For this installment of the ongoing E-cig 101 series, I thought it would go back to basics. All the way back. I’ve posted similar articles like the “What is an e cigarette mod” article. I want to step back even further and answer the question “what is an e cigarette?”
We’ll divide this article up into a few different sections. First, I will indeed explain what is an e cigarette. Then we’ll go into a little more detail about how the devices actually work. Finally we’ll look at whether electronic cigarettes work.
Ok, so what is an e cigarette?
An e cigarette, or electronic cigarette is a device designed to produce vapor. This simulates the smoke found in traditional cigarettes. The vapor produced by the e-cigarette may optionally contain nicotine and flavorings.
Traditional electronic cigarettes are designed to look like regular cigarettes as well. They are tubes about the same length as a regular cigarette. e-Cigarettes feature an LED light at the end of the device that turns on when the user puffs, furthering the illusion of smoking.
e-Cigarettes are not combusted like regular cigarettes. They do not output the carcinogens and other chemicals that makes traditional cigarettes so dangerous. Electronic cigarettes also do not have the chemical additives such as ammonia commonly found in traditional cigarettes.
Ecigs provide much of the same sensation of inhaling smoke as well as the hand-to-mouth action to which so many smokers are accustomed — without the toxins.
Many e-cigarettes feature a red or orange LED to further the illusion of smoking. Personally, I am not a fan of that color. I prefer something that doesn’t look exactly like I’m smoking so I don’t get roughed up by security guards. Fortunately, e-cigarettes can be had with a wide variety of LED lights on the end from purple, to blue, green and even white.
In fact, there’s not just variety with e-cigarette lights. There is a range of e-cigarettes out there that look nothing like cigarettes at all. These devices are designed generally for better performance and are known as mods. A lot of the reviews on this site cover these mods. To learn more about mods, check out E-Cig 101: What is an e cigarette mod?
How do e-cigarettes work?
Whether a mod or a traditional e-cigarette, all devices work using the same basic principle. Electronic cigarettes consist of three basic parts, a battery, a heating element and liquid. The user (also known as a vaper) activates the device either by inhaling or pressing a button.
When activated, the battery passes electric current through the heating element which rapidly heats. The liquid, known as e-liquid comes into contact with the heating element and quickly vaporizes. The vaper then inhales the vapor similar to a regular cigarette.
This is the same principle that fog machines use to produce mist, but on a smaller scale. The liquid used is either propylene glycol or glycerine which vaporize at lower temperatures (more efficiently -sk) than water. e-Liquid usually also contains flavoring and nicotine. For more about e-liquid, take a look at the e-liquid basics article.
Are e-cigarettes a good alternative to smoking?
The nicotine provided by the e-cigarette is helpful in reducing nicotine cravings for many users. Naturally each person will respond differently to the device. Some will quickly adapt to vaping as I did. Others may take longer to switch completely to e-cigarettes. Some may not quite give up cigarettes entirely. And naturally, some people simply will not like the experience at all.
The equipment itself could also play a role in how easily someone might take to e-cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes are not all created equally. Some devices simply do not perform very well. Either they don’t output much vapor, taste bad or are unreliable. The user then gives up on vaping thinking the devices are all hype.
Despite the potential pitfalls, informal surveys of e-cigarette users find that a large percentage of vapers switch entirely to electronic cigarettes permanently. It is also worthy of noting that e-cigarettes aren’t technically devices to quit smoking.
Cessation therapies such as nicotine gum are designed for short-term use. The user is weaned completely off within a set time period. e-Cigarettes are meant to provide a lower-risk alternative to smoking. In the US and many other countries merchants are forbidden from advertising e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation therapy.
Great! So… Now what?
Hopefully, I’ve done my job and you now have a basic understanding of what an e cigarette is. I’m also guessing you may be looking for more information. I’ll leave you with a few suggestions to guide you along your path to enlightenment.
- If you want to learn more of the technical details of e-cigarettes, have a peek at other articles in the E-Cig 101 series
- For guidance on finding an e-cigarette that works for you, I have an article on finding the best e-cigarette
- If you’d like to check out some reviews on e-cigarette starter kits, I have those too!
- Just want a list of reputable e-cigarette vendors, maybe some discounts? Have a look at the vendors list
- Do you still have questions, or want to let me know what you think? The comments form below is open for business!
Michael Krelin(01/19/12 - 9:17 am)
Just one little thing. I think this statement — "The liquid used is either propylene glycol or glycerine which vaporize at lower temperatures than water" — isn't quite accurate. If I remember correctly, water boild at about 100 degree Celsius, whereas PG boils at around 190 C and Glycerol vaporizes when heated to about 290 C.
