Electronic cigarettes — called “e-cigarettes” by the general public, but more technically known as “personal vaporizers”— first appeared in retail form in China about 2005 from a company called Ruyan. Now, barely one decade later, what enthusiasts refer to as “vaping” (a shortened form of the word “vaporizer”) represents a growing community and a burgeoning industry whose products are used by literally tens of millions of people. The world-wide number of “vapers” — meaning people who use personal vaporizers or e-cigs — grows by leaps and bounds every year. The world of vaping has become a significant social movement, an economic force, and a peaceful revolution.
Early e-cig personal vaporizers were designed to mimic the size and shape of tobacco cigarettes — an unfortunate but understandable association, since e-cigs were invented to help people quit smoking. Even today, those “cig-a-like” designs are still available. For the most part though, entry-level vaporizers are now larger, much more powerful, and technologically further advanced. These days, the typical “starter kit” is widely available and easily affordable. From the rudimentary to the highly advanced, the range of choices in the marketplace is immense, but — no matter how you slice it — all e-cigarettes operate on the same basic principles.
The Basics: How Vaping Works
The essential components of vaping — in terms of the way an ecig or personal vaporizer is built — remains the same today as it was five or even ten years ago.
An ecig requires four physical components:
- a power source, usually a battery, to provide electrical energy to heat up
- a coil of metal wire, usually an alloy of various types, that is in contact with
- a wick, most often made from cotton, silica, or other fibrous material
- eliquid (also called “juice”), a viscous fluid composed of vegetable glycerine and/or propylene glycol, usually with flavorings and liquid nicotine added (although the last two are not necessary)
How to Vape – No Fire and No Smoke
The battery is electrically connected to the wire coil, which is seated in a housing called an “atomizer.” The atomizer housing screws onto a connector to hook it up to the battery. The atomizer housing is designed to hold a small amount of eliquid that soaks into the wicking material, which either fills the empty space inside the coil or is wrapped around the outside.
When the battery is activated (usually by the user’s pressing what’s called a “firing button” on the case that holds the battery) electrical energy flows through the coil, which quickly heats up. That heat then almost instantly vaporizes e-liquid held against the coil by the wick, producing vapor — which looks like smoke but isn’t, since we’re not “burning” anything, just quickly vaporizing the eliquid).
So, an e-cigarette or personal vaporizer converts electrical energy into heat that then vaporizes a liquid. That’s the whole story in a nutshell. Some ecigs and atomizers are relatively simple and straightforward; others are much more complex or sophisticated. Either way, the process remains the same.
The essential fact to remember is that vaping is not smoking.
We know without question that smoking tobacco is harmful. Common sense dictates that, supported by a mountain of scientific and medical evidence. While we cannot state with certainty that vaping in its current form is completely safe, we can assert that vaping is designed to reduce the potential for harm that is inherent with tobacco smoking. In fact, that’s the reason e-cigarettes were invented.
Two Types of Vapers
The first and most obvious type is people that smoke tobacco who wish to become ex-smokers. This category — those who adopt vaping as a means to more easily quit smoking — is almost certainly the larger of the two groups, with an age-related demographic that ranges from young people in their late teens who’ve smoked tobacco for only a few years all the way through people in their 70s and 80s who smoked for many decades, often almost their entire lives. For these people, vaping represents a real opportunity to reduce or eliminate the harm done by smoking, and to restore to whatever extent possible their good health. Typically, e-cigarettes contain liquid nicotine, but the design allows users to wean themselves off the substance, either reducing intake over time or completely eliminating it.
The second category — smaller in numbers but still significant — is made up of people who never smoked but have been exposed to vaping through advertising or social media, on the internet, via brick-and-mortar vape shops, or, very often, through friends and acquaintances who vape. These people decided to try vaping because it looked interesting, fun, and relatively harmless, especially since e-cigs contain no tars, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), and nicotine is both optional and user-controlled.
The growth of vaping over its first decade has been nothing short of phenomenal. As an alternative to smoking and an effective means to overcome the addiction to tobacco, millions of people have used vaping to successfully quit smoking. I am one of them.
A Personal Account: My Story
I smoked cigarettes for 35 years and was so deeply addicted to tobacco that I feared I’d never be able to quit. Smoking became almost literally more important to me than anything else in my life. I lived to smoke. I used to say that smoking for me was the metaphorical equivalent to being in a passionate but dysfunctional love affair with someone you wanted, but also hated, and who hated you equally, if not more. In much the same way that some people are unable to leave unhappy or abusive love affairs or marriages, I simply could not imagine life without smoking cigarettes, despite having all the evidence I needed of the terrible costs — in exorbitant amounts of money that went up in smoke, in seriously damaged personal health, and in steadily increasing social ostracism.
Although I had managed with considerable difficulty to lower the number of cigarettes I smoked daily before I started vaping and had cut back from three packs of cigarettes per day to only half a pack, that process had been torturous and slow. Vaping was what finally got me over the hump, however. On the day I began using my very first ecig (an eGo Riva with a 510 atomizer) in late October of 2010.
I went cold-turkey with cigarette smoking and stopped completely.
In the five years I’ve been vaping since then, I’ve not had a single cigarette and regard myself as an ex-smoker. In fact, I have no wish to smoke and cannot imagine ever again lighting up a cigarette. For me, vaping is better, happier, and provides me with more pleasure than smoking ever did.
Not all vapers share my experience, of course. Some vapers don’t quit tobacco all at once, and others — a very small percentage, I’d think — don’t quit at all. They continue to smoke on occasion, although probably not as much as they did prior to vaping. I daresay that vapers would agree almost universally that ecigs are a powerful alternative to smoking. A common sentiment expressed by many vapers is that the decision to switch to e-cigs was literally life-saving.