A German startup deploys foam to deliver nicotine.
By Stefanie Rossel
Until recently, users of noncombusted products had two ways of consuming nicotine: through an aerosol generated by e-cigarettes or heated-tobacco products (HTPs) or through direct absorption by the mucous membrane of the mouth, as is the case when using modern oral nicotine products. The Splash platform works with an entirely different medium: foam. According to its eponymous manufacturer, a startup company based in northern Germany, Splash is the fastest delivery system on the market, delivering the desired nicotine “hit” within seconds.
The stimulants carrier is not an aerosol but a glycerin-free fine foam, similar to the froth on a cappuccino, which is consumed through a mouthpiece. The Splash device comprises a bottle filled with nicotine-containing liquid. A separate department at the top of the unit holds a mix of natural ingredients, including phospholipids and a vegetable emulsifier, that turn the liquid into a stable foam when released.
“We wanted the particles to stay in the mouth longer than aerosols and be absorbed sublingually,” explains Klaus Hagen, chairman of Splash. “Foam moves slowly and remains in the mouth long enough for ingredients to be absorbed quickly. This way, it takes only a few seconds until the active ingredient arrives in the brain. In addition, the foam allows the aromas to spread in the mouth and create an intense taste experience.”
To manage the air pressure within the bottle, the device is equipped with coated pills and a filter. “With Splash, we have found a way to substantially shortcut the road that stimulants usually have to take through the body via the stomach and the bloodstream,” says Hagen.
Smoke-Free and Vape-Free
Hagen, who boasts a long career in the tobacco industry, most recently as head of next-generation products at a leading multinational, founded Splash in 2021. Development of the Splash platform, however, started as early as 2019. Hagen had just successfully exited his first startup, which had developed a battery-powered shisha.
“A few weeks after the sale of our company, my team and I were contemplating what to do next,” says Hagen. “We knew that whatever we would develop now would only become relevant to consumers, the industry and regulators in three [years] to four years. When we started with Splash, vaping was already very popular, and it was all about generating big clouds of steam. Oral nicotine products at that time were either tiny niche or locally limited, such as snus in Sweden. The same was true for batteries and their potential hazard for the environment. Nevertheless—or because of that—we decided to create a natural alternative to aerosols and batteries.”
The objective was to develop a smoke-free and vape-free product that would integrate enjoyment and ritual. “We aimed to be way ahead of a consumer trend we were anticipating,” says Hagen. “At that time, it was a mere gut decision, but it has turned out to be the right one.”
The idea of using foam was inspired by the detergent capsules used in dishwashers. “We were immediately aware of the enormous potential ‘effervescent tablets’ would have as an energy source for use in inhalers,” says Hagen. “So we decided to develop a method to turn a liquid into a solid foam.”
The result is a hybrid—a modern oral nicotine product in the form of a handheld device that mimics the hand-to-mouth motion associated with cigarettes, HTPs or vapes. Hagen calls it a vape 2.0 or “no heat, no burn.” The product can be offered with various nicotine strengths. Once activated, the device generates 25 puffs to 30 puffs.
The company tested user acceptance at different points in the development process. “In the U.K., we had the product tested by many consumers in London, Birmingham and Manchester this May,” says Hagen. “They all immediately understood what Splash was about, which is on the one hand to maintain an essential ritual known from smoking or vaping and on the other hand to be discreet—i.e., not to emit smoke or vapor. We live in a fast-paced time where social acceptance of smoke[-generating] and vapor-generating products is getting ever more limited. Besides, for smokers or users of HTPs or vape products, the switch to a nicotine pouch is too big a step—they need certain key elements, including habits and satisfaction.”
In researching the market, the company paid particular attention to two aspects: How do consumers experience the absorption of active ingredients, and how do they like foam as an administration tool? “We were surprised how well both were received,” says Hagen. “Consumers described the uptake of active ingredients as ‘very fast and effective.’ The foam, albeit a novelty, was experienced as extremely pleasant. We had numerous conversations with smokers who confirmed that nicotine absorption through Splash is not only exceptionally fast but also lasts for a long time so that the total consumption of nicotine—spread across a day—is lower than with the usual nicotine-containing products.”
Low Risk Profile
Splash’s comparatively low risk profile should help the product gain acceptance in a heavily regulated industry. The foaming agents contain emulsifiers that have been approved for use in the food industry. As a modern oral product, the device is not subject to the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) yet; for the time being, member states can decide for themselves whether to permit the product category. Hagen is confident that the TPD will embrace new products such as Splash in the future.
Being made of nicotine, the liquid in Splash does not contain harmful substances common in tobacco, such as nitrosamines. The product is also free from heavy metals. Since Splash works without heating or pyrolysis, it doesn’t create any byproducts, such as formaldehydes. What’s more, the absence of a battery means there is no risk of fire or malfunction. Other risks, such as leakage or accidental swallowing of the whole product, are ruled out as well, according to Hagen.
In addition to equipping its device with a child-safety lock, Splash adheres to strict voluntary standards to prevent youth appeal. “Of course we stick to the legal caps for nicotine, but we also refrain from using sugar-loade[d] flavors or giving our flavors fancy names that are targeting children or youths,” says Hagen. “We don’t do lifestyle marketing, and we focus on age verification for online trade and retail.”
Splash is a disposable product, planned to retail at $2 per unit and appealing to a mass market with its simplicity of use. However, sustainability has played an important part in its development. “We were motivated to make things better than existing products,” says Hagen. “In contrast to vape products, Splash contains no electronic components. Almost all its parts are made of recyclable plastic, hence the product can be returned into the recycling loop. With this, we are anticipating what is already imminent in some regions: the legally enacted ban of batteries in disposable products.”
Platform with Potential
The company believes its platform has potential beyond nicotine delivery. “Splash could be used for the administration of substances that provide users with new energy or a feeling of well-being and deceleration,” Hagen says. “It is also apt for administration of medicines. Our technology has a big advantage for beverage and pharma: the speed of absorption. While it takes about 10 [minutes] to 20 minutes for an energy drink or a painkiller to release its effect, Splash will take only a few seconds. We have already carried out respective tests in our labs, and there’s interest from the industries. Here, our technology could be licensed.”
The company, which comprises a network of 14 people spread across several cities and continents, aims to become an expert in the administration of substances rather than an expert in the distribution of nicotine products, according to Hagen. For the time being, though, Splash is focusing on nicotine, which currently engages the majority of its staff. A second division, however, is working on other mood enhancers.
The Splash device is developed in Germany and manufactured in China. For regulatory reasons and to distinguish it from use in other industries, the company in November rebranded the nicotine part of its platform under the name Voam.
The company started to commercialize its patented technology as a nicotine product in the late summer of 2023, testing the product in several stores in close contact with consumers to be able to potentially make last adjustments. “We intend to keep this panel that exceeds traditional market research to test innovations, such as new flavors, in the future,” says Hagen.
According to him, the industry has already shown significant interest in the product. The company has been in talks with representatives of the traditional tobacco business as well as the nicotine industries and leading distributors in several countries. “We are already negotiating the first larger volumes,” says Hagen. “In the selection of potential partners, it is especially important to us that the player shares our mission: to enable a smoke[-free] and vapor-free world with our product without forgoing enjoyment and rituals.”