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The Basics


Electronic cigarettes are devices designed to simulate the experience of smoking without some of the drawbacks of actually inhaling tobacco smoke.  They consist of a small rechargeable battery, an atomizer (a tiny heating coil), and a cartridge.  Some models combine the atomizer and cartridge into one piece (called a cartomizer), but most keep them separate.  The cartridge contains filler (usually poly-fill or foam) which is soaked with a liquid containing nicotine and

flavoring.  When activated, the battery provides power to the atomizer, which gets hot enough to vaporize the liquid.  This vapor is inhaled like smoke from a cigarette.  There are at least a dozen different models of electronic cigarette, and several companies making different versions of each.  Some atomizers are compatible with the batteries from other models, and vise-versa.  This list shows the main connector types, and which models will work with which others.

Depending on the model, the cartridge can hold anywhere from one or two cigarette's-worth of liquid, to a half-a-pack's-worth.  The cartridges are supposed to be disposable, but it is much more economical to refill them, and there are many more flavor options for the refill liquid than for prefilled cartridges.

For most cigarette-sized e-cigs, the battery will last for 1-3 hours of moderate use before requiring a recharge.  There are longer batteries available that will give you more time between charges.  There are also "mods", which use much larger batteries, and can go for as long as three days on a single charge.

If you'd like a more detailed guide there is no better place to start than "The Wonderful World of Vaping".  It is a thoroughly detailed introduction to everything related to e-cigs, complete with pictures and snarky humor.  It's a long read, but it is the most thorough and accessible guide I've found on the subject.  A link can be found at the bottom of this page.





Health Concerns

I am not a doctor
, nor am I attempting to give medical advice.  All I can tell you is what I have experienced, and what others have told me they have experienced.

Electronic cigarettes are probably safer than cigarettes.  I say "probably" because there has not yet been any long term medical studies on their use.  The only evidence on the relative safety of e-cig liquid is either derivative (the ingredients are generally regarded as safe, but have not been studied together in this application) or anecdotal (of thousands of users on e-cig forums, most report improved health after switching, while hardly any report complications).  Personally, I can attest to substantially improved health since I stopped using tobacco products and switched to e-cigs.  My persistent smokers cough has disappeared, I do not get winded as easily, and my senses of smell and taste have improved.  Your mileage may vary.

There are some potential side-effects of e-cig usage.  Most are mild and temporary.  Some believe that a few may actually be side effects of quitting tobacco products (which contain over 4000 chemicals, some of which your body becomes "accustomed to" besides the obvious nicotine), but there is no hard evidence to prove it.  You can find more info on potential issues here.


E-cig liquid consists of either propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin (or a mix of the two), nicotine extract, and food-grade flavorings.  Some liquids also contain small amounts of water or alcohol to make it less syrupy.  The first thing most people say when reading the ingredient list is "Oh my gosh, don't they put that glycol stuff in antifreeze?!?!"  Well yes, they do.  They also put it in things like cosmetics, toothpaste, cough syrup, and asthma inhalers.  Propylene glycol might sound scary, but it's considered safe for consumption by the FDA.  If you're a smoker - and you shouldn't even be considering e-cigs unless you are - then you already know what nicotine is.  It is addictive and can be dangerous in large quantities (which is why you should always be careful with e-cig liquid), but the long-term health effects are not much worse than other mild stimulants like caffeine.  And as for the flavorings, they're the same natural and artificial flavors that are used in all sorts of foods.

For more details on the health implications of electronic cigarette usage compared to tobacco products, see the links posted here.




Cost

Electronic cigarettes are much less expensive than traditional cigarettes.  The initial cost for the equipment is a bit higher, but the consumables cost is so low that you can "break even" in a couple weeks.  Depending on how much you smoke and the cost of tobacco products in your area, electronic cigarettes can average out to 50%-75% less per month. 

The important thing to watch out for is price gouging.  There are a lot of shady businesses trying to make a quick buck on this new technology.  Do not sign up for any "free trials"!  They are always a scam.  Do not pay more than $50 for a basic starter kit (two batteries, two atomizers, a charger and several cartridges).  There are many reputable vendors selling high quality kits in the $30-$50 range.  Do not pay more than $1 per ml of nicotine liquid.  You can get high quality liquid for quite a bit less if you shop around.  Here is a chart of US-based liquid suppliers that can be sorted by price per ml.




Recommendations

My original intent for this page was to keep it totally non-commercial and brand neutral.  I did not want to appear to be selling or even endorsing any particular product.  Unfortunately, even with the resources I had linked to, it's still very difficult to know where to start.  Nearly everybody who I sent to this page still had the same question: "What should I get?"  I still strongly recommend that you do your own research into the various electronic cigarette products that are available.  But if you just want a good, easy place to start, here is what I suggest.

First, I advise you not to get any of the cigarette look-alike kits.  Of all the people who stick with vaping, hardly any stick with those kits.  The cartridges are finicky, the batteries don't last long, and they are sorely underpowered.  For about the same money as one of those kits you can get a 14500 box mod with a low resistance atomizer.  This slightly larger mod will last all day and provide stronger vapor.  I also suggest you go with a drip tip instead of messing around with cartridges or cartomizers.  I've tried them all, and direct dripping definitely provides the best performance with the least hassle.

Again, there are a lot of options out there.  But if I were to start over, I'd be looking at one of these setups.

Good14500 box mod kit =  $45

BetterMaxi Roughstack kit
= $80

Best
Joker Adjustable Voltage Kit + 510 atomizer + drip tip = about $140


Liquid:  It's hard to go wrong with Viking Vapor.  They offer 7.5ml sample bottles for $3 each, so you can try out many different flavors without spending a fortune.  It's not the best liquid money can buy, but it's not bad either.  I also like Vapor Renu, but their larger bottles (30ml) may be a turn off for new users who don't know what they want yet.

I'd like to re-emphasize that these are merely my personal suggestions.  I have not been paid or otherwise reimbursed by any of these vendors.





Further Reading
  • The Wonderful World of Vaping - The ultimate beginner's guide to all things e-cig.
  • E-Cigarette Forum - The largest internet forum for e-cig users.  It is very active, and they are very helpful.  The forum is strictly moderated, and they don't tolerate any profanity or fighting or anything they deem "inappropriate".
  • Vapers Forum - The other large e-cig forum.  It's members are also knowledgeable and helpful, but it does not have the same restrictive rules as ECF.  More of a wild west atmosphere.
  • E-Cigarette Wiki - A far-from-complete compendium of data on the different e-cig models.
  • VaporSearch USA - This site has an extensive list of US-based hardware and liquid vendors, as well as links to video reviews and other relevant sites.
  • eCigarette Mods - A compendium of all the commercially-available mods.  These are large batteries for e-cigs that can last anywhere from several hours to several days between charges.
  • E-Liquid Reviews - A site that compiles reviews of e-cig liquids and the vendors that sell them.
  • CASAA - Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association:  A non-profit resource for e-cig related medical and legal info.



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