Heat-Not-Burn Across the Globe: Bulgaria
In the final part of our 3-part Heat-Not-Burn Across the Globe series, we are looking at Bulgaria in Eastern Europe.
Is Heat-Not-Burn Popular in Bulgaria?
Very much so!
I was surprised of the extent that HnB is popular in Bulgaria. With the Heat-Not-Burn industry you primarily hear about it’s popularity in Asia, but it is flourishing in other areas of the world too, with one such area being Eastern Europe.
We were able to find HnB everywhere in Bulgaria and you see alot of people using it! It appears that people of all age groups are HnB users, however we’ve noticed that young people especially seem to like the devices. This is a huge change from Canada, where youth tend to use vape products over traditional cigarettes and, from what we’ve seen, HnB is primarily used by older, perhaps more financially established individuals. Unlike Japan where we didn’t see anyone vaping nor did we see hardly any vape products, there is vape in Bulgaria as well, but it doesn’t seem to overtake HnB. It seems, from our perspective, that vaping and HnB can live in harmony without cancelling each other out.
HnB in Bulgaria is pretty cheap so that may be a big draw for some users. One pack of GLO Dunhill HeatSticks (read more about them here) sell for 5.80 Лв., which is approximately $3.30USD. IQOS HEETS are a bit more on par with global prices. HEETS tend to be sold in 100 packs and average around 93.90 Лв., which is around $53USD. HEETS sell well in Bulgaria, despite having the same limited flavors that IQOS offers in Canada.
Both IQOS and GLO sells and advertises their products, but it still seems that IQOS is the most popular product. During one venture out into the city to find HnB products, we stumbled across a mall with an IQOS store and then, hilariously, an IQOS kiosk directly outside of the IQOS store. Both of them were busy.
The IQOS store itself was quite modern and a bit more spacious than the other stores we’ve visited while traveling. Some of the store designs are similar to what we’ve seen in other countries, namely Japan, which is kind of nice. It makes IQOS store spaces familiar no matter where you are in the world. Unlike Canada, where IQOS stores go by the name ‘Q-Lab,’ the store is simply called ‘IQOS.’ Since this store is located in a mall, the entrance is quite open and the contents easily visible. There are no representatives standing by the door checking IDs and no one asked us for one.
The kiosk is even more visible as it is set in the middle of the mall walkway. The kiosk is manned by an IQOS representative who can help you with product selection, or offer support, however we still recommend going to the actual store location for technical difficulties, as the stores contain technical repair centres complete with tools. The kiosk has several glass display cases containing IQOS devices as well as HEETS displays.
Much like Japan, which we looked at in the second part of our Heat-Not-Burn Across the Globe series, tobacco usage is very much ingrained in Bulgarian culture. In fact, of the 3 countries we’ve looked at in this series, Bulgaria has the highest percent of tobacco users. As of 2017, almost 40% of the adult population in Bulgaria were tobacco users, compared to 22% in Japan, and 16% in Canada.
We think that one of the main reasons why Heat-Not-Burn is so successful in Bulgaria is because tobacco is largely unregulated by the Bulgarian government. George, who you see on the Heat180 YouTube channel, has lived and traveled in Hungary, also located in Eastern Europe, for many years. He has noticed some big differences between the tobacco industries of Hungary and Bulgaria, namely that in Hungary the government regulates and oversees the distribution of tobacco products. Products like HEETS can only be purchased in a government registered tobacco shop. Whereas in Bulgaria HEETS, as well as other HnB products, can be purchased in mall kiosks, grocery stores, convenience stores, official brand stores, etc. One of the only places you cannot buy HnB products is in pharmacies.
Once again much like in Japan, this allows easy access to HnB products. Having them available in everyday places, makes them everyday items.
Advertising HnB in Bulgaria is also quite a bit easier than in some countries as there are few regulations. Ads are seen everywhere. After traveling, I truely believe that this has an effect on the number of users, as ads provide valuable information to ad viewers. Even if you don’t use HnB products, with all the advertisements around, you will learn about them and their purpose for harm reduction.
We were, of course, very happy to see that HnB is so prominent in Bulgaria, but, once again like Japan, it seems to only be big tobacco brands that are available. We have not seen a single device from smaller manufacturers since coming here. Not even Ploom S or Lil, despite the fact that they are big tobacco products. We are hoping that in the future more people are introduced to alternative devices, because there are some really great ones out there in the world.
Nevertheless, Bulgaria offers a ray of hope for the HnB industry as it expands globally. Places like Canada, which have relatively low smoking rates may not provide the fertile ground necessary for HnB to succeed, but countries like Bulgaria where the smoking rater is higher may be the perfect place to expand to. In such countries there are many people who could benefit from harm reduction devices and if these devices become something younger generations are introduced to it could end up having a positive impact by reducing the number of tobacco related diseases and deaths worldwide. We are excited to keep watching the Bulgarian market.