Herbal sticks are growing in popularity, but regulators might change their future

Herbal heated sticks are spreading worldwide as a replacement for conventional smoking as well as an alternative to heated tobacco products.

The technical difference between heated tobacco sticks and herbal heated sticks lies in the ingredients. Heated tobacco sticks contain processed tobacco while herbal heated sticks are made from some combination of dried herbs.

More and more companies are continuing to invest in this area. Both British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris International (PMI) launched a nicotine-containing tobacco-free stick for their heated tobacco devices – PMI for its Iqos device under the Levia brand and, before that, BAT for its Glo device under the Veo brand. And last year, Imperial launched its herbal consumables, Isenzia, for Pulze.

These stick alternatives just might have the benefits of avoiding both regulations banning the use of flavours in heated tobacco and, in many cases, duties required to be paid on tobacco products. PMI’s range, exclusive to Iluma, contains a non-tobacco substrate infused with nicotine in flavours including tobacco, menthol blueberry, and peppermint, which it cannot offer in many jurisdictions where flavour bans on tobacco products include heated tobacco products.

Typically, herbal heated sticks are also cheaper than tobacco products, and before Big Tobacco got involved, multiple smaller producers made ones that were also compatible with some of the major heated tobacco devices.

Currently, Japan and Poland have the most products available, although there are far more different brands in Japan. Japan is also among the countries where these products are cheapest, whilst Germany is the most expensive.


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    So, herbal heated products offer a low-cost alternative for consumers and they are also a legal way for manufacturers to provide flavours in countries where heated tobacco flavours are banned.

    For example, BAT’s Veo tobacco-free heated nicotine sticks – which are made from rooibos, an herbal plant often used as a caffeine-free tea – have been available in countries such as Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Greece and Cyprus since September 2023 despite many of them having already implemented the EU heated tobacco flavour ban.

    But while there are reasons to expect more product launches in more countries starting this year, regulators will not ignore them forever. Indeed, some countries in the European Union have started to draft regulations for herbal heated products, meaning the legal grey area that allowed them to enter the market is now being addressed, together with flavour bans.

    It will be interesting to see how these measures impact 2024 major market estimates, particularly if herbal product uptake among consumers continues to increase and the market sees more launches of such flavoured products from both Big Tobacco and smaller third-party manufacturers.

    This could change the scenario worldwide, and by that time these products may be regulated as heated tobacco sticks.

    – Antonia Di Lorenzo TobaccoIntelligence staff

    Photo: Allie Dearie

    Antonia Di Lorenzo

    Assistant news editor/senior reporter
    Antonia is a member of the editorial team and holds a masters degree in Law from the University of Naples Federico II, Italy. She moved in 2013 to London, where she completed a postgraduate course at the London School of Journalism. In the UK, she worked as a news reporter for a financial newswire and a magazine before moving to Barcelona in 2019.