Vaping 101 - An introduction to vapes, vape and vaping
Since 2004, over 10 million Americans have started using vaping devices, commonly known as e-cigarettes. The reasons behind this are clear – vaping is safer and more economical than traditional tobacco products. However, using a vape device is a little more complex than smoking. If you’re considering making the switch and want to know how to vape correctly, what vaping feels like and how to have the best vaping experience, read on.
What is vaping?
Put simply, “vaping” is the term used to describe the act of using an e-cigarette. E-cigarettes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, price points, flavors, nicotine strengths, and more. For a beginner, the sheer abundance of options can be overwhelming. The fact that vaping comes with a host of technical jargon can make the subject seem fairly impenetrable, but rest assured we are here to offer a helping hand.
For the sake of clarity, vaping in the context of this article refers to inhaling “vapor” (technically an aerosol, but more on that later) produced by an e-cigarette. E-cigarettes come in a multitude of different shapes, sizes, and styles which we will explore later in the article, but most of them follow the same basic design. The majority of e-cigarettes are highly simplistic – They consist of a battery, a housing for said battery, and an atomizer or “tank” that contains a coil of wire wrapped in a wicking material. Whilst there is a huge amount of variety in the individual stylings and technical details, most e-cigarettes, with the exception of exotic devices such as ultrasonic vapes, follow this same basic design.
Aside from the battery, housing, and atomizer, there is another fundamental ingredient common to all types of vape device, and that is the eliquid, commonly known as “juice”. E-liquid is what produces the vapor, and it is formed of a base (very similar to the ingredient used in special effects fog machines commonly used on stage and screen), nicotine, and flavorings.
The primary reason that people use electronic cigarette devices is as a nicotine delivery method that circumvents many of the health risks associated with cigarettes. Increasingly, vaping can be used to quit nicotine completely, as it allows for a fine degree of control over how much nicotine you inhale. Many vapers slowly taper down the strength of their eliquid until eventually the vape they inhale contains no nicotine at all.
What is a vape?
The term “vaping” is used to describe the act of using an e-cigarette. A “vape” on the other hand is any device that one might use for this purpose. There are many different names and slang terms for vaping devices, including vapes, electronic cigarettes, and mods. The term “mod” is a legacy term from the early days of vaping when e-cigarette enthusiasts had to modify or “mod” their own devices to output the kind of power levels they were after.
As mentioned earlier, many different types and styles of vape exist, ranging from tiny devices no bigger than a USB stick to flashlight sized monoliths that take upwards of three high powered batteries. Whether you want to produce clouds the size of a small house or prefer something more discreet, there is certainly a device out there that will meet your individual needs. Some of the more common types of device you are likely to encounter include:
Pod vapes utilize small, self-contained disposable pods that act as both the tank and the atomizer.
They generally have a high nicotine content and a low power output. These types of devices are ideal for those just making the jump from smoking to vaping as they provide a similar mouthfeel and throat hit. Pen devices might also be beneficial for people who want to vape with as little hassle as possible. Their appeal lies in their simplicity – Once a pod is empty, you simply throw it away and click a new one into place.
As the name suggests, pen vapes are long, thin devices that sit somewhere between pod vapes and more advanced pieces of kit. Like pod vapes, they tend to be on the weaker end of the spectrum, but unlike pod vapes, many pen-like devices come with refillable tanks. This gives you a greater amount of choice when picking your e-liquid but retains the portability and ease of use that comes with the smaller form factor.
Despite the name, “mods” these days are generally not modified at all. The name is just a hangover from a time when the vaping market was a lot smaller and the range of choice in devices is far more limited.
The classic. Single battery mods, as the name suggests, take a single 18650, 2070, or 21700 battery and have a removable tank on top. The popularity of these devices is easy to understand, as they occupy the happy midpoint between size, power, and customization potential. Single battery devices can be used for either MTL or DTL style vaping and are generally in the middle of the power output range. They require a little more knowledge and experience to use than pen or pod-style vapes, especially if you are vaping at lower resistance.
