THERE'S a new "cigarette" on the block - and while it looks similar, it's no e-cig. Hailed as a "healthier" alternative to traditional fags, the heat-not-burn devices are set explode in popularity, experts said today. 5 Heat-not-burn devices have been hailed as a "healthier" alternative to regular fags, by the giant tobacco companies that make them Credit: Getty - Contributor And they urged public health officials who were "caught off guard" by e-cigarettes, to get clued up now and set the agenda rather than wait for the tobacco giants to get their first. Campaign group ASH said due to the tobacco industry's "long record of deceit over the health risks of smoking", there's an "urgent need" for more research into these new devices. As with many e-cigs, the devices are made and sold by the big tobacco companies, eager not to lose business as more and more people stub out their habit. The new method gently heats tobacco to a balmy 260C to produce a tobacco vapour. 5 They gently heat tobacco, creating a vapour that delivers a hit that e-cigarettes, which only contain nicotine, don't Credit: Getty - Contributor Dr John Ayers, an associate research professor at the San Diego State University, said they appeal to smokers who still demand the "throat-hit" delivered by a regular cigarette, but not by most e-cigs. That's because e-cigarettes vapourise nicotine - the addictive part of a cigarette - but don't contain any tobacco. Now a new study, led by Dr Ayers, looks at the potential new fad. Heat-not-burn devices are currently only on sale in a handful of places around the world, and so little is known about their appeal. 5 In the UK alone, smoking kills nearly 100,000 people each year Credit: Getty - Contributor The first device became available in the UK in November last year. Dr Ayers and his team turned to Google, to look at search trends relating to the products in Japan - the first country to sell them. Their findings showed a huge surge in demand for the heat-not-burn devices - rising by 2,956 per cent in the two years from 2015 to 2017. The study's co-author, Professor Mark Dredze from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said: "Heat-not-burn products have quickly become insanely popular. From what we know so far, it is likely heat-not-burn products are less harmful than smoking, but more harmful than electronic cigarettes Deborah Arnott, ASH "Two years ago there were essentially no enquiries in Japan for heat-not-burn tobacco, but now there are between 5.9 and 7.5 million each month." And the team noted interest in the heat-not-burn devices in Japan is growing faster than it did for e-cigs, when they first hit the market. The study authors added: "This suggests that as heat-not-burn tobacco is introduced in new markets, its popularity may even eclipse e-cigarettes." But the researchers urged public health officials to get clued up now, after many were taken by surprise by the surge in demand for e-cigs. 5 Experts believe heat-not-burn products are less dangerous than fags, but more harmful that e-cigs, but insist more research is needed Credit: Getty - Contributor Dr Theodore Caputi, from the University of Pennsylvannia, said tobacco firms are constantly "trying to outmanoeuvre public health protections" by creating new products "that make tobacco appear less dangerous and more appealing". He said: "People were caught off guard by e-cigarettes, for example. "Our study is an early warning and a call to action for public health professionals to address heat-not-burn products now." Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, agreed and said until more independent research is done, heat-not-burn products must face the same strict regulation as cigarettes. She told The Sun Online: "From what we know so far, it is likely heat-not-burn products are less harmful than smoking, but more harmful than electronic cigarettes. "However, unless and until independent evidence shows that these products are substantially less harmful than smoking, they should be regulated in the same way as other tobacco products. "Fully independent research and assessment will be crucial if heat-not-burn tobacco products are to be accepted as useful in fighting the smoking epidemic." In the UK alone smoking kills nearly 100,000 people each year. And globally in the 20th century the habit claimed the lives of 100 million people - more than World Wars I and II combined. 5 Experts urged public health officials to act now to set the agenda on heat-not-burn products, before the tobacco giants get their first Credit: Getty - Contributor Eric Leas, from Stanford Unversity, echoed Ms Arnott's call for further studies, adding: "There's a tremendous amount we need to learn about heat-not-burn tobacco." As did Joanna Cohen, from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Global Tobacco Control. She said big questions remain over the device's potential to harm a smoker's health, and added they should be subject to the same harsh restrictions as cigarettes. "Given heat-not-burn is a tobacco product, all existing policies to protect the public from other tobacco products should be enforced," she said. Given heat-not-burn is a tobacco product, all existing policies to protect the public from other tobacco products should be enforced Joanna Cohen, Johns Hopkins University Dr Ayers added: "Tobacco control is at a new crossroads. "Leaders can reasonably respond to this new data and ready themselves by setting an agenda or wait for big tobacco to set the heat-not-burn agenda for them." A study published this summer found e-cigarettes do help smokers quit - and more should switch to vaping for the sake of their health. But, like with these new products, experts have warned more research is needed to determine the safety of e-cigs. Another piece of research found just one puff of a e-cigarettes could increase a vaper's risk of heart attack. Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians believe it is in the interests of public health to promote the use of e-cigs as a way to encourage smokers to quit. The new findings are published today in the journal PLOS One. Responding to the study, Peter Nixon, MD of Philip Morris Limited, hailed the findings "encouraging". "We agree with the study authors that smokers should have access to accurate, scientifically substantiated information about the relative risk of different tobacco and nicotine products so that they can make informed choices," he told The Sun Online. "Encouraging smokers who would otherwise continue to use cigarettes to instead switch to less risky alternatives is an important strategy that can complement existing tobacco control measures."