Photo via Vaping360 (CC-BY)
Despite the undeniable scientific consensus that tobacco smoking is dangerous and often deadly, the cigarette industry is–unlike many of its current and former customers–alive and well. Today, many nicotine addicts are trading smoke for vapor by tossing the tobacco in favor of e-cigarettes, but actually getting started vaping can be a confusing and intimidating experience, even for someone willing to scour countless websites to learn the ins and outs.
If you’ve ever considered vaping, either as a replacement for your cigarette habit or simply because you find it interesting, consider this guide your go-to source for every step of the process. From learning the history of vaping to choosing a device, components, and accessories–you’ll find everything you need right here. Let’s get started.
What is vaping?
“Vaping” is the most commonly used term for the act of utilizing an electronic device to produce vapor that the user then inhales.
Vape devices–called e-cigs, mods, or boxes, depending on the style and size–are comprised of a battery, heating element, wicking material, and usually a tank that holds the liquid to be vaped. The liquid, often containing a percentage of nicotine, is usually referred to as “e-juice” or “e-liquid.” When the liquid is absorbed by the wicking device, which is wrapped in or around a heating coil, and the power is activated, vapor is produced.
A brief history of vaping
In April of 1963, a man named Herbert Gilbert filed a patent for what he called a “Smokeless, non-tobacco cigarette.” The rudimentary device was comprised of a battery, heating element, and a narrow tube that replicated the look and feel of a real cigarette. This patent, which would expire before Gilbert managed to create a commercial version of the device, is the first known example of an e-cig.At the time, and for decades afterward, the technology to build a usable, reliable electronic cigarette simply wasn’t available, and if it was, it was still too bulky and expensive to be widely adopted or sold.
That all changed in 2003 when a Chinese pharmacist and inventor named Hon Lik patented a small, sleek electronic cigarette that utilized ultrasound to create vapor from liquid. Lik’s device was different in function than most e-cigarettes today, but his invention helped renew interest in vaping as an alternative to smoking.A few year later, Blu eCigs was founded. Blu’s devices, which traded the ultrasound technology of Lik’s e-cig patent for a small heating element that is powered by the built-in battery, gained notoriety for their ease of use and convenience. Today, Blu is the most recognized e-cig brand, offering both disposable and rechargeable versions of its popular blue-tipped devices.
By the time Blu hit the scene, the technology to create small, cigarette-sized e-cigs was widely available and easily replicated, and many other vaping startups have attempted to muscle in on the industry. But for all their convenience, these tiny devices lacked something that many smokers seemed to crave: strength.Intrepid DIYers began devising ways to build their own vaping devices, creating their own e-liquid–or buying it from one of the dozens of small e-juice crafters across the country–and pushing more and more power into the heating coils that produced the vapor. Often utilizing the case and circuitry of handheld flashlights as their starting point, these modified devices, called “mods” for short, became more and more popular among vapers.
Read more from the Daily Dot:
- Is vaping bad for you? Breaking down the negative health effects
- I went to a vape conference to mock it—then the vapers changed my mind
Eventually, manufacturers began to make larger, more powerful e-cigarette alternatives themselves, selling entire kits as well as individual components. A modern high-end e-cigarette features replaceable batteries, tanks, heating elements (called atomizers), tips, and other accessories, allowing for full customization of the vaping experience.
What types of e-cigs are available?There are four main types of e-cigarettes: disposables, pen-style mods, box-style mods, and mechanical mods. In the case of mods, the main unit that contains the battery and the power button requires a tank, atomizer, and other components to be added, but we’ll get to that later.
DisposablesDisposable e-cigs are the easiest, cheapest, and most readily-available form of vaping device on the market. Made by companies like Blu, NJOY, and Vuse, these devices are typically either all-in-one units that are thrown away as a whole as soon as the battery dies, or replaceable units that allow you to recharge the battery but swap out the small cartridge tip, which contains the juice, wick, and heating element.
Pros: Convenient, cheap, easy to use
Cons: Usually weak on vapor, batteries don’t last very long
Pen-style modsThese are the next step towards fully customized vaping. Pen-style mods are made up of the same main components but are typically much larger than a standard cigarette or disposable e-cig. They usually feature swappable components, allowing you to change the tank, heating coil, and tip of the unit for further customization.
These mods are more powerful than a disposable e-cig and will produce more vapor with a higher power than the smaller alternative. Pen-style mods are rechargeable, usually via a USB cable, and some models allow you to swap out the battery from the case.
Pros: More powerful than disposable e-cigs, larger battery means longer life, customizable
Cons: Not as powerful as a box mod, more expensive than disposables, requires basic maintenance
Box-style modsLike the pen-style mods, box-style mods allow you to customize the vaping experience with the tank, coil, and other hardware of your choosing. Even larger than the previous two styles, box mods contain a large battery and often a significant amount of additional wiring and circuitry. This is usually due to the fact that box mods often feature built-in displays that show the temperature, wattage, and other important information.
