Recently, IQOS and pod vape kits have become popular among smokers who want a more reliable, satisfying and effective smoking alternative.
But what’s actually the better option: IQOS or vaping?
This article compares the pros and cons of IQOS 3 Duo and two popular pod vape kits (JUUL and Innokin EQ FLTR) to see which system offers the most advantages to users.
All information given is based on my own research and recent hands-on experiences with IQOS as an ex-smoker and vaper of ten years.
Vape vs IQOS: Pros and Cons
- Realistic smoking experience and cigarette taste
- Affordable price
- Minimal smell when used indoors
- Having to recharge makes overuse less likely
- Smooth throat hit like a cigarette
- Realistic feel in mouth
- Responsive vapour release when sucked
- Can be recharged on the go
More like smoking
Compared to vaping, I found that IQOS provides a much more realistic smoking experience on the whole.
The “heated tobacco” vapour matches the taste, smell and feel of real cigarette smoke more accurately than conventional “e liquid” vape devices usually do.
Like many pod vapes IQOS releases vapour automatically when you suck. However, unlike most vapes, IQOS holders have soft filters, which feel near-identical to real cigarette tips in your mouth.
IQOS seems to generate only a little smell indoors, and for me at least, the aroma isn’t anyway near as unpleasant or acrid as tobacco smoke. I’d say the smell is a little stronger than e cigarette vapour, but not that noticeable.
Kit price and affordability
IQOS kits are reasonably affordable, costing about the same as an typical mid to high-end vape pod or tank-mod system. In the UK, the IQOS 3 Duo retails for £79 (with 2 packs of HEETS included) from the IQOS store. There’s also the even cheaper 2.4 Plus model, which starts at £39 (also with 2 HEETS).
- comparatively expensive to run
- needs to be recharged after a few minutes of use
- smoke taste and stale aftertaste
- vapour often too warm on the tongue
- needs to be cleaned out regularly
- contains real tobacco which may pose greater health risk
- limited range of tobacco-only flavours
Higher running costs
Despite affordable kit prices, IQOS devices are generally more expensive to run than refillable vape devices, though about the same compared to JUUL and other closed pod vape systems.
A pack of 20 HEETS tobacco sticks costs £5, and each allows around 5-10 mins of use. In contrast, daily e liquid or refill costs based on typical usage would be less than £3 for those using refillable vape devices.
May be less convenient
IQOS devices also need recharging more often than vape pods and pens, and so may be less convenient if you’re on the move.
The model I tried was the Duo 3, which has a very efficient charging case. But I still had to wait a while for each recharge cycle to complete, which was tedious at times.
Burnt or stale tastes
IQOS vapour tastes more like real smoke than e cigarette vapour does, and so can leave you with a slightly burnt or stale aftertaste. I found this very similar to the effect of cigarette smoke, though not as long-lasting.
Vapour can also get a little too hot on the tongue after a few minutes of using the holder.
IQOS health concerns
According to some official sources, IQOS devices may pose more of a long-term health risk than some other smoking alternatives.
This is mostly due to the fact that unlike those other options, IQOS devices contain tobacco.
Manufactures PMI say that IQOS devices are less harmful than smoking because they generate no smoke, but only vapour. This is because they heat – rather than burn – tobacco you put inside them.
For this reason they claim their products deliver only 95% of the harmful toxins that cigarettes do, though also stress that IQOS is not risk-free.
There is some evidence to suggest that while heat-not-burn devices like IQOS are not completely safe, they are “probably better than smoking“, though still riskier than vaping.
Cleaning and maintenance
More cleaning is need with IQOS than with e cigarettes, because HEETS sticks leave tobacco residue and “dropouts” when heated inside the device.
For me, having to clean and tap out after every “smoke” made using IQOS feel more like smoking a pipe than a cigarette. But it did at least keep me busy between recharging sessions.
Narrow choice of tobacco stick flavours
IQOS kits can only be used with HEETS tobacco sticks, meaning you’re are limited to a very narrow range of tobacco flavours. These are all different varieties of flavoured tobacco (Amber, Sienna, etc) though there are menthol flavours, too.
Vape (pods and pens) Pros
- affordable to buy and run
- more power efficient so one recharge allows several hours of use
- light, small and easy to hold and carry around
- clean, vapour taste with no smokiness or aftertaste
- smooth throat hit
- minimal cleaning or maintenance required
- Much bigger choice of refill flavours and nicotine strengths
Cheaper running costs
Though the initial purchase price of IQOS and vape devices is not so different, running costs of vaping are cheaper. Costing on average from £1 to £5 for 10ml, e liquid used in refillable pod vapes is more economic on the whole than HEETS tobacco sticks (£5 per pack of 20).
And this is especially clear when you consider that vapers don’t usually use more than 4-8ml of e liquid per day.
More battery power
Vape devices require much less power to work compared to IQOS holders, and this means less recharging and more vaping time.
With many even very basic pod vapes, better battery efficiency means you can usually vape continuously for several hours on a single charge.
