Vapes, also known as e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid solution to create an aerosol that is inhaled by the user. The liquid solution, called e-liquid or vape juice, usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other additives.
Vapes come in all shapes and sizes, from cigarette-style devices to large, elaborate mods. They have become increasingly popular in recent years as an alternative to traditional cigarettes. But there are still many questions and misconceptions about what exactly they are and how they work.
This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of vapes and e-liquids – what’s inside them, how they work, their health effects, and more.
What’s Inside an E-Cigarette?
The main components of a vape device are:
- Battery – Provides power to the heating element. Can be disposable or rechargeable.
- Heating element – Also called an atomizer. Heats up when activated to turn the e-liquid into an inhalable aerosol.
- E-liquid – Also called vape juice. The solution that is heated to create vapor. Main ingredients are typically propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin, nicotine, and flavorings.
- Mouthpiece – The part that you inhale from. Can be disposable or built into the device.
- Cartridge or tank – Holds the e-liquid. Can be refillable or disposable.
- Sensors – Detect when user inhales to activate heating element. Prevents overheating.
- Microchip – Controls voltage and temperature provided to the atomizer.
- LED lights – Indicate when activated, charging, etc.
Not all vapes contain all of these components. For example, cig-a-like devices tend to be very simple with disposable parts, while advanced personal vaporizers allow more customization and control.
How Do E-Cigarettes Work?
When you inhale from the mouthpiece of a vape, a sensor detects airflow and activates the heating element. The element rapidly heats up, turning the e-liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled.
The e-liquid contains nicotine (unless you use a nicotine-free variety), flavorings, and a ‘base’ of propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin. These base substances produce the visible vapor cloud when heated. The flavorings give each e-liquid its distinct taste.
When the e-liquid passes through the heating element, the nicotine and flavor are delivered into your lungs and absorbed. This gives you a sensation similar to smoking without burning tobacco. The amount of nicotine and vapor production depends on the device settings and e-liquid ingredients.
After you finish inhaling, the heating element cools back down. When you take another puff, the process restarts. Vapes produce much less odor and smoke than traditional tobacco cigarettes. The exhaled vapor quickly dissipates.
Different Types of Vapes and E-Liquids
There is an enormous variety of vaping devices and e-liquids to suit different budgets and preferences. Here are the main categories:
- Disposable e-cigarettes – Affordable and convenient. Disposable battery and e-liquid cartridge. Popular brands include Puff Bar and Ezzy.
- Cig-a-likes – Resemble the look and feel of cigarettes. Slim, discreet size. Replaceable cartridges. Examples are Juul and Vuse.
- Vape pens – Slightly larger with better battery life and more e-liquid capacity. Button activated. Lots of variety.
- Pod vapes – Use prefilled or refillable pods instead of tanks. Compact like pens. Some examples are Smok Nord, Caliburn, and Suorin.
- Mods/APVs – Advanced personal vaporizers. Feature large batteries, powerful settings, and refillable tanks. Highly customizable.
- Prefilled e-liquids – Come ready to vape in disposable pods and cartridges. Limited flavors.
- ‘Freebase’ e-liquids – Contain high levels of nicotine. Work best in sub-ohm devices. Usually added to refillable tanks and dripped on coils.
- Nicotine salt e-liquids – Contain nicotine in a form that is smoother on the throat. Made for pod systems and low-power devices.
- CBD vape juices – Contain CBD instead of nicotine. Claim to have therapeutic effects. Legality varies.
- DIY e-liquids – Hobbyists mix their own e-liquid with flavor concentrates, PG/VG base, and optional nicotine. Allows full customization.
The wide range of vaping hardware and e-liquids allows users to customize and tailor their experience.
Health Effects and Safety Concerns
While vapes contain fewer chemicals than cigarette smoke, they are not necessarily a ‘healthy’ or risk-free option. Here are some of the health considerations:
Nicotine – Vape liquids usually contain nicotine, which is addictive. Nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline, increasing blood pressure and heart rate. The developing teenage brain is particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction. However, vaping avoids the tar and carbon monoxide found in cigarette smoke that accounts for most smoking-related diseases.
Other chemicals – Studies have detected low levels of formaldehyde, heavy metals like lead, and flavoring compounds in some vape aerosols and e-liquids. The long-term health implications of inhaling these chemicals are still unknown.
Popcorn lung – Some flavoring compounds used in vape liquids like diacetyl were linked to lung disease in popcorn factory workers. Reputable vape juice companies now avoid diacetyl.
Battery explosions – There have been reports of vape batteries exploding or catching fire. This can occur if incorrect chargers are used or batteries have defects. Using the right charger for your device and replacing worn batteries reduces this risk.
