About the Author:
Miroslaw Dworniczak, PhD – chemist, freelance science journalist, former scientist and lecturer at the Adam Mickiewicz University (Poznan, Poland). Author (under the nickname „Stary Chemik” – „Old Chemist”) of the first blog in Poland dealing with e-cigarettes and e-liquid chemistry and safety. Vaper since 2009.
1. For those who are keen to get going with e-cigarettes
I assume that at least some of the readers are keen to get off to a good start, and want some basic information about e-cigarettes as soon as possible to start their vaping adventure right away. This is perfectly understandable. So in this section I will provide some very concise and important information to help you get going.
Your first visit to a vape shop offering e-cigarettes can be quite intimidating with the wide array of e-cigarettes models to choose from, and the extensive range of liquids. I would recommend that you start with a fairly basic model in the first instance. Most places will sell devices which look very similar to cigarettes (these models are commonly known as cigalikes). These are quite cheap. So you can make a first wise move – just buy it and try.
Although these devices look like regular cigarettes you will notice that they are much heavier This is due to the weight of the battery (the long white part). Tobacco in conventional cigarettes is much lighter. If you choose one of these devices you will more often than not be limited to two flavours; tobacco and menthol. Sometimes you can get flavoured disposables, but I would not recommend them as a starting point. That can come later, as you become more familiar with the range of e cigarette devices, and the flavours available.
You should pay close attention to magic numbers on the packaging – it describes the content of nicotine in 1 mililitre of the liquid. If you are a heavy smoker (at least 1 pack a day), choose the strongest version (usually 18 mg/ml). If you smoked just a few cigarettes daily, look rather for the 12 mg/ml version, because the stronger ones may cause you to cough. Good news: disposables are immediately ready to use – just unpack it, screw on the cartomiser (the bit that looks like a cigarette filter), and off you go! Note that some of the disposables don’t even need to be assembled, they’re ready to be used right away.
A short technical note: e-cigarette should be used not like tobacco cigarettes, but rather just like a conventional pipe – slowly and sensibly. Take longer puffs – 2-3 seconds. You will immediately see a significant difference between conventional cigarette and its electronic version – when you start smoking a cigarette you continue puffing until the very end. Extinguishing after 2-3 puffs and re-lighting it results in an unpleasant taste. E-cigarettes can be used freely – if you want to puff once or twice – no problem. This is a definite plus, but… also a minus. Some say that the e-cigarette does not end – and this is also true to some extent. It is worth to use it sensibly.
I would advise you not to buy disposables from unreliable sources. You can find cheaper products than in specialist stores, but their quality is lower (to put it mildly). What’s more, despite the usual seller’s words, they will not provide 300 or 400 puffs. Sometimes after a dozen or so puffs, the equipment stops working (either a flat battery or an empty cartomiser). So it can be a waste of money. You may wonder why I do not suggest the more sophisticated devices which allow you to control the wattage, battery voltage and resistance of the coil. In the case of disposable cigarettes, these elements are fixed, but they are the most easy to use in the first instance. When you decide to buy more sophisticated devices, you will need to pay attention to these areas to get the right vape strength for you.
Use of this equipment will be described in the next chapters of this manual.
2. Smoking vs vaping (using e-cigarettes)
When it comes to smoking no one needs to be educated. Everyone has seen people smoking, many of you have tried to smoke, at least once. People don’t need online tutorials or books on the subject. Using e-cigarettes,however, is quite different. Before I get to the main topic I need to clarify my terminology. We often hear of someone „smoking an e-cigarette”, but this is not an accurate description of what is really going on. E-cigarettes don’t burn, we don’t „smoke” them. There is no smoke (or, indeed, any of the thousands of other chemicals contained in a traditional cigarette). An attempt to burn an e-cigarette would end in disaster. Nothing is oxidized, and therefore nothing is being burned in this device. The process that occurs in the e-cigarette is a different physical process – changing some fluid into an aerosol, i.e. the cloud that we can see when exhaling. That is why we are not talking about „smoking”, but about using an e-cigarette. In English we usually use the term vaping (derived from „vapour”).