Stronger, richer flavours
Vapour from e cigarettes tastes much stronger, sweeter and more satisfying than IQOS vapour does. E cig vapour is always fresh-tasting, and has no smokiness or aftertaste as it’s generated by heating liquid rather than tobacco.
Impressive throat hits
Soft, smooth throat hits with e cigarettes can be as good as (or better than) those from IQOS, and are easy to achieve with the right vape set-up.
Throat-hit chasers usually achieve the best results by choosing only vape kits that are designed to help people quit smoking, as well with good quality nicotine salt tobacco e liquids.
Bare bones maintenance
Most vape devices require only occasional cleaning, if any at all. And unlike IQOS, there’s no smelly waste to worry about disposing of.
Wider range of vape flavours to choose from
Vaping usually allows much more choice in terms of achieving the right flavour and strength that’s right for you.
With refillable kits at least, you have a huge range of e liquid types to choose from as opposed to a handful of standard IQOS HEETS flavours of the same strength.
Vape (pods and pens) Cons
- e cig vapour does not often taste much like cigarette smoke
- devices contain liquid which can sometimes leak
- some larger vape devices don’t feel much like smoking
- vape smell can build up and linger indoors
- ease of use can lead to “chain vaping”
- Some e liquid refills can cause sore throats, harsh hits and hiccups
Less of a real cigarette taste
Vaping is a little limited when it comes to matching the smoky, dirty, flavour of burnt tobacco as well as IQOS does. Some cheaper vape devices are also known to leak.
Some devices are too cumbersome
Meanwhile, some larger vape devices (DL tank-mod systems) can feel too heavy and so don’t always offer the most realistic smoking alternative.
Bad vape smells
Pungent vape refill flavours can build up over time and leave bad smells indoors, and these can be hard to remove.
Overusing your device
Vape devices are more convenient thanks to efficient battery life. But on the downside, this added convenience also means you’re more likely to start “chain vaping” continuously than you are with IQOS.
Overdoing it with vaping is not (officially at least) harmful. But even so, you may find you get through more e liquid or coils than usual due to the extra wear and tear.
Health risks and side effects
While no authorities claim that vaping is completely safe, most agree that it is safer than smoking and poses no obvious health dangers that we are aware of at present.
Vapour from some e liquids and refills can generate side effects, like sore throats and hiccups.
However, these effects are only due to nicotine and can happen with other nicotine products such as gum – or indeed IQOS, too.
Vaping or IQOS: most realistic smoking experience?
IQOS definitely provides a more authentic “cigarette” experience compared to even the best “quit smoking” vape kits that I’ve tried.
In my opinion:
Compared to vaping, IQOS is a more realistic cigarette alternative in terms of matching flavour, inhale, feel and overall smoking experience. Because IQOS devices vaporise real tobacco, they are lighter and quieter than most e cigarettes, while soft tips mimic oral smoking sensations more accurately.
This isn’t that surprising. After all, heat-not-burns like IQOS work in a much more similar way to a real cigarette compared to most vape pods and pens.
But while IQOS does offer a more “realistic” smoking experience, it’s also a bit too much like smoking:
IQOS vapour also resembles lit tobacco cigarettes in ways that vape devices don’t – like aftertaste and smoky flavours. This isn’t so welcome if you’re used to the cleaner taste of vaping.
Vape vs IQOS vs Cigarette
I tested my IQOS 3 Duo against these two pod vape kits currently popular with smokers as realistic cigarette alternatives.
- Innokin EQ FLTR with 18mg Liqua Turkish Tobacco e liquid
- JUUL with pre-filled 18mg rich tobacco nic salt JUUL pod
I also tested all three against a real, lit cigarette to see whether IQOS or pod vapes gave the most similar flavour.
Here’s what I discovered in my hands-on tests on all three systems:
|IQOS 3 Duo||Pod Vape (EQ FLTR/JUUL)||Lit Cigarette|
|Flavour on suction||very slight bitter-sweet taste which gradually intensifies and becomes smokier after a few minutes||immediately noticeable bitter-sweet and consistent tobacco taste from EQ FLTR – less flavour with JUUL||very slight bitter-sweet taste becoming stronger, but also staler and smokier as cigarette burns down|
|Realistic flavour||vapour from Amber HEETS tastes just like real cigarette smoke, though Sienna is more like pipe smoke||vapour tastes like tobacco (both devices), but not smoky enough to taste like real cigarette smoke||N/A|
|Vapour warmth||cool, then increasingly warm to hot after first few puffs||consistently cool vapour from both devices||cool at first then warmer as cigarette burns down|
|Flavour on exhale||sweeter, stronger flavour than on inhale||same flavour strength but more depth and less sweetness than on inhale with both EQ and JUUL||sweeter, stronger flavour than on inhale|
|Aftertaste||smoky aftertaste similar to cigarette smoke though much milder – lingers in mouth for up to 15 mins||minimal, barely-noticeable aftertaste with both models||strong, aftertaste of stale smoke that lingers in mouth for up to an hour|
Vape vs IQOS taste: which is better?
