How are Vaping & Heated Tobacco Different from Smoking Cigarettes?

By JC Connington
Published on 05/09/2022

Without a doubt, the best decision any smoker can make is to quit tobacco and nicotine entirely. Those who can’t or won’t quit may choose to switch to a smoke-free alternative instead. But with such a wide variety of smoke-free products available it can be difficult to understand them all and work out which alternative is best-suited for you. The two options we will look at in more detail are vaping and heated tobacco.

Below we explore the main features of these smoking alternatives and answer some of the key questions you may have, such as  ‘how is vaping different to smoking?’ and ‘what’s so different about heated tobacco?’

The most essential difference between smoking and vaping is indicated in the names. Smoking involves burning tobacco to release smoke. Vaping heats e-liquid to produce vapour. Heated tobacco follows a similar principle. As the name suggests, heated tobacco products heat tobacco, creating a vapour that is inhaled by the user.

Let’s take a closer look at how this all works:


Traditional smoking using cigarettes involves burning tobacco which creates smoke. A cigarette tip burns at about 900 degrees Celsius.[1]
This allows for nicotine to be released, as well as the flavour of the tobacco leaf. In heated tobacco products and vaping, there is no combustion, so aerosol rather than smoke is created. This vapour contains nicotine and comes from heating real tobacco leaf. Smoking is also an entirely analogue experience — there is no electric component required. Vaping and heated tobacco products are powered by a battery which creates regulated heat levels.


Vaping uses an electronic device that heats vape juice, also known as e-liquid or e-juice. Some vapes are designed to look and feel like a cigarette, often called cigalikes. These devices are usually rechargeable and use cartridges that can be replaced when needed. However, vaping is more commonly associated with vape pens - devices with pods that are inserted and then used or box mods – devices that use a tank for e-liquid.

Vape juice has a wide range and variety of different flavours. Vape devices heat this e-juice to release a vapour that the vaper then inhales. Different vape juice can change the overall vaping experience for example dictating the strength of the flavour or how large the vapour clouds created are.

Heated tobacco 

Heated tobacco is a smoking alternative that replicates the ritual and taste of cigarettes. Heated tobacco products like IQOS use an electronic device with a heating element to heat real tobacco sticks (i.e., HEETS) rather than burn. Unlike vaping, there’s no liquid. 

Heated tobacco differs from vaping not only due to the absence of e-liquid, but also in terms of general design. Vapes come in a wide range of different models, with some being extremely advanced. Heated tobacco products, on the other hand, are generally designed to be extremely user friendly. There is no need to reload liquid, or become familiar with the intricate workings of batteries and power levels. With many heated tobacco products, it’s simply a matter of inserting a tobacco stick, using it as needed, and then discarding it once it is finished.

What are the differences between vaping and smoking?

Vaping uses liquid and tobacco variants of this liquid will use tobacco flavouring rather than real tobacco and depending on the base each e-liquid uses the volume of vapour can also be distinctly different to the experience of smoking. Ultimately, while not risk-free, the key benefits of vaping vs smoking are synonymous with the key differences between smoking and vaping, i.e., the lack of combustion and the elimination of the release of smoke. It’s also worth noting that although some e-juices include nicotine, some don’t, which is another significant difference between smoking and vaping. Plus, you can choose whichever nicotine strength e-liquid you feel most comfortable with, which is another notable difference between vaping and cigarettes.

What is the difference between smoking and heated tobacco? 

Heated tobacco products use an electric device like a vape pen. Heated tobacco doesn’t rely on combustion, so the tobacco does not burn, and no smoke is released - only vapour. As mentioned earlier IQOS is an example of a heated tobacco product. IQOS, uses real tobacco sticks called HEETS, these are specially designed real tobacco sticks that are heated by the IQOS device – rather than being burned like conventional cigarettes.

One of the differences between IQOS and smoking is the smell generated from cigarettes. IQOS leaves less lingering smell on hands, hair and clothes than cigarettes. IQOS also does not produce second-hand smoke, with no smoke and less smell, IQOS has significantly less effect on the air around you than cigarettes. 

Important Information: IQOS is not risk-free.

Another important difference is the use of tar, cigarettes product tar, however IQOS doesn’t. Tar is the residue from smoke after a cigarette is burned. IQOS does not produce tar because it heats tobacco instead of burning it. It generates an aerosol residue that is fundamentally different from tar and consists of significantly lower levels of harmful chemicals*.

Important Information: The absence of tar does not mean that IQOS is risk free. IQOS provides nicotine, which is addictive. 

*Average reductions in levels of a range of harmful chemicals (excluding nicotine) compared to cigarette smoke.  

Are Vaping and Heated Tobacco the Same? 

No, they aren't, but they do share some common features. Both vaping and heated tobacco products produce a vapour, and neither uses combustion to create smoke. While heated tobacco products and vapes like pod mods may look similar, the main differentiator is in the use of real tobacco leaf and not liquid. Heated tobacco products do not use liquid, while e-cigarettes and vaping devices do.

The core benefits of vaping vs smoking remain the same for heated tobacco products, i.e., reduction of smoke, burning, and lingering smells. In this sense, heated tobacco products and vaping may both be a suitable choice for users who are concerned they are bothering those around them with ash and smoke.  

Choose differently 

If you’re looking for an alternative to smoking, heated tobacco products may be the right choice. Find your nearest IOQS shop right here.



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