More than just a trend, e-cigs (also called electronic cigarettes, personal vaporizers or PVs) are a potentially life-saving alternative for smokers.
The nicotine inhalation devices don’t work by combusting tobacco leaves. Instead, e-cigs work using a special “juice,” which typically consists of a mixture of propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin, flavor and nicotine additives. The juice is heated by running electricity through a coil of low-resistance wire, creating a vapor that simulates smoking when inhaled.
If you’re a smoker, the benefits of making the switch to e-cigs are numerous: A study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reports that e-cigarettes successfully reduce a smoker’s cravings for traditional cigarettes while containing 100 to 1000 fewer toxic substances.
The prospect of reducing risks to your health without suffering through another attempt at cold-turkey quitting might have you running to the store. Before you do, here’s a quick breakdown of what you need to know:
The Anatomy of an E-Cig
Disposable e-cigarettes are the smallest e-cig models. Readily available in most gas stations under a variety of brand names, these are meant to be used until the battery dies (generally about two days), and then completely replaced.
A non-disposable electronic cigarette is composed of a few different parts; namely the battery, the atomizer which screws into the battery and some kind of means to administer e-liquid to the part inside the atomizer which atomizes the e-liquid (usually a heating coil) so that vapor is produced.
There are many varieties of these three e-cig components; however, the smaller models that new users may find attractive come with the trade-off of reduced capacity and shorter battery life.
The Pros of Switching to E-Cigs
What makes e-cigs most appealing? The top-listed reason is a toss up between enjoying an overall feeling of better health, thanks to healing and healthier lungs, and enjoying the social freedom of not always smelling like an ashtray.
Much of the positive feedback is based on personal preference. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find many smokers who say they enjoy smelling like smoke or living with reduced lung function.
Here’s what else people are saying about pros of switching to e-cigs:
- E-cigs offer a better taste than traditional cigarettes
- Users can choose between a variety of juice flavors
- Users can control their nicotine intake with different strengths of juice
- E-cigs can be used in some places where smoking is prohibited
- Smoking e-cigarettes can save users money in the long run
- E-cigarettes satisfy more than just the nicotine portion of a smoker’s craving since users are still getting the hand-to-mouth motion that makes up a large part of their habit
While switching to e-cigs isn’t a sure bet of taking additional strides in the direction of improved health, many e-cig users report that the switch has allowed them to start cardio exercises such as running and swimming, and paying more attention to their overall health.
Major Cons of Smoking E-Cigarettes
Switching to e-cigs does come with a few downsides. First, the devices to require a higher initial investment than you’ll have to shell out for a regular pack.
Just how much depends on what model you choose — out of the box disposable e-cigs can be bought for as low as $10, while rechargeable can be found for about $40. However, personalized vaporizer models and accessories can run well into the hundreds.
The vaporizers aren’t as small and discreet as disposable e-cigarettes, either. Some users report that while they upgraded for an improved e-cig experience, the larger devices are a little more awkward to use in public.
E-cigarette users state that a lack of convenience is a noted “con” they have to cope with. Much like traditional cigarette smokers, e-cig users often develop a preference for a particular brand of juice. These typically need to be ordered online unless you’re lucky enough to live next to a vaporizer store.
Keeping batteries charged is another issue (and one reason why e-cig users tend to move up from the slimmer models). Some e-cig users keep a spare battery charging while others by a backup e-cigarette, so there’s always one ready.
Quality Control, Regulations & Potential Risks
While research suggest that e-cigarette vapor is far less harmful than traditional cigarettes, the long term effects of inhaling e-cig vapors have not been sufficiently researched.
E-cigarette hardware isn’t subjected to regulations. This has led to some pretty sketchy hardware being sold online from less-trusted sources, including faulty coils and batteries, or cracked chambers.
Further complicating the question of safety, juices also vary widely in quality. There’s currently no regulation regarding what’s included, so ingredients (and potential toxins) vary widely, prompting savvy e-cig smokers to purchase only the juices that are made in the USA, in hopes of better quality control.
But just because the FDA is slow to slap on their approval doesn’t mean the e-cigarette industry has gone the way of the wild west. In fact, the devices are such a popular tool for those who wish to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, that the e-cigarette community has started voluntary self-regulation and testing to promote transparency within the industry.
