A Brief Introduction To Vaping

In this article we’re discussing and explaining some of basics of vaping. You’ll learn about Vaping, vaping hardware and vape juice or e-liquid, and we’ll touch on to a few other topics as well.

If you’re new to vaping, it’s important to have a basic knowledge of the terminology and concepts involved in vaping, and we’ll try to give you just that.

Table of Content:

What is Vaping?

Vaping is the act of inhaling a vapour produced by an electronic dispenser, generally called an e-cigarette. 

Why Vape?

The intended purpose of vaping is to provide an alternative to smoking tobacco, in a way that closely mimics the act and sensations of smoking tobacco. 

By including nicotine in the vaporised liquid, someone who vapes can maintain – and manage –  their nicotine dependency, while cutting out the dangerous, carcinogenic element of cigarettes. 

How does it work?

We’ll discuss in the next sections 3 of the key elements of vaping:

  1. The Hardware
  2. The E-liquid
  3. The Nicotine.

The Hardware.

The Uwell Whirl 22 AIO kit (2017) – A fairly modern starter Kit – close-up on the tank section.

Despite having multiple sizes, shapes and features,  the basic components of an e-cigarette are as follow. 

A battery housed in a metallic or plastic body, generally controlled by a small electronic chip with a display screen. 

A heating element made from a resistive wire or more recently, mesh. This is generally called a “coil”. As a comparison, it is a bit like a toaster, in which the current heats-up the resistances in the toaster. In a vape the heating element also contains a wicking material such as organic cotton, which soaks up the e-liquid and brings it in contact with the heating element in order to be vaporised. 

The coil, wick, and e-liquid are housed in the tank section of the e-cigarette, also sometimes called an atomizer or clearomizer. (Technically, these are all slightly different things, but the function is the same)

Lastly, sitting on top of the tank is the mouthpiece of the e-cigarette, generally called a “drip-tip”. 

Here below, as an example, are the schematics of an early model of e-cigarette. 

The technology has evolved a lot since the days this model was released, but the basic principles remain the same. 

Attribution: Christian Giroud,1,2,3,* Mariangela de Cesare,4 Aurélie Berthet,2,3,6 Vincent Varlet,1,2,3 Nicolas Concha-Lozano,2,3,6 and Bernard Favrat2,3,5,7, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The E-liquid

A bottle of fancy looking E-liquid, 30ml with Pipette.

The E-liquid, or e-juice, is the liquid being vaporised by the heating element. 

E-liquids are made from:

  • PG – Propylene Glycol. A pharmaceutical and  food grade ingredient of e-liquid. It’s a somewhat thick liquid, that produces a bit of vapour when vaporised, and provides a “throat hit” sensation when inhaled. 
  • VG: Vegetable Glycerine. A pharmaceutical and  food grade ingredient of e-liquid. Very viscous liquid, with a  slightly sweet taste, it provides a smooth feel, and generates more vapour than PG. 
  • Flavouring agents
  • Nicotine (optional)

PG and VG mixed together in certain proportions constitute the “base” of any e-liquid. Some e-liquids contain more VG, and produce both more and a thicker vapour. Others contain more PG, and provide more of a throat hit sensation, while making less vapour.

You may hear about AVG or again about distilled water as e-liquid components, and they do exist, but are not very mainstream, so a little bit outside of our scope for today.

The next component of an e-liquid is the flavouring.

Initially derived from food grade flavouring, these flavour agents are nowadays specifically developed for vaping, thus providing a safer experience to users.

Famously,  in the early 2000’s some  e-liquid flavours were found to contain dangerous levels of diacetyl, a chemical that gives off a buttery flavour found in popcorn and custards, which when inhaled a large quantities causes a dangerous disease known as “Popcorn lungs” (look it up, it’s interesting). Nowadays, diacetyl is no longer present in vaping flavour agents, or is minimised to a level that is safe for anyone to use. 

Flavour agents are also primarily composed of PG, which serves as a base for the flavouring chemicals. 

The Nicotine

Nicotine (Harbin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Nicotine is a naturally occurring chemical compound, found predominantly in the tobacco plant, but also (though at lower quantities) in tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and other plants. It is a plant’s natural defence mechanism against herbivory insects.

As such nicotine was widely used as a pesticide in industrial farming, and some chemicals derived from nicotine, such as neonicotinoids are still used nowadays as pesticides – though they are known to kill bees, which isn’t such a good thing.

It should be noted that pure, undiluted nicotine is a deadly poison, and should never be purchased or used at home in it’s pure form.

Closer to home, in E-liquids, and more generally, in terms of vaping, Nicotine like flavouring agents, is also found diluted in PG or VG or a mix of both. This makes it much safer to handle, but basic precautions should be taken, handling and storing nicotine at home.

