Beginners’ Guide to Electronic Cigarettes – How To Vape

The contents of your usual blister kit; one of everything you need to get started, plus an added case and dripper bottle

Gazette Review’s Guide to Electronic Cigarettes

This guide will serve as a living document that is constantly updated, and kept current with new information released about electronic cigarettes and kept constant with community input. If there’s something you think should be rephrased or clarified upon, please let the author know!

By whatever your own means, you’ve come here; perhaps you’re a long-time cigarette user

The typical contents of your usual starter kit; two of everything, plus coils (unseen) and the charger that's usually included
The typical contents of your usual starter kit; two of everything, plus coils (unseen) and the charger that’s usually included

that’s concerned about issues with perpetual analog cigarette use, or perhaps you’re a new-age millennial attempting to stave off the inevitable addiction, complete with incessant cravings to “just bum one” or find any justifications to light a cancer stick. The truth is, smoking in 2016 is harmful for your health and should be considered a bad habit that needs to be quit immediately, through whatever means necessary.

When I was younger, I was definitely more judgemental towards cigarettes, plagued with the onset of “ugh those are disgusting, how could anyone smoke those” due to my somewhat sheltered upbringing. However, as life takes us all, the circumstances twisted and bent to bring me to where I am now, including having been a once cigarette-user. I have successfully kicked the habit of smoking cigarettes, replacing it with the use of electronic cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes are a handy device, and stripping away any bit of the stigma or judgement behind it, a step in the right direction towards managing peoples’ addictions and creating a pleasant experience out of it.

Part 1: The basics, understanding the device, understanding juice, and getting some general information

Introduction – Understanding What You Are Putting In Your Body

Starting from the bottom, the very purpose of electronic cigarettes are to deliver nicotine to their user. “Electronic” juice is the component of the electronic cigarette that does this, and is specially crafted juice that is put into a tank or cartridge. The juice is then heated through the use of a coil, and begins to turn into water vapor which is then inhaled. For some users, the nicotine begins to water down the pleasant taste of the vapor, and will eventually be reduced in potency; I myself, and many of the people I vape with on a regular basis (including my family, roommates and working peers) have followed the pattern of dropping down to under 6 mg of Nicotine per mL. To induce nicotine poisoning, around 250 mL to 300 mL for the average adult male must be ingested, according to WebMD.

Nicotine does change the flavor or juice, and should always be treated with care when being handled
Nicotine does change the flavor or juice, and should always be treated with care when being handled

To address it bluntly as well, yes, electronic cigarette juice is made of mostly chemical-y, synthetic lab-made components. However, understand where these components come from; your typical electronic cigarette liquid has four to five ingredients; distilled water/grain vodka, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, a nicotine mixture, and food flavorings.

The distilled water or grain vodka are used to create a more soluble solution, making the propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin mixture less gel-y and more watered down. Distilled water is used in a large majority of juices that are sold through either online storefronts or physical, brick-and-mortar storefronts. However, distilled water does not retain the throat hit or flavor as well as distilled grain vodka; grain vodka is offset with the qualities of being a more volatile liquid to work with, as well as requiring more of a process to distill and use in the liquid and retain a pleasant vaping experience.

Propylene glycol is the agent that is responsible for the sweetening of the liquid, and holds a majority of the flavor in; propylene glycol in its base form represents a resin-y substance that is used as chemical feedstock to keep a surface or substance moist. Propylene glycol is used as an extracted, water-y solvent in the electronic juice mixture.

Vegetable glycerin is a sugar alcohol compound, and is a colorless and harshly viscous liquid that may be used in pharmaceuticals. However, as with the propylene glycol, this is used as a water soluble agent that serves as the preservative for the juices. This is what is responsible for producing the ‘throat hit’ of the electronic cigarette juice.

Food flavorings may vary based on the brand purchased from, but artificial flavorings are typically manufactured substances meant to appease the five basic tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory), which can be made through various chemicals – these are used at such a ratio to make up usually 10 to 25% of the total solution, and are usually USDA-proven to be safe for consumption in electronic cigarettes.

The nicotine agent is an extracted nicotine blend, which is what contains and delivers nicotine; in high doses, this can be dangerous for electronic cigarette juice mixers if the liquid solution falls on an uncovered part of their skin, so great caution must always be kept. Nicotine is an addictive and potentially dangerous drug in high doses, so this must always be kept in mind.