Returning to the main topic – what is the difference between smoking and vaping? First of all, when we quit smoking, we get rid of the terrible poisons present in tobacco smoke. Tars which a smoker inhales with cigarette smoke are not only toxic, but also contain a lot of carcinogens. Then there is carbon monoxide (chemical formula: CO), which effectively cuts off the flow of inhaled oxygen to the cells. There is no tar nor carbon monoxide in the aerosol generated by e-cigarettes. You will also immediately notice that the cloud generated by e-cigarette tastes and smells differently than tobacco smoke. You will not find a taste identical to your favourite brand of cigarettes, although some flavours come very close. Fortunately you will get used to it very quickly. What’s more – in the case of ordinary cigarettes we had, in principle, only a few different flavors to choose from, while in the case of e-cigarettes one can basically choose from hundreds or even thousands of different combinations of flavors. According to the Public Health England report vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking. The report was written based on research results that have been going on for over 10 years. Of course, the scientific work continues, so from time to time I will write here about the most important results presented by scientific community.
In the next few entries I will describe both the equipment and liquids used for vaping purposes.
3. E-cigarette – basics I
OK. It’s about time to get into some details. What is an e-cigarette and how you should use it? Although there are many different brands and models available on the market, they all consist of the same basic parts. We have a power supply, usually a rechargeable Li-ion battery. The second part is the atomizer, which is the element generating vapour (cloud). It is usually an interchangeable coil made of some kind of resistance wire connected to a container for the liquid (sometimes called e-liquid). The simplest models are disposable. They resemble, to some extent, conventional cigarettes. My suggestion for those of you thinking about switching to a less-harmful option right away – just buy a disposable and give it a try. One such e-cigarette theoretically corresponds to an ordinary pack of conventional cigarettes. The price of such a disposable e-cigarette is quite low, so you don’t risk much. And if it turns out that you like it, think about buying a more advanced set. (Which I will describe in the next chapter.)
One important piece of advice is: do not buy any equipment or liquids from any unofficial sources (black market). They might be a bit cheaper, but there’s substantial risk involved. A defective e-cigarette can explode when the battery has a short circuit – there were several such cases in the world, some quite drastic. The liquid bought from unregulated sources may not harm you immediately, but you’re still at risk. Would you decide to buy cheap alcohol from unregulated sources? I doubt it. The liquid you use will enter the delicate area of your lungs, where it can cause serious damage.
Finally, and, for me, one of the important differences between smoking a cigarette and the use of EIN, is that in the latter case, I can decide for myself how many times I puff. Hardly anyone extinguishes a cigarette after 2-3 puffs, because the taste of re-ignited cigarette is simply unpleasant, and to throw it away after a couple of pufs would seem a waste of money. The e-cigarette allows for choice. Two,three puffs, and that’s it. You get your shot of nicotine and it’s OK. In short, an e-cigarette lasts much longer than the conventional one (usually 15-20 puffs). So, be careful.
4. E-cigarette – basics II – power
If you are considering buying a device better quality than a disposable e-cigarette I would recommend visiting a vapevshop, have a look at the equipment and talk to staff about what you are looking for in an e cigarette. Take your time. I would advise you to go to a specialist shop as you are likely to receive better advice. Ask to try a few. Check whether the e-cig of your choice is not too heavy or too light. And don’t look at the most expensive stuff at first, even if you can afford it. Buy what suits you. Typical e-cigarettes consist of two elements which can be bought as a kit or purchased separately. The first part is a rechargeable battery combined with an integrated circuit, often with an LED display. This part is usually called the „mod” (some years ago it was the part frequently modified by users). Here there are two broad choices: either with a built-in battery (non-replaceable) or with a compartment for replaceable batteries of various types. Buying a built-in system means that you do not need to spend additional money on the batteries and the charger. However, there can be certain disadvantage – you may suddenly run out of power. With separate batteries you can carry spare batteries withyouand simply replace them. A rule of thumb is that the larger the size, the less frequently the mod needs to be charged. But bear in mind that the larger the capacity, the heavier the power supply. Therefore you should look at various models and choose the most suitable. Beginners are likely to fare better with a relatively simple power supply. You can get more sophisticated equipment as you learn more about them. It is probably also best to choose a model which allows you to adjust the power (variable wattage – VW mods or variable voltage VV mods). This will allow you to find the right operating level for you and, will allow you to find an appropriate setting for optimal vapour generation.
