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Sometimes known as "electronic cigarettes," or "vapers," e-cigarettes are an electronic device marketed as an aid to assist inveterate users of that "custom loathsome to the eye" known as tobacco smoking to desist their unhealthy habit.

An e-cigarette is a small plastic or metal rod about the same size and shape of an ordinary, or "analogue," cigarette. It unscrews in the middle and where the outer two thirds of an ordinary coffin nail would be is a capsule containing water with a tinge of nicotine in it and some flavourings and suchlike. The idea is that unlike nicotine patches, it also addresses the psychological craving that veteran smokers may have to have something in their mouth (oo-er). One then reaches for one's vaper and screws in a new cartridge whenever one feels the need to have a cigarette, and, with time and willpower, one gradually switches to cartridges with lower and lower nicotine content. Thus one is then weaned off of the taking of tobacco.

There's a small battery in the "butt" of the e-cigarette which powers a small heating element that vaporises the nicotine-tinged water in the cartridge, which one then draws on and inhales, which is activated by sucking on it. The nicotine-tinged water may also be flavoured, either to mimic the taste of one's previous brand of fag (i.e. Marlboro, Camel, Silk Cut), or to taste like something totally off the wall (i.e. banana split, cheese on toast, mutton vindaloo). The "carton" (which can be a plastic case or a more realistic mock up of a silver cigarette case) can also act as a charger in and of itself from a larger 9-volt battery and that in turn can be charged from a mains plug or a USB attachment.

It is said that they're used as an aid to quit smoking. At least, that's the stated intent. One only need look at the fact that a lot of vapers are designed to look like ordinary ("paper" or "analogue", as aficionados call them) cigarettes to realise that part of the reason for their popularity is to get round various smoking bans. Indeed, here in Britain, where it's illegal to smoke in bars, parks, trains, or railway stations (even out of doors), and there is an army of fixed-penalty-notice-doling jobsworths employed by local Councils to gather additional tax by the back door to spend on the chief exec's new Jag improve the health of the nation, and where soon one will not be allowed to smoke in one's own car (which will no doubt require the employment of more enforcement officers and the collection of more royal portraits for the council big dinners kitty protection of innocent, vulnerable, children from the depredations of the evil tobacco corps), vaping is kind of not covered by all this. Indeed, one can vape on a train, in a park, in a cinema, in a pub, or anywhere else, and when Mr B. Ellender from the London Borough of Fuck You comes along to try to fine you, you can blow your water vapour in his clammy face and tell him to go stick his head in a pig. You can't put it out on said face, though, the orange LED some vapers have in the tip is heatless. Which is another advantage over analogue smoking, surely - less fire risk if you fall asleep with one lit up.

Vaping is also less malodorous than analogue smoking as well.

It is also said that vapers, while they are not as of yet certificated as a genuine smoking cessation product, are less prejudicial to health than analogue fags because other than water vapour and nicotine and flavourings, there is no tar or carbon monoxide or any one of the 600 other alarming chemicals of varying safety added to the reconstituted sheet tobacco (floor sweepings) that falls off the fruity Cuban girls' thighs and that goes into paper cigarettes. A study in 2010 by the Boston University School of Public Health claims that "analogue" ciggies are around 1,000 times more carcinogenic than e-cigarettes. As such, despite the gnashing of teeth from the anti-smoking industry and the jobsworths who pushed for smoking bans, it would be difficult to justify a vaping ban in my estimation. (Though this didn't stop the powers that be outright lying to us over the cause for their actions in the past.) That being said, the stuff does contain nicotine which is still addictive and not a pleasant thing to have in one's system.

Still, it annoys people I don't like which is always a good thing.

(IRON NODER 2011, 16/30)

Electronic cigarettes, also known as "e-cigs," "personal vaporizers," or the various brand name or connector types, are a way to smoke without really smoking.

The typical e-cig has two parts - the battery and the atomizer.

There are two "major" types of atomizers:

  • A plain atomizer (also called an atty,) is a heating coil with a small amount of fiberglass wicking material to feed the coil.
    • Pros:
      • Longer lifetime for the coil
      • Typically better vapor production
      • More cost-effective in the long run (if maintained properly)
    • Cons:
      • More expensive
      • Harder to maintain
      • Usually requires more refilling unless a cartridge is used (3-5 puffs per drop of liquid, usually)
      • Tends to burn cartridges when they are used
      • More sensitive to being "popped" - breaking the coil by overheating.
  • A cartomizer (usually called a carto,) is an atomizer with a filler material surrounding it to hold the liquid.
    • Pros:
      • Much harder to "pop" - the heating element is typically a small plate rather than a coil
      • Cheaper per-unit price
      • Less refilling (typically 1ml of liquid - enough for about an hour of vaping)
      • Designed to be disposable
    • Cons:
      • Less cost-effective
      • Has a tendency to burn the filler material if overused
      • Doesn't last as long as an atomizer (technically)

Atomizers versus cartomizers (or other methods of feeding the juice to some sort of heating element) are a fairly common topic of conversation among e-cig users (also known as vapers. The key is essentially to pick out what you're comfortable with.