The big daddies of the vaping world. Dual (and even triple) battery mods are for the experienced vaper only and are capable of producing massive, flavourful clouds. Used almost exclusively for direct to lung vaping, proponents of multi-battery mods cite the huge clouds and intense flavor hits as their primary benefits.
To tank or to drip? That is the question...
Tank mods are the most common type, and the one you are most likely to have encountered in the wild. As the name suggests, they have a tank (normally pyrex or another durable material) that encloses the coil and contains your e-liquid. The e-liquid is delivered to the coil by way of small slits that allow the cotton to soak it up through gravity and wicking action. Tank mods are generally considered the easiest to use, as they only need to be refilled when the level of juice gets low. Depending on its size, you will probably find you only need to refill the tank once or twice a day.
The downside of the convenience offered by tank mods is that they have less flexibility concerning the type of coils you can run. Also, the cost of buying pre-made atomizers every time your wick burns out can rapidly become a hefty expense.
Rebuildable dripping atomizers (RDA) are primarily used by more experienced vapers. With RDAs, there is no tank to contain the e-liquid. Instead, you pop the top off to reveal the coil and wick inside, then simply “drip” your choice of e-liquid directly onto the exposed apparatus. RDA enthusiasts cite greater cloud production and better flavor as the primary benefits. Also, you can play around with creating different types of coils, such as double, triple, Clapton, and “alien” coils. It is also a lot cheaper to make your own coils from wire and cotton than it is to buy the atomizers required by tank-style mods.
The flip side of these benefits is that coil making, like anything, is a skill that has to be learned. You will need some additional materials too, such as a coil jig and ohm-meter, but these costs are quickly offset by the savings. Fortunately, there is an abundance of tutorial videos available online if RDAs are something you’d like to try.
A newcomer to the scene, squonk mods aim to bridge the gap between the convenience of a tank mod and the massive clouds and flavor reduction of RDAs. Squonk mods are essentially an RDA style atomizer, but rather than manually having to open the device and drip your e-liquid onto the coils, they are fed from an integrated squeeze-type bottle that pumps juice directly into the wick. Using a squonk mod can take a bit of practice, and are not generally recommended for newbies, but in my opinion, they are worth the extra bit of effort.
So how does a vape actually work?
Despite their futuristic stylings and all the confusing jargon attached, vapes are surprisingly simple devices. The user pushes down a button, which completes the circuit between the battery and the atomizer. Inside the atomizer is a wire element that, through resistance, creates heat when the current is applied. As the coil of wire heats, it in turn heats the e-liquid-saturated wicking material it is wrapped in. When e-liquid is heated to a sufficient temperature it becomes an aerosol, which the user can then inhale to get their fix of flavored nicotine.
An important thing to note is that the thickness of the element inside your coil has a dramatic effect on how you use it. Without getting too technical, the thinner a wire is, the more resistance it will create when you complete the circuit. A higher resistance means it will produce more heat at a lower power. If you’ve ever heard the term “sub-ohm” vaping, it simply means using a device with a coil that has a resistance of less than 1 ohm. Low resistance = bigger clouds.
How is a vape powered?
All vapes are electronically powered and thus require some sort of power source. All vapes currently on the market use batteries, either integrated or removable. I suppose it would be technically possible to have a vape that drew its power directly from a wall socket, but I can’t see any benefits, and the lack of portability would render them functionally useless for most people who use nicotine.
When choosing what kind of device you want, an important consideration is whether the battery is removable or wholly enclosed within a sealed casing, known as “integrated” batteries. E-cigarettes with integrated batteries are great for convenience, as you don’t have to worry about carrying a charger or spares around with you. Most, if not all integrated battery e-cigarettes charge from a USB port. Generally, these devices use the MicroUSB form factor, but increasingly USB type-c (a far superior power delivery option) is being used.
One of the major drawbacks with integrated battery type devices, and of particular concern if you are as clumsy as me, is that the USB port is a pretty fragile point of failure. If you damage the USB port your device will become useless, and the cost of replacing a USB port will invariably equal or exceed the cost of just buying a new device.
