How Do E-Cigarettes Work?

E-cigarettes dispense with tobacco, allowing users to inhale vaporized e-liquid that may or may not deliver nicotine, and exhale a harmless cloud of water vapor. These devices have become more and more popular since they were first marketed in China in 2003. They’ve spread around the globe, spawning clubs and conventions in their wake. For many “vapers,” as e-cig users are called, vaping is more than just a hobby — it’s a way of life.

But do you know how e-cigarettes work? The design hasn’t changed much since Herbert Gilbert filed the first “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” patent in 1963. Each e-cig, whether disposable or reusable, contains the same basic components and works in the same basic way.

how do E-cigarettes work

Understanding Your E-Cig’s Parts

So, what components go into an e-cig? There are two types of e-cigs: the little disposable ones that you sometimes see sold in gas stations, and the bigger, more complex reusable ones that can be refilled with e-liquid cartridges. They all have the same parts, including:

  • An atomizer, which is usually some type of heating coil
  • A rechargeable lithium battery
  • A sensor that tells the e-cig when you’re taking a puff
  • A cartridge full of e-liquid

Some e-cigs, particularly the little disposable ones that are made to look similar to a traditional cigarette, also have an LED light in the end that illuminates to mimic the glowing red flame at the tip of a traditional cigarette. Some disposable e-cigarettes combine the cartridge and the atomizer into a single unit sometimes referred to as a “cartomizer.”

How E-Cigs Convert E-Liquid Into Vapor

Unlike traditional cigarettes, nothing burns when you take a drag on an e-cig. Instead, the atomizer heats up, bringing the e-liquid quickly to boiling so you can inhale the vapor it produces. If you choose e-liquid that contains nicotine — as many vapers do — the vapor will carry that nicotine into your lungs, where your body will absorb it. You’ll then exhale a thick and satisfying cloud of water vapor. If you’ve chosen a flavored e-liquid, the water vapor you’ve exhaled will continue to bear the faint aroma of the flavor in question.

What’s in the E-Liquid Besides Nicotine?

Many e-liquids contain some amount of nicotine — and you can choose whatever strength nicotine concentration you prefer. However, you can also buy e-liquids that contain no nicotine, which is a great alternative for those who want the look and feel of vaping but don’t need or want a nicotine fix. Aside from nicotine, e-liquid contains flavoring agents — cartridges are available in every flavor imaginable, from traditional tobacco flavors to minty or fruity flavors to more specialized flavors, like Kentucky bourbon. E-liquid also contains propylene glycol, the same stuff that fog machines use to create smoke at concerts and school dances. Propylene glycol is considered safe to ingest according to the FDA.

How Long Does an E-Liquid Cartridge Last?

A disposable e-cig lasts for roughly the same amount of time as two packs of cigarettes. An e-liquid cartridge lasts for about as long as one pack of cigarettes. Considering that you can buy a five-pack of e-cig cartridges for about as much as you’d pay for a single pack of cigarettes, e-cigs can be a much cheaper alternative means of nicotine delivery than traditional smoking. The low price also makes it an easy habit to take up for those who don’t use nicotine, and plan to use the nicotine-free e-liquid.

While some reusable e-cigs take disposable cartridges, you can also buy models with refillable tanks. For these models, you clean out the e-liquid reservoir tank and refill it with e-liquid yourself when it’s depleted. You can buy bottles of e-liquid for this purpose, which is even cheaper than buying the disposable cartridges. Many vapers prefer this method, since it allows them to mix different e-liquids and blend their own custom flavors.

E-cigarettes don’t work by burning anything, the way traditional tobacco products do. Instead they work by heating liquid to a boil, so that you can inhale the vapor it gives off. All modern e-cigs work in pretty much the same way, whether they’re disposable or reusable. Many people enjoy vaping precisely because of the thick clouds of vapor they’re able to exhale, and for the wide variety of e-liquid flavors available.