E-cigs and vaping: Laying out the basics

It’s official.  Smoking is out, vaping is in.  According to the CDC, the percentage of adults in the U.S. who smoke was down from almost 21% in 2005 to just under 18% in 2013, and has continued to fall.  Meanwhile, the vaping industry has gone from one of around $20 million a year in 2008 to an estimated $1 billion or more according to the Nicotine Science and Policy website.  Vape bars and retailers are popping up everywhere and business is booming.

Evaporate Los Angeles

Vape bars like Evaporate Los Angeles are popping up everywhere, giving patrons a chance to sample flavors and socialize with other vapers.

Early studies are showing that vaping is helping people ditch the smoking habit and, though data about the long-term effects of the substitute is yet to be gathered, it is pretty widely agreed that it is bound to be less harmful than its tar- and chemical-rich counterpart.  Plus, vapor is far less obnoxious to those around you and dissipates almost instantly, leaving you smelling like yourself instead of an ashtray.

So, how does one get started on the road to smoke-free bliss?  It’s really pretty straightforward, but there are a few things that it will be helpful to understand before you purchase your first “electronic nicotine delivery system”.

E-cigs vs. Vaporizers

E-cigs by Playboy

A typical e-cigarette

There are two basic configurations for portable vaporized nicotine delivery systems.  One is the familiar e-cig (e-cigarette, a.k.a. PV for personal vaporizer) that you can buy at gas stations and convenience stores.  Most of these are about the size of a cigarette and usually are designed to look like one.  This can be a comfort to those former smokers for whom the feel of a cigarette in their hands and on their lips is as much of a comfort as the nicotine it delivers.


Vaporizers come in all shapes and sizes, and Mighty Skins has them all covered.

The other option actually encompasses a huge variety of devices, all known as vaporizers.  Technically, e-cigs are also vaporizers, since they do turn e-liquid into vapor.  E-cigs, though, do this by heating nicotine-infused e-liquid directly, though convection (direct transfer of heat from the heating element to the liquid).  If the liquid were solid, it would be burning, but since it’s not, it evaporates and becomes vapor.   Most people use the term vaporizer, though, to refer to a device that heats the material (liquid or solid) through convection, meaning that it uses heated air to warm it.  This still results in the liquid turning into vapor, but this method allows for much greater variety and customization in the temperature, quantity, and quality of the vapor.   E-hookas are also vaporizers, but folks mostly seem to use this term when using nicotine-free e-liquid.

Many people who start out using e-cigs (“vaping”) fairly quickly move to a larger personal vaporizer, sometimes called “vape pens” or “mods”, depending on the degree to which they can be modified with different sized batteries, cartridge styles, etc.  Mods are usually preferred by experienced vapers for several reasons.

  • They have bigger batteries, so they hold a charge longer, often for a full day or longer.  E-cig batteries, on the other hand, sometimes last only for a few hours.
  • Mods and other larger PVs have refillable cartridges so, rather than paying for a new cartomizer (a combination cartridge and atomizer) when your e-cig runs out, you can just refill your cartridge with whatever e-liquid you prefer.
  • Refillable cartridges mean that, rather than being limited to a few flavors of cartomizer that fit your particular brand of e-cig, you have a pretty much limitless variety of e-liquid flavors to choose from, both with and without nicotine.
  • Larger PVs look less like cigarettes, so people are less likely to gripe at you for smoking where smoking is disallowed (which seems like almost everywhere these days).
  • Mods can be adjusted to deliver warmer or cooler vapor, as well as larger quantities of vapor.  The right adjustments can lead to a deeper “throat hit”, creating something closer to feeling of smoking, or a smoother hit, depending on your preference.
  • Mods area available with clear cartridges, called “clearomizer”s, that allow you to see how much e-liquid you have left.  E-cigs just run out, and the last hits tend to be significantly less satisfying than the first.
  • The separation of the atomizer and cartridge in larger PVs seems to offer a more consistent delivery than the e-cig’s cartomizer.

E-liquid (a.k.a. e-juice)

You may, by now, be wondering what the heck is in this e-liquid that is at the heart of the digital nicotine revolution.  For the most part, it is made up of nicotine, propylene glycol (an organic compound “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use as a direct food additive by the compound U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and some sort of flavoring.  Different e-liquids contain different amounts of nicotine, and some may contain ingredients other than the three mentioned here.  You can always ask your friendly neighborhood vape dealer to give you the low-down on a particular flavor or brand.  In general, 1 milliliter of e-liquid is roughly equivalent to 2 packs of cigarettes.


The only real customization available for e-cigs are a few different flavors and e-cig wraps, which are available in hundreds of different varieties.  Vape pens offer endless flavors and sometimes allow you to change out batteries or cartridges, but are also mostly customized using wraps.  With a mod, you can customize practically every part of the device, from the atomizer coil to the cartridge, as well as adding wraps, blinged out batteries, and more.
Which device you choose really depends on how much you want to spend, how much you want to customize, and how serious you are about optimizing your vaping experience.  E-cigs are cheaper initially, but must be replaced more often while vape pens and mods require more initial outlay put longer use and less future cost.  Mods offer the best overall experience and the most customization options, but are bigger and more conspicuous and can be bulky to carry.  Many vapers use a combination of both, depending on what is most convenient and what activity they will be combining with their vaping recreation.  And, with their rising popularity, there’s no telling what other incarnations we might see in the near and distant future.


Image credits:
E-Cigs by Playboy” by Lindsay Fox of Ecigarette Reviewed, via Flickr some rights reserved




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