This whole combined mixture is heated to a temperature through the use of a mechanism that causes a coil to heat through electric conduction, and turn some of the contacting juice into water vapor – the user then draws through a hole, inhaling the vapor. Overall, the sensation resembles using a regular cigarette without any harshness if care is taken; the sensation of inhaling vapor in combination with the motion really helped me to eventually wean off needing a cigarette with certain tasks, like coffee or after a meal.

Your First Device

Your expectations out of the device you choose to purchase should depend on a few things. Do you want a box mod style, stick style, or even a cig-alike style? All of these come with their benefits and drawbacks, and all serve to deliver vapor in different efficiencies.

The inner workings of a typical box mod; note that the batteries here can be pulled out and "hot swapped"
The inner workings of a typical box mod; note that the batteries here can be pulled out and “hot swapped”

Box mod styles are the most versatile and the most user-friendly, in my opinion. Box mods can usually come with some form of display, with newer box mod models having great looking LED displays that include information such as a puff counter, battery charge, resistance of the coil, and heat temperature if applicable. Box mods can be powered by a battery, or charged through micro USB ports similar to Android phones.

One example of the afore-mentioned displays on batteries
One example of a display on a battery

Branching off box mods are mechanical mods, which typically do not have a display and are more decorational. The main difference between mechanical mods and box mods is that the battery is physically pushed into place to start causing the coil to heat – hence, the “mechanic” in mechanical mod. These can be very expensive and finnicky to get to work as you desire, so I would honestly recommend avoiding these unless you are certain of your own knowledge and desperately want one for your own reasons.

Stick style are basic, cheap and plentiful electronic cigarettes. They resemble a stick around 6 to 10 inches long, and usually incorporate a streamlined design with the tank involved. These are typically cheap and easily replaceable, and some batteries can have variable voltage. Stick style batteries are usually fairly weak batteries and do not hold much charge, and are charged by screwing into a port that is usually hooked to a USB charger. The tanks are more often plastic than not, and caution should be exercised with any plastic tanks.

A cig-alike style. Notice how it's dangerously similar to the real thing? Minus the glowing end
A cig-alike style. Notice how it’s dangerously similar to the real thing? Minus the glowing end

Cig-alike styles rely on cartomizers, which may or may not be refillable – these are screwed into the battery, and the battery then generates the vapor. The BLU electronic cigarette is the most common form of the cig-alike style, and features cartomizers that cannot be refilled; packs must be purchased in pre-determined flavors and nicotine amounts. Cartomizers do exist that the user can fill, but require care and knowledge in maintenance to get the best vape out of.

If you are a completely new user to electronic cigarettes, then I recommend picking up what’s called a “blister kit;” the blister kit usually contains a stick style electronic cigarette, including a tank and appropriate charger. There are no other gimmicks or add-ons, just the raw essentials; most stores will often throw in free juice. Blister kits can also be found at some gas stations, if the owners are savvy and wise enough to stock them. These kits can range around $10 to $30, and are typically worth $5 to $15 in value, depending on the quality of the item within the kit.

 

Stick style electronic cigarette usually don’t generate that good of a vape, but will serve to introduce the user to the

The contents of your usual blister kit; one of everything you need to get started, plus an added case and dripper bottle
The contents of your usual blister kit; one of everything you need to get started, plus an added case and dripper bottle

basics of the device, including maintenance and proper usage. I broke my first blister kit and was fine with that since it lasted so long, and I understood what I was in store for after upgrading to a more expensive and better electronic cigarette.

I would recommend avoiding cig-alikes, as they generally give off a wimpy vaping experience and don’t give the filling sensation of the throat hit. They can be a great novelty and very stylish, but I do not have a whole lot of expertise in personal use with them.

If you want to upgrade or completely skip the stick style entirely, then be ready to treat your device like Excalibur with the greatest caution and care; over-tightening your build plate onto a collar or air flow can cause a great headache. Know the device you want and do a lot of research – tanks have the misfortune of being easily reproduced by third-party brands, and can have faults such as not properly sealing or having issues with the pin making a connection to the battery. Batteries and mods have the misfortune of potentially suffering from misfiring or a lack of commonly-set standards. Your first box mod doesn’t have to be anything fancy; a screen is optional, but can be very helpful if it has a lot of information listed since electronic cigarettes aren’t exactly built to have panels of information for the user to read.