Steve K(01/19/12 - 8:38 am)
Yeah I can't really even say I misspoke there. It's not that it has a lower boiling point, because you're right, it doesn't. It's just more efficient. It comes from something I read that indicated to get the same amount of vapor out of water the temperature would have to be much higher and would break down the components in the e-liquid before it produced vapor.
Michael Krelin(01/20/12 - 3:22 am)
I never researched the matter, and I forgot all my physics, so I can't tell what are the properties that make PG/VG better candidates, I only wanted to point out it's not the temperature. Not that it changes a thing ;-)
@Matt_Zuke(03/26/12 - 5:06 pm)
" If I remember correctly, water boild at about 100 degree Celsius, whereas PG boils at around 190 C and Glycerol vaporizes when heated to about 290 C."
The FDA tests performed in 2009 generated a vapor at 60C. If you believe this is in error, correct us, and the FDA.
I've never measured the temp, however, I know the operational wattage of a standard resistance device is around 5 watts +/- 1, where low resistance is around 8 watts +/- 1. Anything beyond 9watts is atypical, and generally is operating at 5 volts and above with a practical limit of 12 watts for a single coil.
Michael Krelin(03/27/12 - 4:46 am)
I might have been inaccurate too. The liquid starts releasing some vapor before it gets to the boiling point, also the boiling point depends on the pressure, which is definitely lower during the inhaling, though these details are irrelevant.
The point I was making has nothing to do with exact numbers, what I was saying is that water boils at lower temps than PG.
(60 degrees figure still sounds low to me. We all know the wire gets red-hot once in a while and I doubt it signifies anything less that 500C. It doesn't mean we're inhaling this hot vapor, tho:)).
Steve K(03/27/12 - 9:47 am)
Now look what I went and started :)
Michael Krelin(03/28/12 - 1:46 pm)
j123(01/19/12 - 11:32 am)
You could vaporise water at a lower temperature, and it wouldn't cause the other liquid components to break down, but it's just not as good at forming a long-lasting "smoke". Water alone would just produce steam, and you wouldn't be able to see much of it when you exhaled after taking a puff.
Steve K(01/19/12 - 11:37 am)
Yeah I think anyone who's tried cleaning atomizers or cartomizers and had a little bit of water left in there could attest. Water isn't very good at vapor production :)
scott(01/19/12 - 4:43 pm)
I use my electronic cigarette everyday and it has proven effective. I do not mind what the FDA or other tobacco companies say because in the end this is an alternative doing good in my life. Long live vaping : ) Great article keep it up Steve
Steve K(01/19/12 - 5:22 pm)
Thanks, of course it's not just what the FDA says, but that part's for the e-cigarette news portion of the site :)
john(01/31/12 - 12:28 am)
The great thing about e-cigarettes is it is an enjoyable alternative. You get a pleasurable sensation and throat hit, without much of the nasty side of smoking.
Steve K(01/31/12 - 6:15 am)
Very succinct summary :) At the end of the day, whatever you end up using, that's what its all about.
@tmarney(03/26/12 - 3:06 pm)
Anyone who has ever tried a product containing or derived from tobacco knows that it is not nearly as terrible as the healthist busybodies would have you believe nor is it as seemingly harmless and wonderful as the Big Tobacco sales pitch. The TRUTH is that tobacco has upsides AND downsides. I challenge anyone who smokes or is frequently exposed to secondhand smoke (or loves someone who is) to make a list of all the things they like (there's gotta be something or you wouldn't have tried it in the first place and would have no difficulty quitting) and dislike about products containing tobacco or nicotine, and then draw a line through anything that would be avoided if you did not light it on FIRE and inhale the SMOKE hundreds of times each day. Do any of the leftover effects amount to even 1% of the 8.6 million Americans who have a chronic and/or deadly disease that is caused or worsened by chronically inhaling smoke? Should addicted individuals continue smoking if/when FDA approved cessation methods fail or do you think they should consider finding a satisfying SMOKE-FREE alternative???
Anti-tobacco campaigns appear to hate the tobacco plant so much that they believe people who are addicted to it must completely abstain forever or they deserve to be burned along with/by their cigarettes. In truth, they are Sponsored by Corporations who sell drugs and other treatments for addiction and diseases caused by smoking and don't REALLY wan't people to die, they want them to think they have to quit nicotine so that when they find they cannot give it up, they'll be sure to get back on the hamster wheel of FDA regulated cigarettes, FDA approved psychoactive drugs, and FDA approved COPD and other medications.