On the other hand are devices with removable batteries. These require a little more experience to use correctly, and you will need to spend a bit of time learning about different battery types, discharge rates, voltage capabilities etc, especially if you plan on using an unregulated or “mechanical” mod. The main benefit of a device with a removable battery is that you can swap them out on the fly whenever one goes flat. Nicotine cravings don’t wait patiently for you to recharge your device, so this could be seen as a major benefit.
Over time, all batteries will lose their ability to hold a charge. With an integrated battery, this renders the device useless, whereas if your device has a removable battery you can just buy another. The most common type of removable battery used by e-cigarettes is the ubiquitous 18650, but the 20700 and 21700 are also sometimes used. There are even devices out there such as the that can take all three kinds!
Overall whether you opt for an integrated or removable battery will depend on your priorities, but personally, I would always choose removable, although mods with USB type-c functionality come in close second.
What is in a vape?
The internal workings of a vape remain a mystery for most vapers. Many people are happy just to know that something works, without needing a finely tuned understanding of the how. I for one am curious to the point of obsession, but even if you aren’t a complete nerd like me there are a few pointers everyone should be aware of when it comes to the internal workings of vape devices.
When considering how your vape delivers power from the battery to the coil, there are two main designs with markedly different modes of operation: Regulated and unregulated mods.
Unregulated, or mechanical mods are the simplest of all vape designs. In their most basic form, they consist of little more than a tube that holds your battery with connectors that enable you to fit a tank. When you activate the switch (normally a button on the side) the circuit is complete and current begins to flow from the battery directly to the atomizer. There is nothing to mediate the flow of electricity and the battery will always fire at its full power potential.
Because mechanical mods have no electronics, there is more potential for harm when using them. Regulated mods have in-built features to prevent short circuits, and typically will not fire if they sense that the resistance is too low. There is also nothing to prevent your battery from over-firing, so you should only use mechanical mods with LiMn batteries as these are less prone to problems and combustion.
How much power a mechanical mod delivers to the atomizer depends on the resistance provided by the coil as well as the strength of the battery. A much higher level of expertise is required with unregulated than regulated mods, especially when used with custom-made coils. They are far safer than they once were, but even experienced vapers can make mistakes which could potentially harm your device or pose a risk of short circuit or even an electrical fire. The use of mechanical mods is only recommended for people who really know what they are doing, as misuse of these devices has caused severe injuries in the past.
Fortunately, most vape shops are more than happy to lend a helping hand, so if you’d like to get into mechanical mods, the best bet is to head down to your local vape shop and ask as many questions as you can.
Regulated mods, unlike mechanical, have a chipset that sits between the battery and the atomizer. This gives the user a precise level of control over how much power the mod delivers to the coil, enabling a finely tuned vape experience. Most regulated mods have variable wattage. This means that they are compatible with a much wider range of atomizers and there is little to no risk of dangerous complications. The worst thing that can happen is that you fire up your device at too high a wattage and burn out your coil prematurely. While burning a coil results in a nasty cloud of bitter smoke, it’s unlikely to cause any serious damage to either your mod or your health.
When using a regulated mod, whether you know it or not, you will be interfacing with a smart piece of equipment called the chipset. The chipset essentially functions like the brain of your e-cigarette – It takes input from the buttons, controls the various parameters such as wattage and temperature (if used with temperature-control coils), and provides safety features such as short-circuit prevention. Most vape manufacturers do not produce their own chipsets. Instead, they rely on specific chipset manufacturers, such as Evolv and Yihi, and build their devices around these chipsets.
The inside of an atomizer is deceptively complex. Although they all operate on the same basic principle – i.e. a resistance providing element wrapped in a wicking material, the number of different approaches that vape engineers have taken is staggering. Starting with the coil of the wire itself, not only do you have a bunch of different material options to choose from, the wire itself is often twisted or arranged in different ways.