Batteries come in all sorts of flavors, and are usually categorized by their connector type. Some common connector types are the 510, the 801, the KR-808D, the 306, and the 901.

A battery should be chosen for two things - its longevity (measured in mAh) and its voltage. The mAh rating measures how long the battery will last as well as what sort of load it can handle. Typical non-mod batteries range from 180mAh to 1000mAh. Batteries for mods are typically 18650-style Li-Ion batteries, and start at about 2000mAh and up.

The voltage and resistance affect the amount of power you'll be putting into your atomizer, based on Ohm's Law. As a rule, higher voltage means higher power. One thing to be careful of is the resistance of your atty/carto - putting too much power through a lower-resistance atomizer will break it with a quickness.

Typical resistance/voltage pairs are:

  • 1.5-3 ohm for 3.7V
  • 3-5 ohm for 5V
  • 4-7 ohm for 7.4V

Two other things to note about batteries.

The first is size - as mentioned by Hazelnut above, many batteries are built to look like "real" cigarettes. Many others are chunkier or longer than a regular cigarette, and may look like a lipstick case with something sticking from it (for the eGo-style e-cigs,) a pack of smokes (for the larger boxmods,) or a pen (for the longer "penstyle" batteries.)

The second is manual versus automatic. I'm rare among the e-cig community in that I love my automatic batteries. I take a draw on it like a regular, lit cigarette and I'm golden. The problem with automatics is that they're touchy - it's easy to accidentally get the juice down inside them when refilling a cartomizer, and that'll kill the battery. Additionally, the part that detects when you're sucking on it tends to break down before the battery itself does.

A manual battery, on the other hand, requires you to push a button to activate the battery while you're drawing on the e-cig. This has its own pros and cons - it's not "natural" for a smoker to push the button, and it also isn't the way you'd normally hold a cigarette. On the other hand, it lets you take slower and softer draws (which is more cigarette-like.)

Mods, or modifications, are "advanced" e-cigs. These can be as ghetto and homemade as my 5-volt AA-powered supply that I use for my passthrough (which is an e-cig that powers itself from a USB port rather than a battery) or mass-produced like the Golden Greek, which is a beautiful nickel-plated beast of an "e-cig" that looks more like a small flashlight.

Typically, mods are not recommended for new users because of cost/experience. A good understanding of how batteries work is required before making a mod - otherwise, you may find it exploding in your pocket or hand! When buying a mod, you should really have a good sense of what you need out of an e-cig before getting one - they're typically 2-3x more expensive than a "plain" e-cig.

Juice or e-liquid is what you put in your atty/carto to make the vapor. A typical juice has four major components: propylene glycol(PG,) vegetable glycerin(VG,) nicotine, and food-grade flavorings. Exactly what mix of these four you use depends on your needs.

Typically, PG and VG should be used in a balance - PG will tend to bring out flavors more in a juice, while VG will produce more vapor (which makes it seem more "cigarette-like."

Some people are sensitive to PG, so they need an all-VG juice. Most juices are between 80/20 PG/VG ratio and 50/50 PG/VG ratio. The reason for this is that VG is much thicker than PG - this makes it slower to be absorbed into the filler material. In addition, VG vaporizes at a lower temperature than PG, so it gets used more quickly.

The nicotine in e-cigs is typically already added to a juice at a specified concentration. Keep in mind that the amount of nicotine you used to smoke (or chew, as the case may be) often has little bearing on how much nicotine you need in a juice! I smoked a half a pack per day and dipped a can per day, and I only needed 12mg. By comparison, someone who only smokes a pack per day might need 18mg or higher. The trick, of course, is to experiment with it.

The flavorings are what makes the vapor taste like something. Pretty much any flavoring is possible, but some work better than others. One thing to keep in mind is that certain flavors do not vaporize well - the canonical example is bacon flavor, which was described as "taking a puff out of Satan's smoking asshole." Everyone's tastes will be different, though - like many other things with e-cigs, the trick is to experiment with them. One thing to be careful of, especially if you make your own flavorings: your lungs don't like oil-based flavorings. It's usually a bad idea to use them.

Keep in mind, if you're switching from smoking, your tastes will probably change. Smoking screws with your sense of taste, so the juice that works for you now may not work a month from now when you've cleared most of the gunk from your system.

In closing, the world of e-cigs is huge and varied. Most users of them will find themselves fiddling around with different combinations of wattage, voltage, and juice until they find a "sweet spot" that works for them. Keep playing with it, and ask for help if you're not sure!

A good resource for finding out about e-cigarettes is the E-Cigarette Forum which is a large community of e-cig users. You can often find me in the IRC channel for the forum, in fact, and I'll be happy to answer any questions you've got if I'm paying attention. If not, there are usually others around to help.

Happy vaping!

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