Youth vaping epidemic – Skyrocketing rates of vaping among teenagers who never smoked has raised concerns that vaping increases nicotine addiction among youth. Flavors like fruit and candy that appeal to kids are blamed. The legal age to buy vaping products is now 21.
So while vapes are likely safer than smoking for established adult smokers, non-smoking teens should avoid starting vaping or nicotine use of any kind. For smokers, vaping can be a less harmful alternative if products are used properly. But vapes should not be considered risk-free. More longitudinal research is still needed on their long-term effects.
Common Vaping Terms
If you’re new to the world of vaping, you’ll quickly encounter some terms and acronyms like these:
- Sub-ohm – Refers to coils with electrical resistance below 1 ohm. Allows devices to vaporize e-juices at higher power. Produces big clouds.
- Throat hit – The tingle and irritation felt when vaping high-nicotine e-liquid. Similar to a cigarette.
- PG/VG – Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, the two main base ingredients of e-liquid. PG provides more throat hit, while VG makes thicker vapor.
- Steeping – Letting e-liquid sit so the ingredients can fully blend. Brings out the flavors.
- Dry hit – An unpleasant burnt taste that occurs when vaping on a poorly saturated coil.
- Mouth-to-lung – Inhaling vapor into the mouth first, then into the lungs. Mimics smoking a cigarette.
- Direct-lung – Inhaling straight into the lungs. Produces thick vapor clouds. Requires higher power.
- Dripping – Applying drops of e-liquid directly onto coils and wicks instead of using a tank. Provides robust flavor.
The lingo may seem overwhelming at first, but it quickly becomes familiar with a bit of experience in the vaping scene. The community is quite happy to educate newcomers.
Reasons People Vape
There are a variety of reasons that people choose to use vapes:
- Stop smoking – Many switch to vaping as a way to quit smoking cigarettes. The nicotine satisfaction helps them wean off tobacco.
- Stealth/convenience – Vapes don’t produce lingering smoke or odor like cigarettes. Easier to use discreetly.
- Flavors – The wide variety of e-juice flavors appeals to different tastes and the ability to customize.
- Vapor tricks – Some vapers enjoy performing tricks like blowing smoke rings with the thicker vapor.
- Nicotine buzz – The stimulating ‘hit’ of nicotine is addictive for some users, like a caffeine buzz.
- Hobby/lifestyle – Enthusiasts enjoy building advanced mods and customizing everything from coils to flavors.
- Perceived as cooler – Vaping has developed an alternative image that appeals to some younger users.
- Stress relief – The relaxant effect of nicotine may ease anxiety for some people.
- Quitting other tobacco – Some switch from cigars, hookah and other tobacco products to what is perceived as a less harmful alternative.
The recent surge in youth vaping is alarming and may lead to greater restrictions. But for adults trying to quit cigarettes, vaping can be an effective harm reduction strategy when used responsibly.
The Future of Vaping
Vaping technology continues to rapidly evolve. Pod systems like Juul with high nicotine salt liquids have recently dominated the market. However, some predict that open systems like mods and sub-ohm tanks will make a comeback.
Tighter regulations are also expected in the future. There may be more age restrictions, health warnings, taxation, and bans on certain flavors or nicotine concentrations to deter youth use. The FDA now oversees the vaping market but so far has taken limited action.
Some developments that may influence the future of the industry include:
- Heat-not-burn tobacco – Devices like IQOS and Ploom heat real tobacco instead of liquid. May appeal to some smokers.
- Nicotine pouches – Tobacco-free pouches that contain nicotine which absorb in the mouth. An alternative source of nicotine.
- Synthetic nicotine – Manufactured nicotine that is chemically identical to tobacco nicotine. May enable wider variety of vape flavors.
- Medicinal uses – Uses beyond recreation like delivering medicinal CBD and approving vapes as smoking cessation aids.
It remains to be seen in what direction vaping will progress in the face of inevitable regulation and the still uncertain health impacts. But innovation and enthusiasm still surround this relatively new technology and community.
In summary, vapes use battery power to heat and aerosolize liquid solutions called e-juice or vape juice to deliver nicotine, flavors, and other additives. The flavorful vapor provides a satisfying alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes without burning tobacco.
While considered safer than smoking, vapes may pose some health risks like nicotine addiction, particularly among youth.
Various types of vaping hardware allow customization for different preferences. Despite controversy, vaping technology continues advancing and gaining new enthusiasts around the world. But tighter regulations are expected as its long-term effects are still not fully understood.
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Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with E-Cigarette Use, or Vaping. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html
Electronic Cigarettes. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes
How Do E-Cigarettes Work? https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/how-do-e-cigarettes-work
Popcorn Lung: A Dangerous Risk of Flavored E-Cigarettes. https://www.lung.org/blog/popcorn-lung-risk-ecigs
Exploding E-Cigarettes: Everything You Need to Know. https://vaping360.com/learn/exploding-vapes/
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