IQOS tastes bitter during suction, and much more like the taste of a real cigarette compared to the sweeter, richer flavour of e cigarette vapour. Vapour also tastes warmer, and sometimes hot on the tongue than vapour from most vape pods.
Both flavour and warmth of IQOS vapour intensify noticeably over a given 5-minute session from the moment you start using the device. Vape pods on the other hand give out consistent flavour and cooler vapour during suction than the IQOS 3.
The only big difference I noticed between heat-not-burn and vape in this respect was that IQOS vapour began to taste smoky after a few minutes of use. In contrast, there was no smokiness at all with the vapes.
I also got a strong smoky aftertaste from the IQOS and none at all from the EQ FLTR or JUUL.
IQOS aftertaste is almost identical to the stale aftertaste you get after smoking a real cigarette. The only difference with the heat-not-burn aftertaste is that it’s much milder, and only seems to last a few minutes.
Suction, throat hit and nicotine buzz
Suction resistance from the IQOS 3 soft tips is very tight. As such, it’s pretty much identical to the feel you get when sucking on a real cigarette. Throat is also spot-on with the IQOS, giving a very smooth, realistic cigarette-like inhale.
Suction with the EQ FLTR pod vape gets quite close to the tightness of IQOS, but it’s more realistic when you attach the small tip-tightening gadget that comes with the kit.
JUUL suction on the other hand is way too loose to feel like a real cigarette, and this makes it feel less like smoking in my opinion.
Throat hit with the EQ FLTR is stronger than the IQOS. But it’s not quite as smooth as the realistic cigarette smoke hit that the IQOS delivers.
JUUL throat hit (even at 18mg) is too mild in my opinion, and gives less of a throat hit compared to those you get when inhaling cigarette smoke.
Between IQOS and the vapes I can’t say which gives the most reliable nicotine relief. This is mostly because they all do the job quite well. I tested each of these devices first thing in the morning and each gave me a very satisfying nicotine buzz in every case.
That said, none of the devices gave me as much immediate relief as a real lit cigarette. And I didn’t notice any real dizziness, either. With both IQOS and pod vapes, relief takes a minute or two to kick in after your first few inhales.
Hand and mouth feel
All of the devices (IQOS and vapes) were small and light enough to hold loosely in one hand.
Likewise, all could be “smoked” while holding between my index and middle fingers, like a cigarette.
The soft tips of the EQ vape do make it feel very much like a cigarette when you’re sucking. And the same of course goes for the IQOS.
|IQOS 3 Duo (holder)||Innokin EQ FLTR||JUUL|
|Weight and dimensions||22g|
|14g (with full pod installed)|
|Feel in mouth||small, soft paper tip feels identical to a real cigarette filter tip in mouth||hard, plastic, wide tip, or smaller, rounded, paper tip||Hard, wide, square plastic tip which is not cigarette-like|
When it comes to noise (or the lack of it) of all three devices, the IQOS is the quietest by far. The device is near-silent when you suck, just like a burning cigarette.
In contrast, the JUUL gives out a slight rasping sound on suction. Meanwhile, the EQ FLTR pod vape delivers a very faint hiss and occasional light crackle.
IQOS vs JUUL
IQOS and JUUL differ from each other in so many ways, it’s hard to compare like-for-like strengths and weaknesses.
However, at only 14g and 87.2mm in length, JUUL is considerably smaller and lighter than the IQOS holder, and this makes it the more portable option. JUUL’s ultra-minimal design also means there is less to go wrong, and its low price makes it easy to replace, anyway.
But the JUUL kit’s square, hard, plastic mouthpiece, doesn’t really give you any of that realistic “cigarette” mouth feel that IQOS does. And though very responsive to suction, I don’t think the “rich tobacco” flavour pods taste that great, either.
For me though, the biggest issue with JUUL is high running costs. It’s not that hard to get through 3 or 4 JUUL pods per day, and this could work out even more expensive than IQOS. If you’re choosing vaping over IQOS just to save money, a refillable pod vape system is a wiser choice than JUUL.
Is IQOS better than vaping?
Though IQOS definitely has its strong points, I’m unlikely to be ditching my vapes and switching to heat-not-burn any time soon.
If you need a reminder of the real thing in order to move on from real cigarettes, then IQOS is the most effective and authentic smoking alternative. After all, it’s hard for vaping to beat the super-realistic cigarette smoke taste of IQOS in any way.
But at the same time, we shouldn’t forget that IQOS does contain real tobacco. And this probably makes it a riskier alternative where health is concerned.
Though less realistic, vaping is still the most popular smoking alternative in the world, and with the right set-up, can offer real smoking satisfaction.
In short, vaping gives you a cleaner break from smoking than IQOS. It’s safer, more affordable to keep doing, and gives you a wider range of richer-tasting flavours and refill strengths to choose from.
So for me at least, vaping remains the most enjoyable alternative to real cigarettes, whatever its various shortcomings may be.