Breaking Down the Components of an Electronic Cigarette, and My Knowledge

For your first purchase of a box mod, if you are not purchasing a kit that contains both the mod and the tank, then be wary of what type of connection your tank and battery both have. Some mods now have a modular socket that allows for almost every type of connection, but the most common type of connection is a 510 connection. 510 and eGo are interchangeable, with 510 simply being the socket and eGo being the combination of both the socket and the collar around it.

Tanks can be somewhat volatile, and great caution should be treated with plastic tanks – certain juices can burn the inside of your tank, scalding it and releasing some nasty chemicals in the plastic of the tank. Certain juices with high acidity are known as “tank crackers,” and are generally citrusy flavors or flavors like cola or root beer that naturally have that high acidity (usually, tank crackers will be declared as such on a website or in brick-and-mortar stores; always send a message or ask for help if you’re not sure). Plastic tanks should not be entirely disregarded, though, as they can be rather high quality for a cheap price. One immediate example that comes to mind is the Aspire BVC Clearomizer, which can be found for around $4 to $5 if you’re willing to wait for shipping directly from China (oddly enough, the brick and mortar store right up the street uses this tank for their taste testers.) Glass tanks are more expensive, but will last much longer and be easier to take care of in the long run. Tanks will typically hold from 2 to 5 mL, with smaller stick-style streamlined tanks holding only around .5 to 1 mL. This amount of juice can potentially last a heavy user just a day, but you can expect to refill every three to five days.

A very cheap tank, the Aspire Clearomizer is a great introduction tank
A very cheap tank, the Aspire Clearomizer is a great introduction tank

One personal anecdote is to be wary that glass tanks can and will crack if put under the right conditions – I had my Aspire Nautilus accidentally crack since I filled it with 8 month old juice that was 18 nic mg/mL due to being out of juice. The tank cracked, juice got all over my kitchen floor, and I got myself good right in the finger crotch with a shard of glass. Old juice, especially juice that is high in nicotine content, can be very volatile to your tank.

Batteries, or as I prefer to address the box mods, can have the simple feature of powering your rig or can have as many bells and whistles as you desire. They can maybe have LCD panels, or the button can flash to show you how much battery charge is left. Batteries typically have the function of “three/five clicks to turn on/off.” If your coil isn’t properly and fully connecting, then most batteries won’t fire as a safety mechanism. Chinese-made batteries, which can usually be bought for cheaper due to lack of support and lack of a name brand/brand loyalty, are fairly safe to use. I say “fairly” because there is always the miniscule chance that the battery begins to swell or something circuits, and little accountability can be held – always use with caution, but I have bought cheap battery alternatives that have always worked well.

Speaking of Chinese-made batteries, Chinese tanks are not always terrible, either. Chinese electronic cigarette components are usually cheaper than the name brand counterparts, follow the same design, and take a lot longer for shipping to arrive. The trade-off is price vs quality; most Chinese-made electronic cigarette components are typically high quality and should have nothing to worry about, but can be more susceptible to manufacturing flaws and errors. Always check reviews and see what others are saying, and cross-reference between websites if at all possible – be a savvy consumer.

Part two containing more information about juices is coming next week!

2 COMMENTS

  1. I have to say I didn’t read the whole article. Since the part i did read was incorrect. Who ever wrote this has the chemistry incorrect.
    A) not all e-liquids have water or distilled alcohol. yes some do but not all. and the addition of distilled water is usually to intensify the simulation of a throat hit
    B) Throat hit, flavor and preservation of flavor are due to the polypropylene Glycol. Vegetable glycerin actually lessens throat hit and mutates flavor due to the sugar. C) polypropylene Glycol is not sweet.
    D) Box mods are far from user friendly, some of them are quite complex and with out an understanding of electrical theory and chemistry, will set the new user up for failure.
    E) a stick style device can work very well and provide a very good vape if you set it up with the right tank with the right resistance and a quality liquid. but i agree cigalikes most often can be a bit soft and expensive to use.
    at this point i found no reason to continue reading

    • Hi John,

      You bring up an interesting point. Do I have permission to address this in this weeks’ update, using your post verbatim? I’d like to start a Q/A section, or like an authors’ comments section.

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