Box mods offer more power than the others as well, and usually come with several different settings to choose from based on the type of coil and tank you are using. Many modern box mods also feature temperature control features that auto-regulate the power and vapor production without any user input.
Pros: Most powerful of all the e-cig options, lots of vapor, feature-packed software to tweak the vaping experience
Cons: Can be expensive, requires maintenance and part replacements over time, advanced features take some learning
Mechanical modsMechanical mods are the polar opposite of the feature-packed box-style e-cigs. As the name implies, mechanical mods are built with no additional circuitry aside from the connections that heat the coil. When the user flips the switch, the power from the battery is delivered to the coil in an unregulated state, meaning that there’s no limiting or tweaking that takes place prior to the electricity doing its work.
A favorite of some vaping enthusiasts, mechanical mods are not typically recommended for beginners because they can simply be too much power to handle without adequate experience. Still, despite their lack of features and other drawbacks, their simplicity makes them one of the most reliable types of e-cigarettes available.Pros: Extremely reliable and longer lasting, simple to use
Cons: Requires advanced knowledge of components and power, can also be expensive, easy to damage components through misuse
Most beginning e-cig users are usually advised to give the disposable options a try first, but when you’re ready to take a small step up, it’s time to buy your first mod.
While the term “mod” often refers to only the main power unit of your e-cigarette, there are several additional components you’ll need before you vape, including an atomizer and usually a tank to hold the e-juice. Here are the most common options you’ll come across in your vaping journey.
Sub-ohm tanks have quickly become the most popular all-in-one option for vaping. These tanks screw directly into an atomizer base unit, including a replaceable coil, and can be filled with several milliliters of e-juice. The juice soaks into the cotton inside the coil unit, which is wrapped around the heating coil.These types of tank-and-atomizer combos have gained popularity due to their convenience and ease of use, allowing users to replace the coils and refill the tank in minutes with zero fuss. The term “sub-ohm” refers to the amount of current resistance in the coil. Sub-ohm vapes produce a large amount of vapor and flavor, making them the go-to for anyone who is moving up from the disposable style of e-cig.
A "clearomizer" is just a fancy name for an atomizer/tank combo that uses glass or clear plastic for its tank. They don't necessarily have to be sub-ohm in terms of coil resistance, but they work in the same basic manner.
For sub-ohm tanks, pre-made coils are easy to find in any vape shop or online, and are usually very affordable. You’ll need to swap out your coils eventually, so it’s always good to have a few extras on hand. However, as with every aspect of vaping, there are many options when it comes to types of coils.Coils are usually grouped by the type of metal used in their construction. The most common choices are stainless steel, nickel, and titanium. Each type of metal has its own temperature and wattage range that will vary depending on the manufacturer and type of e-juice you are using.
I cannot stress this enough: Be sure to check the specifications for the coil you are using before your first press of the power button or you’re likely to burn the cotton in the coil, thereby ruining it before you even get started.
Many vape mods, especially the box-style variety, feature swappable batteries, and the overall power and capacity of each battery will vary depending on the brand. These are not the kind of batteries that can be purchased at your local gas station: They are much larger, rechargeable models that you’ll need to find at a speciality vape shop or online.The most popular size of battery for vaping is the 18650, and several manufacturers such as Samsung and LG make high-capacity versions of this battery that have become popular in the vaping community. Most mods will come with at least one battery, so be sure to match the size if you’re shopping for a replacement or spares.
RBAs, or “rebuildable atomizers,” allow the user to disassemble the coil housing and replace the coil inside, rather than disposing of the entire heating element when it has finally reached the end of its life.
Short for “rebuildable dripping atomizer,” RDAs are gaining popularity among vaping enthusiasts. These atomizers do not require a separate tank, but instead rely on the user to drip fresh e-juice on the cotton wick when needed. The wick and coils can be accessed through the mouthpiece, with very little room between where the vapor is produced and the point where it is inhaled.RDAs allow the user to customize their heating element by replacing the coils and cotton wick themselves, while designing them however they desire. Some extremely passionate vaping hobbyists even create their own coils to use in their atomizers, though many simply buy new loose coils and install them. Coils for these drip-type setups are usually just the coiled wire and nothing more, whereas coils for sub-ohm tanks are self-contained along with the cotton wick.
RDAs are not usually a go-to option for casual users or even many enthusiasts due to the time investment that is required to rebuild the atomizer. They do, however, often produce the most vapor, making them an option for users who see vaping more as a hobby than a habit, turning it into something of an art form.
A totally optional accessory, vape bands are small rubber hoops that fit around the tank or battery unit of a larger e-cig.They are typically used simply for aesthetic appeal, but some users also swear by them as a way to protect glass e-juice tanks from damage. Vape bands are not at all a necessity, but you’re likely to see them in your local vape shop.
Of all the choices you'll have to make before you vape, deciding which e-juice flavor to try first will probably be the most difficult. There are quite literally thousands of flavors for sale online and in local vape shops in every corner of the globe, and there are more every day. Here's what you need to consider before making the choice.