For beginners I would not recommend choosing a a high power e-cigarette in the first instance (200 or even more watts). This type of equipment is really for experienced people. Under normal conditions, a power supply of up to 50-70 watts is enough (I usually use 8-15 watts). It is important that the power control should be easy to use as at the beginning you will probably want to experiment a little to choose the right power for your favorite liquids. Remember that you should start with the lowest possible wattage – eg. Try to set the power to 7 W. If it generates little (or no) aerosol, increase the power until the taste and quality of the vapour suits you. When you change the liquid (different taste, different nicotine content, another manufacturer), you may have to experiment with power again. Treat it as a bit of fun.
I also do NOT reccomend buying the mechanical mod as your first e-cigarette. In the hands of an inexperienced person, this device can be really dangerous. This type of power supply is only for really experienced users.
5. E-cigarette – basics III – atomizer
The second important part of an e-cig is the atomizer, which consists of a coil and a tank containing e-liquid. There are many options to choose from. For a beginner I would definitely recommend an atomizer with simple replaceable coils. Before making your final decision you should ask the seller about the price and availability of the coils. Sometimes a cheap atomizer requires coils which are quite expensive or not very easy to buy. You might also want to consider how your atomiser and coil looks in conjunction with your battery section, so that the whole thing looks aesthetically pleasing. Pay particular attention to the diameter of the atomizer – it should not be bigger than the width of the battery section.
Another important issue is coil resistance. Complete beginners should NOT buy so called „sub-ohm” coils. They have a resistance much lower than 1 ohm and require some experience in dealing with them. I would recommend leaving sub-ohm devices until you are more experienced. The typical resistance of a coil is in the range 1.5 – 2 ohms. To be honest, it does not really matter what resistance value you choose – in most cases a user sets the power (expressed in watts), and the e-cigarette itself will take care of the voltage. Usually, higher resistance means a longer life for the heater, but this is not always the case. Sometimes a vape shop might suggest buying a slightly more complicated atomizer, but generally speaking they are not good for beginners, and are often more expensive. My advice to beginners would be to keep things as simple as possible.
Most atomizers have a transparent glass tube built into the body, so that you can see the level of the liquid, but sometimes the tubes are made from coloured glass, meaning that you are not able to see any changes in the colour of the liquid. Choose an atomizer with a colourless tube. One further important piece of information information is that although most contemporary atomizers are made with glass tubes, cheaper models can be made of plastic (usually polycarbonate (PC)). They are quite durable, and may even survive being dropped without much damage, but this plastic is often not resistant to certain ingredients in the liquid (cinnamon is a classic example). In extreme cases they may even soften the tube. For this reason I would suggest that you select one made of glass.
6. Help! My e-cigarette has stopped working!
There are several reasons why this might happen. The two main reasons are:
- Running out of e-liquid
A flat battery
If this happens – Don’t panic! Before consulting your e-cigarette manual start by checking e-liquid level and refilling the tank, if necessary. Then look at the display after pressing the button for a moment. Usually, we can check the battery charge level there. If the battery icon flashes (or „battery low” appears), it means that you unfortunately missed the moment when you should have recharged the battery. This could also be the case if there is no power whatsoever from your device.
If it’s a replaceable battery, simply put new, charged one, into the battery compartment. If it’s a built-in battery, find a power source and plug it in to charge. And here is good news – usually we can vape while charging. Currently, most EIN can be charged via USB cable, so we do not even need to look for the AC adapter, because you can connect to the USB port on the computer. (Practical advice – it’s worth making sure that the power cord is quite long – this would make your vaping easier.)
Important: NEVER try to disassemble the battery. This may result in a short cirquit, with potential dangers of fire. If the battery is charged, but e-cigarette still seems not to work properly, you will need to check the atomizer. Usually there’s information displayed „no atomizer” or „check atomizer”. This means that either there’s a problem with contacts between the battery and atomizer or the coil is dead. In the first case just unscrew the atomizer and clean the contacts (e-cigarette and atomizer threads) using dry tissues. Incidentally, contacts should be cleaned from time to time, even if your e-cigarette works perfectly.
If the problem persists and there is still the „no atomizer” message on the display, you have to replace the coil with a new one. I hope you have one spare at home. Consult your atomizer manual. If the liquid level is OK and your coil is working, too, then there may be a problem with the e-cigarette itself. Do NOT try to repair it at home! This may be very dangerous. Go to the vape shop – they could help you.
