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.
- Longer lifetime for the coil
- Typically better vapor production
- More cost-effective in the long run (if maintained properly)
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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
, 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.