What is e-juice made of?
Most proponents of vaping consider the simplicity of e-juice to be its primary benefit. The liquid is usually composed of just four total ingredients:
- Vegetable glycerin (VG) - A common ingredient in many food products and pharmaceutical goods.
- Propylene glycol (PG) - Found in everything from ice cream and soda to prescription drugs.
- Food-grade flavoring
The ratio of VG to PG determines the thickness of the liquid and thereby its temperature requirements, as well as what kinds of tanks and coils it is best used in. It can also change how harsh the vapor is when inhaling. A higher VG level will produce more vapor and a smoother hit, while a higher PG ratio is often thought to carry better flavor. Be sure to experiment with different mixes and decide what is right for you.
The nicotine level of your e-liquid is a personal preference, but you can help narrow down what's right for you based on your current or previous smoking habits. Strengths from 0mg/ml to 18mg/ml are the most common, with the most common strengths being 3mg, 6mg, 12mg, and 18mg. However, some e-juice makers do produce much higher strengths.
0mg/ml - If you're a nonsmoker or simply looking to give vaping a try for the heck of it, feel free to try the nicotine-free versions of whatever e-liquid sounds appealing to you.
3mg/ml - For light smokers looking to try vaping, this level is usually as low as you'll find before going nicotine-free. This is also the final stepping stone for former smokers looking to quit their nicotine habit entirely.
6mg/ml - The typical starting point for regular smokers who switch to vaping, a 6mg juice is one of the most popular levels. It allows the user to go up or down with ease, depending on their overalls goals.
12mg/ml - For heavier, pack-a-day smokers, this level of nicotine usually results in a harsher throat hit, which is why it's not usually recommended for first-time vapers.
18mg/ml - If you're a chain smoker who burns through packs with reckless abandon, you might find yourself hitting this level, or even higher. Remember, the more nicotine in the juice, the less overall flavor. Certainly not something to try unless the lower strengths don't satisfy your cravings.
Always keep in mind that while science often compares the nicotine level of e-juice to that of the tobacco in cigarettes, the actual result is often much different.
When smoking cigarettes there is a natural cut-off point when the cigarette burns out, but vaping is something that can be done continuously with no logical stopping point. This can make the lower nicotine levels more appropriate even for long-time smokers, especially if the user plans on vaping continuously throughout the day.
As you might have guessed, I've gone hands-on with a whole bunch of different vaping mods, tanks, and all-in-one kits. If you've decided to give vaping a try and want to know which brands and devices to put at the top of your list, here are the top recommendations.
Note: This section will be regularly updated as new hardware is released and tested, so be sure to check back!
With 100w of power, it'll produce a ton of vapor with whatever coil and tank you choose, and the built-in software has a dry-hit prevention feature that keeps you from burning the wick if you're lower on e-juice than thought. The TC 100 also includes a whole suit of temperature control modes for stainless steel, nickel, and titanium coils, while the massive 3,300mAh battery keeps the vapor flowing for days on end.
The mod syncs with your PC, and via the Escribe software, allows you to tweak virtually every aspect of its function with a total of 93 different customizable options. Everything from coil temperature curves to the startup greeting can be modified to your liking, making it the most personal vaping experience imaginable.
It's got more than enough power for even the most hardcore vaping enthusiasts and the build quality is absolutely top-of-the-line. Shockingly, this uber-powerful device is also one of the fastest-charging mods I've ever used, going from dead to fully charged in roughly an hour and a half. If you're ready to graduate to the next level of vaping, this mod is probably going to be the best-of-the-best for a long time to come.
A few tips for vaping
Here are a few small tips that will help you become a vaping master in no time, and save you a headache or two down the road.
Priming your coil
When you have a new, dry coil, you need to remember to prime it with a few drops of e-liquid prior to your first use. Before you fill your tank with juice, go ahead and drip some liquid on the exposed cotton bits and allow it to sink in before placing it back in the tank and filling it. Even after priming the coil, be sure to give your vape a few minutes to sit before you fire it up for the first time, or you may burn the cotton wick and ruin the coil.
Cleaning your vape
Some e-cig users don't mind putting different flavors of e-liquid on top of each other, without taking the time to clean out the tank and coil. This can be fine, but in some cases it can lead to poor flavor.
If you have the time, consider disassembling your tank and coil and running the tank and tip under hot water for a minute. Rinsing out the coil itself is a matter of debate, but some prefer to run water or even vodka through their coils to clean them. Either way, be sure that you actively dry all the components (with a hair dryer, fan, or other method) rather than letting it air dry, as that can lead to staining and other issues.
Be sure to experiment
No matter what kind of vape you decide to try first–either a disposable or a full-fledge box mod–remember that the options are quite literally endless. If you don't like your first experience, try again with a different device, temperature, or liquid, and you'll find that the experience is entirely different. Above all else, enjoy it!