7. E-cigarettes and the law
We live in a world regulated by law. Unsuprisingly e-cigarettes are also regulated by relevant regulations. This was not always the case – a few years ago these devices, as well as liquids, were not regulated. They were just considered consumer products. The situation in the European Union began to change when the work on the amendment of the long-standing tobacco directive (TPD – Tobacco Products Directive) was undertaken. After long battles, it came into force in 2014.
EU legislation obliges member states to adapt their domestic law to comply with all directives. That was also the case with TPD. Despite the fact that neither e-cigarette nor liquid are really tobacco products, they were included in the Act. What does this mean for users of these devices? The use of e-cigarettes is subject to exactly the same prohibitions as smoking. The sale of devices to minors is forbidden (actually, this is understandable). But there is also no freedom of vaping in restaurants and pubs. In many countries vaping is forbidden in public places. What’s more, there are countries where even the possesion of e-cigarette, let alone vaping is considered a serious breach of law.
In the EU there is also a limit of nicotine content in e-liquid – (20 mg/ml maximum), and the volume of the bottles in which they are sold (10 ml maximum). Many countries also banned online sales and cross border sales (Poland is one of the examples). In addition, in many countries advertising of e-cigarettes and liquids is completely banned. This includes also information about the differences between vaping and smoking. This is quite unfortunate. If someone wants to make an informed choice, they have to be informed in the first place.
The legal situation in every country can change quicky. Therefore – if you plan to travel to another country, try to find latest information. Note that there might be changes in both directions – tightening or loosening the law.
8. E-cigarettes and health
Let me start with a very important message: if someone tells you that e-cigarettes are 100% healthy, it is not true. But they are far less damaging than cigartettes. It is healthy to breathe fresh air. When we inhale an e-cigarette it is less harmful at best. How much less? A few years ago, the answer to this question was not easy. Today the situation is much clearer – we know that an aerosol generated by an e-cigarette is at least a few dozen times less harmful than tobacco smoke.
A report by the British organization Public Health England prepared by the order of the British government by a team of outstanding scientists dealing with these topics is based on hundreds of official scientific publications, determines the harmfulness of the aerosol to less than 5% in the ratio of harmfulness of tobacco smoke (i.e. – vaping is 20 times less harmful than smoking). It is worth knowing that these are very conservative estimates. Probably the harmfulness is even smaller, but we have to wait for the next results. It is also very important that one of the essential components of the liquid – nicotine, contrary to popular belief, is NOT a carcinogen. Of course, there are certain substances in the aerosol that are considered carcinogenic (such as formaldehyde), but their concentration is very low, far below that considered dangerous. It is also worth raising one more issue – passive smoking/vaping. A person who smokes tobacco produces toxic smoke and this smoke can also affects bystander. Passive smoking is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women. Lateral stream coming out of a lit cigarette, even when not being actively smoked, contains many hazardous chemical compounds, some of which are present there in concentrations higher than in smoke inhaled by the smoker. In the case of an e-cigarette, this side stream problem simply does not exist. This device put aside on the table does not work, so it does not emit any compounds, of course also dangerous ones.
In a nutshell – although inhaling the e-cigarette spray is not completely harmless, compared to smoking is definitely less dangerous. OK, but how about side effects? Well, they are quite rare, and relatively minimal. One of them is dry throat. It is quite easy to explain – both glycerin and glycol are substances that absorb water and therefore cause drying of the mucous membrane. In this case, you should simply drink water more frequently. Chewing gum also helps. Sometimes after vaping you may have an elevated pulse or headache. Usually it can be attributed to too high a nicotine level. Consider using low nicotine liquid. Fortunately, serious nicotine intoxication during vaping was not observed. Quite rare cases refer to light allergic reactions – most often to some components of the aromas, or flavours.
In summary: cases of side effects happen very rarely, but it’s worth observing your body so that you do not have any problems. Many people who stopped smoking tobacco and switched to e-cigarettes experience cough, sometimes quite heavily. This is the effect of clearing the airways from tars and other substances. found in the bronchi and bronchioles. Such a cough will disappear in a few days or weeks.