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.