For example, the toxins Diacetyl and Acetyl Propionyl are commonly found in buttery, creamy juice concentrates. While not yet illegal, manufacturers such as Capella and a few others have voluntarily excluded these ingredients and started releasing D/AP free versions of those flavors that use butyric acid instead.
Look for brands that disclose as much information as possible about where both juices and devices are manufactured, and a complete list of ingredients added to the mix.
What to Look for in Your E-Cig
When first buying an electronic cigarette, it’s very common for new users to want a device that resembles a cigarette in shape and size. The small batteries used in disposable models are often known as stick batteries and may be manual (meaning you press a button to activate them) or automatic (meaning you just drag on them).
However, if you’re interested in using an e-cigarette for more than a week, it’s recommended that you upgrade to a rechargeable e-cigarette. Doing so means you don’t have to shell out for a disposable every few days, plus you can start playing with different flavors of e-juice.
The following models are few options that have received positive feedback within Reddit’s e-cig forum for higher battery life and controllable vapor output. Each are about the size of a small cigar and available in “starter kits” that should come with a charger, chamber, battery and mouthpiece (juice is generally sold separately):
VaporFi Pro Starter Kit - $49.99 - A slimmer model available in different colors. Has an additional feature that allows you to use while it’s charging.
Halo Triton Starter Kit - $64.99 - Made out of metal instead of plastic, this model is praised for being long-lasting and sturdy.
V2 Pro Series 3 Starter Kit - $69.99 - Features a magnetic tank design that allows users to easily pop in and out different atomizers when switching e-juice flavors.
INFERNO Personal Vaporizer Starter Kit - $79.99 - This model doesn’t allow for users to adjust output or wick heat, and is said to be easy for beginners.
Cigavette MEGA Starter Kit - $129.95 - Pre-filled cartridges mean users never have to fuss with e-juice. However flavor options are limited.
Shopping for Juice
The liquid juice used for e-cigarettes comes in a variety of flavors, ranging from tobacco & cigar flavor, to sweet and sugary.
Shoppers can also choose from a range of nicotine concentrations to suit different needs and tastes. This is an important feature because e-cig users have the option of lowering their dose of nicotine gradually, unlike tobacco cigarettes.
Many users choose to start out with a higher strength, such as 24mg, to test how they like the taste and see if it will satisfy their cravings. If your goal is to stop completely, you can systematically lessen the nicotine levels by purchasing a lower strength juice, to slowly wean off the habit.
E-juice strengths are not standardized, and different manufacturers have different levels. However, there are general guidelines that are typically followed:
- Nicotine free = 0 mg nicotine and used just for flavor
- Low strength = 4-8 mg of nicotine per milliliter
- Mid strength = 10-14mg nicotine per millimeter
- High strength = 16-18 mg per millimeter
- Extra-high strength = 24-54 mg per millimeter (This is very high and unadvised)
While hardware manufacturers often sell their own brand of juice, most acknowledge that any liquid can be used with their devices. If you’re unsure or it’s not stated in the fine print, a company representative should be happy to provide an answer.
How Not to Fall for an E-Cig Scam
Because e-cigs are spiking in popularity, many online vendors have jumped on the bandwagon trying to make a quick buck.
So how to avoid a sub-par product or e-cig shopping experience?
As previously stated, regulations haven’t yet caught up to usage, so it’s important to look for a supplier that proudly states their products are made in the USA. Doing so helps to ensure you’re not purchasing a device that’s mass-produced and rebranded with minimal quality assurance. You can find a list of stateside manufacturers here.
Autoship programs should also be avoided, as there’s no reason to lock yourself into a payment plan without first learning how much juice you’ll need and what your preferences are.
Final Thoughts on Starting With E-Cigs
Which e-cigarette you’ll enjoy most remains largely up to personal preference but remember that a quality starter kit doesn’t have to be spendy!
If your goal is to transition from traditional cigarettes to e-cigs, set yourself up for success by considering your current smoking habits and goals for e-cig use and customize an initial order that keeps you stocked with spare batteries and plenty of liquid.
Finally, steer clear of vendors who make wild claims about the safety of using e-cigarettes or fail to disclose where their products are manufactured. Just like consuming other substances reserved for adult use, e-cigarettes may still adversely affect your health and any company that claims otherwise is likely being dishonest.