The company formerly known as Poda offers reduced-risk nicotine alternatives
It might be a little jarring to picture Mia Wallace puffing smokeless tobacco through an electric device in Pulp Fiction, but Ryan Selby, co-founder and CEO of Vancouver-based tobacco company Idle Lifestyle (formerly Poda Holdings), thinks that’s where the industry is headed. “If I look 50 years down the road to where the nicotine space will be, I think it's no longer going to be big tobacco, it's going to be big nicotine,” he says.
In some ways, a cigarettes is a perfect product: it’s always a consistent experience and doesn't cost much to produce. The major downfall, of course, is the harmful effects of the smoke. But at the end of the day, people still want nicotine, and the transition towards reduced-risk nicotine products can only come from innovation.
Self-proclaimed “serial inventor” Selby started his first business, Smoke Better, a week after graduating from UVic’s Gustavson School of Business in 2006. He created an ejecting pipe with a mechanism to dump ash out of the bowl without the user having to scrape it. Selby then went on to design and patent a number of products since, including grinders, humidors and rolling papers.
He co-founded Idle in 2015 with COO Ryan Karkairan (bringing financier Dan Kriznic on board soon after) to work in the medical marijuana vape space. But when he noticed tobacco companies moving away from combustion and towards alternative consumption methods, he spent five years developing Idle’s zero-cleaning heat-not-burn (HNB) product for the tobacco industry.
Through Idle, Selby created and patented a closed-ended cigarette (which, unlike traditional HNB products, doesn’t use open-ended systems that degrade with use): the cigarette goes into a heating element that warms the tobacco and releases the nicotine and flavours without actually combusting the tobacco. As a result, there’s no ash, residue or buildup collecting in the device.
No matter how you light it, smoking is (and probably will always be) bad for you. But consumers, innovators and big tobacco are all recognizing the value of offering newer methods of consumption that can retain the taste and feel of a cigarette while filtering out some of the more harmful side effects.
“We weren't looking to necessarily create a big tobacco company,” Selby maintains. “What we did was create intellectual property that was sought after by the big tobacco companies.”
After seven years in big tobacco, Selby, Karkairan and Kriznic patented Idle’s HNB product in over 65 countries. This June, Idle sold all its intellectual property to American tobacco corporation Altria Group (the US arm of Philip Morris) for US$100 million.
“My goal is to invent and deliver products to allow consumers to keep consuming nicotine without the risks that had been previously associated with it,” says Selby.