of it! A warning vibrate followed by a longer, quite violent one indicated the session was over.
During a Ploom X session, you can clearly feel the Nicotine hit. I felt a slight head rush and had a lingering tobacco taste in my mouth (similar to smoking a cigarette) that lasted for a while. It's not the most pleasant, but it mimics smoking very well.
It was intense. Nothing at all like a standard vape; you are left fully nicotine-satisfied, and I happily went many hours before considering giving it another go. Consequently, this drew out the review session somewhat.
Once finished, removing a heated tobacco stick is easy; you can see the browning on the paper where the internal oven has slightly charred it.
After using the device for a while, it left a very mild, not necessarily unpleasant, smell of tobacco in the room. This is heightened if you don't dispose of the used EVO sticks immediately, as they give off the aroma of a stale cigarette butt. However, this was easily dealt with.
As a long-time ex-smoker, I was not able to fully appreciate the EVO flavours as I struggled to get past the overwhelming tobacco taste.
Green Option (with the crush ball) appealed to me the most and is strong, left tingling lips from the menthol, and took me straight back to my days of smoking menthol cigarettes in my youth. These were the first I tried, and I was so impressed at how closely the Ploom X mimics the smoking sensation.
Aside from the initial slightly floral aroma from the box, Magenta tastes of tobacco with an apparent mint undertone that strengthens with each puff. It left me with a tobacco taste and a slightly dry throat (as would smoking). I did not get grape, berry, or floral flavours.
Amber is just a realistic and recognisable, reasonably smooth (but strong) tobacco blend that cigarette smokers will, I am sure, enjoy.