By far the most common material that coils are made from is kanthal wire, a type of alloy. However, other materials are sometimes used as well such as stainless steel and nickel, which allow for temperature control. Temperature control means that your coil will always stay at the same temperature, far reducing the chance of burning your wick, and enabling seriously large hits.
Another potential difference between coils is the wicking material used in them. Cotton is the most prevalent, but recently, rayon and hemp have been used by some vapers as an alternative.
How to inhale vape
There are two different methods of inhaling the vapor from your e-cigarette. – Direct draw (also known as direct to lung or DTL) and mouth to lung (MTL). The question of what does vaping feel like largely depends on the style of inhalation you use.
As the name suggests, in mouth to lung vaping, the vapor produced by an e-cigarette is pulled into the mouth before then being inhaled into the lungs. This is the most common style of vaping for newbies as it offers an experience more comparable to smoking than the DTL technique. Vape devices designed for MTL vaping tend to be lower in power and have a tighter airflow, or draw, than DTL vapes. As a result, less vapor is produced, so you will probably want to stick to a higher strength of nicotine in your juice to get the same sense of satisfaction.
In direct to lung vaping, the vape cloud isn’t held in the mouth at all. Instead, once you’ve put your lips to your device, you simply take a deep breath in (almost like yawning) and bring the vapor straight into your lungs. Vaping in the DTL style requires a wider airflow and a higher-powered device. It is most often used with a weaker strength of nicotine (3% or lower) and a higher VG to PG ratio.
Do you inhale when you vape?
The question of whether or not to inhale when you vape is a common one, and the answer isn’t quite as obvious as you may think.
E-cigarettes are designed to mimic the sensations of smoking as accurately as possible and are generally designed to be used in as close to a manner of smoking as possible. This means that, by and large, you should inhale when you first start vaping, to combat the mental cravings associated with quitting cigarettes. However, this is not a strict necessity.
Like pipes and cigars, it is perfectly possible to absorb the nicotine in e-cigarette vapor through the mucosal membranes of the mouth and throat. Using a vape in this way means that the vaper will spend more time in your mouth, where your tastebuds reside. This way allows you to enjoy much more of the flavor than DTL style vaping.
Ultimately, it comes down to choice. Most people who purchase an e-cigarette do so because they want to stop smoking. So, what is the proper way to vape? Whichever method of vaping allows you to stay away from tobacco is the one that you should continue using!
What are you supposed to feel when you vape?
The exact sensation of vaping will depend on several elements. Vaping shares many experiential similarities with smoking, but some stark differences as well. Owing to the composition of vape, new users may find it a little irritating on the throat in the beginning. Rest assured though, any irritation felt in the airways is normally short-lived, and most vapers acclimatize very quickly to the difference in sensation.
Once the initial adaptation period has concluded, vaping is far less likely to cause coughing and irritation than smoking. Vape contains none of the harsh, noxious, and damaging compounds of cigarette smoke, and additionally is taken into the body at a far lower temperature than smoke. These factors combined result in an experience that most people find much more pleasant overall.
The main factors that influence the way vapor feels are as follows: The percentage of nicotine in your e-liquid, the ratio of PG to VG, and the temperature that you are vaping at. A higher strength of nicotine, or a greater ratio of propylene glycol to vegetable glycerine, will, if all other factors stay the same, result in a stronger “throat hit” and a more abrasive feeling vape. You may find this a desirable quality if you are a recent convert from smoking to vaping, but it is usually advisable to only vape MTL if using high nicotine and/or PG juices. The third factor is the temperature you vape at. Generally speaking, this has more of an effect on the quantity and density of vape as opposed to the throat hit, but you will still probably notice a difference when vaping at higher temperatures compared to lower ones.
What can you vape?
Although this article has focused mainly on vaping nicotine, you can also use your e-cigarette to consume several other substances as well.
The most popular substance asides from nicotine to vape is probably CBD. CBD is everywhere at the moment- You can buy it in tinctures, oils, drops, topical creams, and beverages to name but a few. If you haven’t come across this substance before, CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is found in the cannabis plant and has the second-highest concentration after THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the more known of the two substances, and is what gives cannabis users the “high” they feel after taking the substance. For a long time, CBD was only considered as an afterthought, but recent research has shown that it has a variety of beneficial effects on human health and cognition. Unlike the cannabis plant and extracts that contain THC, CBD itself is legal (at least in the USA and the UK) and is available for purchase without a prescription.