  • Keep it out of reach of children.
  • Keep it stored in child proof bottles.
  • Keep it stored in a cool dark place.
  • Nicotine can be absorbed through the skin, so avoid contact with the skin and eyes!
  • Nitrile gloves provide protection against nicotine, but should be changed every 15 minutes as they become permeable when exposed to nicotine.

Nicotine strength is measured in % of a solution, or in milligrams per millilitres. Most e-liquids would use a more simplified notation: Milligrams abbreviated as “mg”, which actually refers to milligrams (mg) per millilitres (ml).

There are nowadays two forms of nicotine used in Vaping: Freebase Nicotine and Nicotine Salts.

Without getting overly technical, freebase nicotine is the nicotine originally found in e-liquids. The formulation was actually invented by Philipp Morris in the 60’s. Its main characteristics are that it can be easily absorbed in the lungs when heated, and has a strong throat hit or harshness. At high levels of nicotine concentration though, this harshness can become unpleasant. This is where nicotine salts come in.

Developed by Pax Labs, the inventors of the Juul, nicotine salts have three key benefits when compared to freebase nicotine.

  • It vaporises at lower temperature than freebase nicotine..
  • It has much less throat hit at high level of concentration.
  • It is more readily absorbed by the body (and at lower temperature than freebase nicotine).

As a result, nicotine salts provide an experience that’s closer to smoking than ever before, and makes it possible to enjoy high level of nicotine in your vape, without a nasty throat hit.

Introduced in 2014, the Tobacco Product Directive (TPD) is an EU legal framework for tobacco products and e-cigarettes. 

These regulations have had a profound effect on the vaping industry, and the term “TPD” is quite common in the vapeverse. 

We think it’s important for new vapers to be at least aware of the limitations imposed to us by the law in Ireland.

Some of the key points of this legislation are: 

  • Nicotine containing e-liquid cannot be sold in containers exceeding 10ml.
  • Nicotine containing e-liquid cannot exceed a nicotine concentration of 20mg/ml
  • E-cigarette tanks cannot exceed a capacity of 2ml.
  • E-liquids must be tested by independent laboratories and meet predefined criteria of safety and quality before being commercialised in the EU.
  • Additionally, (and it’s not something new) the purchase of e-cigarettes, e-liquids etc… is prohibited to people under the age of 18.

While some of these restrictions have been, and are still seen as an annoyance by vapers across the country, the TPD has played a key role in establishing high standards of quality for e-liquids, which is a Good Thing for e-cig users in Ireland and in Europe. 

An indirect consequence of TPD, was the “invention” of the Shortfill (or “Short Fill”): A nicotine free e-liquid commercialised in larger bottles (over 10 ml, generally 60ml or 120ml) and of the nicotine shot (or booster) which the user can add to the shortfill in order to make a large bottle of e-liquid, without breaking the law. This type of products let you easily mix a 3mg or 6 mg e-liquid at home, in a big bottle.

Finding the right balance

Vaping, in a sense, is all about finding what works for you, and finding the right balance. There are a lot of variables to consider.

The hardware, including the type of device, the type of tank and coils, type of battery…. without mentioning the looks and additional features of an e-cigarette. The e-liquid, and its flavour, PG/VG ratio, type of nicotine and nicotine strength. And finally you, as the user, and your habits and preferences.

Needless to say, it can feel like there is a steep learning curve when considering switching to vaping, but it doesn’t have to be the case if you follow our advice below.

All in all, you should focus on finding a balance between the nicotine strength of the e-liquid and the vapour production of the e-cigarette, which will result in the best experience for you. For example, let’s compare two extremely opposite scenarios:

High power mod
Big Puffs
Low nicotine level
Frequent usage
Low power e-cigarette
Small puffs
High Nicotine level
Moderate usage

Both A and B could be absorbing the same amount of nicotine on a daily basis, while having a completely different experience and usage of an e-cigarette. One way is not strictly better or worse than the other. It’s all a question of personal preference.

What would be bad though, would be to combine both the high nicotine usage of “B” with the high power and big clouds production of “A” which would likely result in some kind of nicotine overdose (It feels like a strong nausea).

Tips for new e-cigarette users.

A pair of “All In One” Starter kit as seen in the wild.

Tip #1: Keep it simple.

You may be tempted to jump into vaping by getting a fancy kit with all the bells and whistles. Don’t.