One of the most promising uses of CBD is for anxiety, but studies have shown a wide range of potential therapeutic uses, including pain relief and as a sleep aid.
Good news for vapers – CBD is widely available suspended in a PG/VG base for use in e-cigarettes. You can even buy pre filled CBD cartridges for use in pen-style vapes for the ultimate convenience. CBD research is a relatively new field, and the science is being updated all the time. However, preliminary results are promising, and the best news? CBD doesn’t appear to come with any of the side effects that cannabis users often report, such as drowsiness, paranoia, and an elevated heart rate.
We recommend never vaping anything unless it is specifically formulated for use in e-cigarettes. Many seemingly harmless substances can give off dangerous compounds when they are heated, and it is always better to be safe than sorry in matters of human health. So as tempting as that bottle of honey might look, we’d suggest sticking to putting it in your mouth rather than trying to inhale clouds of the stuff.
How often should you vape?
The question of how often you should vape is one that really doesn’t have an objective reply. The short answer is you should vape as often as you need to, but it’s a little more complex than that.
We’ve already established that vaping is a far safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, and that it doesn’t come with the same health risks. That being said, vaping is very much still in its early days when compared to many other human practices, so as ever, caution might be the best attitude to adopt.
If you find yourself vaping more often than you would like, or burning through your e-liquid at a rate that is too costly, you might try increasing the strength of the nicotine in your juice. Stronger e-liquid will provide you with the same satisfaction whilst using less.
A key benefit of vaping compared to smoking is that you have a very fine level of control over the amount of nicotine you inhale. Now that many juice brands are sold nicotine-free (with nicotine purchased separately and added/mixed by the user), it is pretty easy to gradually taper off your use of nicotine. Many users even find that vaping nicotine-free offers them a comparable level of satisfaction, once they have brought down their nicotine use to a sufficient degree.
Should you start vaping?
There can be little doubt that vaping is a fantastic alternative to smoking, no matter which angle you look at it from. All reports suggest that it is safer, cheaper, and less likely to lead to chronic illness. However, if you have never used nicotine before, there is really no reason to start vaping. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance with few tangible benefits associated with its use. What’s more, people (especially teenagers and youngsters) who vape are far more likely to use cigarettes than those who have never used e-cigarettes.
If you are interested in CBD, it is available in many other forms that do not require the inhalation of heated materials, and there are too few (although some do exist) benefits of nicotine in itself to justify taking up an addictive and potentially costly new habit.
For people who already use nicotine frequently, vaping is a fantastic option. Personally, since making the jump from tobacco to vape, I have noticed a huge number of health benefits, including increased lung capacity, increased endurance, clearer skin and just generally feeling better.
Every smoker is unique. The question of which smoking cessation method is right for you is, unfortunately, outside of the scope of this article. If you want to quit smoking, or have tried unsuccessfully in the past, vaping is one of the most effective forms of smoking cessation therapy. My personal opinion as an ex-smoker and current vaper is that it is definitely worth a shot. The relatively low cost (especially when compared to cigarettes) of vaping means that you can give it a try with very little financial risk to yourself. So, really, what have you got to lose?
Phew! If you’ve stuck it out to the end of this article, give yourself a pat on the back! You now have more knowledge on vaping than 99% of the country (a completely made-up statistic, but it sounds about right!). You know your MTL from DTL, the difference between PG and VG, and what on earth a squonk mod is. You understand how vapes work, the different ways of vaping, why “vaping” doesn’t actually involve vapor, and what different styles of e-cigarette are on the market today. Go forth and use your newfound knowledge for the betterment of vaping kind! After all, knowledge is power, and with the amount of conflicting information and opinions out there, it will pay dividends to keep yourself informed on this new, rapidly evolving subject.