Your first kit, should be something simple, inexpensive, easy to use and effective. Visit the aptly named Starter Kit section of our shop to see what devices we recommend. The reason for this, is that smoking a cigarette is a pretty straightforward thing to do, and in order to successfully switch to vaping you should avoid any unnecessary complexity

If you have to contend with swapping batteries, using chargers, or making your own coils for example, you may find that the overhead and time investment is just a bit too much for you and revert back to smoking.

Starter kits are designed to be hassle-free, easy to use and reliable little kits to get you off the habit in an effective way.

Within that broad category of “Starter Kits” you will find two types of devices.

  • Single Button, no settings, the most basic design.
  • Single button or up to 3 buttons and basic settings (e.g: choose between low-medium-high power, and adjust the airflow*)

*Airflow is the amount of air circulating through the tank and coil and that you pull in when inhaling through the e-cigarette. A small amount of airflow will more accurately replicate the sensation of smoking. A large airflow will help produce more vapour.

If you’re inclined to tinkering a little or are generally comfortable with technology, we recommend opting for the second category, otherwise stick to the most simple e-cigarette designs.

Tip #2: What nicotine strength to use?

As to the question of which e-liquid you should use, this would likely be based on how many cigarettes you smoke per day. Our staff will be able to offer a personalised recommendation, but as a rule of thumb you can refer to the table below.

Average nb. of cigarettes smoked / dayType of e-liquid recommended
> 1510 ml – Nicotine salts 20mg or freebase nicotine 18mg
10-1510 ml – Nicotine salts 10mg or freebase nicotine 12mg
5-1010 ml – Freebase nicotine – 6 to 12mg
1-510 ml – Freebase nicotine – 3 or 6mg

Tip #3: I cough when I vape!?

For very new e-cig users, its not unusual to cough when taking a puff. E-cig Vapour is lighter than cigarette smoke, and it tends to go deeper in your lungs than smoke.

To avoid coughing, ensure your e-cigarette is not too powerful. If you have a choice of coils, use the one with the highest resistance number (For example 1.2 Ohm, rather than 0.6 Ohm). try and keep the vapour in your mouth, blocking it at the top of your throat, rather than letting it flow to your lungs. you can then inhale that vapour in a second stage, or exhale it.

If this doesn’t help and you’re using 18mg strength nicotine e-liquid, you may want to try nicotine salts instead, as maybe the high throat hit is maybe what is causing you to cough, or you may want to lower the nicotine content of your e-liquid.

Lastly people react differently to different formulations and brands of e-liquid. The VG/PG ratio may be a factor for you. Talk to a vape professional who should be able to advise different options for you to try.

Tips # 4: When should I change the coil?

The coil in your tank or pod gets damaged over time as you vape. Residue from the vaporization process build-up on the heating element. The cotton or wicking material gets heated repeatedly which over time damages the fibbers of the wicking material.

You’ll know it’s time to change your coil when the flavour of the e-liquid becomes dimmer, or when you can detect a bit of a burnt taste when you vape.

With experience, and depending on how much you vape, you’ll know at what intervals to change your coils.

Tips # 5: What Flavour should I choose?

Some people prefer trying to imitate smoking as much as possible, and would choose a tobacco flavour, while others prefer to move away from tobacco flavours, and will pick any flavour they like, such as a fruity or beverage or candy-like flavour. There are thousands of flavour variations for you to try, and that’s one of the key advantages of vaping, but there aren’t any rules or guidelines to determine what flavour you should choose.

Moving up from the starter kit.

Enjoying some cloud-chasing on an advanced mod.

First of all, not everyone will decide to leave their starter kits behind, but many will for a few reasons that we will get into in a minute.

If you’ve been happily using your starter kit for a few weeks or a couple of month, and have gotten used to replacing analogue cigarettes with their electronic counterparts (Congratulations!), you may start wondering if you should upgrade to a more advanced piece of kit. Here are some reasons to do so:

  • Reducing your running costs: Premade coils can be expensive on the long run. Making your coils is a lot cheaper, but also less convenient and more time consuming.
  • Increasing battery autonomy: Larger kits can house much larger batteries than what can be found in a starter kit. if you cannot go through the day with your built-in battery and cannot charge your device easily, you may want a bigger battery, or a kit with swappable batteries.
  • Decreasing your nicotine intake: You may want to try and progressively decrease how much nicotine you use, and that may mean you’ll start vaping differently, using a different kit.
  • Getting the best possible flavour: You may be looking to enhance your experience and try and get the best out of your e-liquids, using more powerful gear that enhances flavours.

We’re here to help!

There would be more to write, but we said this would be a brief introduction, so we’ll try and keep it brief.

You will find other helpful content in our blog, and in our shop pages too, so keep an eye out.

However should you have any question for us or if you are looking for recommendations, don’t hesitate to contact us or stop by our store if you live nearby!

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