The main difference between vaping and smoking is that cigarettes (and pipes, cigars, etc.) produce smoke while vapes emit aerosols that we commonly refer to as vapor. This is partly what makes vapes healthier than organic tobacco consumption. But how do vape pens work? Let’s look into their mechanics as we learn the basics and maintenance of vaping equipment.
How Do Vape Pens Work?
1. Types of Vaping Devices
Vaping devices come in various styles including disposables, pens, mods, pods, e-cigs, tanks, cigalikes, etc. We sometimes use these terms interchangeably and there’s a lot of overlap in their functionality. But basically, a vape has a battery or power source that turns electricity into heat. This heat warms a coil which then evaporates the e-liquid that’s soaked in a wick.
Some vapes have a tank that holds some e-juice in reserve. Others just have a wick that you can manually drip with e-juice when you want to vape. Some vapes are rechargeable, so you can boost the battery a few times over the lifetime of the vape. Some vapes have nicotine and they all carry flavoured e-liquids. These include traditional scents like tobacco or menthol.
But most users prefer exciting cocktails like strawberry custard or birthday surprise. Some of these flavors use recognizable elements like blue razz ice. This cool, soothing blend of blue raspberries is infused with an icy note and a chilly aftertaste. You’ll feel like you’re inhaling a slushie, and it’s divine! But however you vape your e-juice, the basic mechanics are the same.
Back to appearances, vape mods are usually bigger and might have a large box-shaped batter and an e-juice tank for e-liquid. Vape pens – as the name suggests – look like fancy pens and have a cylindrical silhouette. E-cigs or cigalikes simulate cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. Some have a yellow filter cartridge at the bottom. Disposable vapes often resemble neon Sharpies.
2. How E-Juice Enters Your System
You can also find designer vapes – sometimes called stealth vapes. They’re built to pass for other objects like toys, perfume bottles, shisha pipes, keychains, USB sticks, or a computer mouse. Some have additional features like air holes so you can control how much you inhale. They might also have adjustable temperature, wattage, or replaceable pods for e-juice re-fills.
When you’re vaping, you’re inhaling an evaporated e-liquid. The liquid is made of flavor, PG (propylene glycol), VG (vegetable glycerine), and sometimes nicotine. This mixture is gently heated to produce the aerosol or vapor that you inhale. The PG is thinner and carries the nicotine and flavour while the VG is a thick, dense fluid that produces those puffy clouds.
The liquid sometimes sits in a tank that drips onto a wick. On smaller models, the wick itself is saturated with e-liquid so the vape might not have a distinct tank. And some re-buildable vapes have a small cylindrical container called an atomizer or cartomizer. It comprises the coil and a small glass globe to hold the e-juice. Some vapes use sealed cartridges for e-liquid.
3. Inhalation Options for Vapes
Vapes work in two ways – auto-inhale and manual inhale. In both cases, you have to suck the mouthpiece to let aerosol into your system. With auto-inhale vapes, you press a button that ignites the battery. This automatically produces fumes that enter your mouth and lungs. But with manual inhalation, you suck without pressing anything. The suction wakes the battery.
This then heats the coil, activates the wick, and lets air into your mouth. That said, you can either pull the puff into your mouth or straight to your lungs. The former is called MTL or mouth-to-lung vaping. You hold the vapor in your mouth for a moment before pulling it further into your lungs. You can do this by pursing your lips and sucking in some fresh air.
This pushes the aerosol back into your lungs. You could also suck air through your teeth or do several additional inhales without exhaling. These are all mouth-to-lung tactics and are similar to cigarette smoking techniques. The opposite is direct-to-lung, where you do a belly breath that lowers your diaphragm and sends air into your lungs. Singers breathe this way.
4. Nicotine Buzz and Inhaling Intensity
Whether you’re vaping DTL or MTL, the length of the inhale heightens your fix. So you can do multiple inhales before expelling the fumes or you can take a deeper gulp and direct it to your lungs. Try to hold the puff for 5 to 10 seconds before you breathe out – that will give you the highest hit. But practice a lot. If you start coughing, sip some water or lick a little honey.
Another interesting titbit is the volume of the clouds. Bigger plumes don’t mean your vape is stronger. It just means the e-juice has more VG in it. So if you’re a cloud chaser who loves the puff, buy e-liquids with a higher VG ratio. You can even get some VG-heavy vape fluids with zero nicotine so you can just enjoy the flavour and the fumes. They’re ideal for ex-smokers.
Those no-nicotine VG vapes are available in tobacco flavours so you can still get the mind fix without the side effects of cigarettes. If you do want nicotine though, you can get it in salt or freebase according to your needs. The volume varies too, with some at 20mg/ml or less (2%) and others up to 5% or 50mg/ml. In Europe, the legal limit is 2% for retail or importation.
5. Using Your Vape Pen Responsibly
Cigarettes and other tobacco products are banned in many public spaces. Indoor smoking is also prohibited in majority of restaurants, schools, and apartments. Sometimes, this ban is stretched to cover vapes. So you should always check local regulations before you pull yours out. Many airlines allow vapes in carry-on luggage but you can’t vape while you’re in the air.
That said, the airline might pull your vape out of checked-in bags since their batteries might catch fire or explode in the pressurized cargo hold. Also, while the country or state you’re in may be vape-friendly, the device might be illegal at your destination. Take extra precautions and read all the rules so you don’t lose your vape to customs agents or get arrested over that.
When you do vape in public, consider the people around you. Unlike cigarettes, the aerosol from a vape dissipates within minutes. You may smell some faint traces of the flavor, but it will be gone from the air pretty quickly. But people can still see the vapour when you exhale so it may still upset them. Especially if it’s indoors in a shared space, or in a communal area.
Ideally, ensure that your neighborhood or apartment allows indoor vaping then do it on a balcony or porch to avoid disrupting the neighbors. Alternatively, save your vaping sessions for vape stores and vape-friendly eateries. It reduces the potential for conflict and broadens your experience since you can hang out with like-minded cloud chasers and try new options.
6. Curating Your Throat Hit
Some people vape for pleasure and camaraderie. Others use it to quit cigarettes and tobacco. And this is important because cigarettes (and cigars and loose tobacco) have a harsher throat hit than vapes. They tickle the back of your throat in varying degrees, with some producing a scratchy effect that tingles and almost burns. It’s a significant part of any smoking session.
For this reason, some smokers wish to retain this experience when they switch to vaping. If the vape hit is too soft, it won’t match their tobacco fix and they may go back to cigarettes. A few smokers will transition to gentler vape hits over time while others prefer to keep things rough. So as you figure out how vape pens work, think about your preferred throat hit too.
If you want a harsh hit, vape at lower temperatures with higher resistance and use traditional flavors like mint, menthol, or tobacco. Citrusy variants are good too. Get e-liquids with high PG ratios and consider adjustable airflow to cool the fumes. But if you want a smooth throat hit, try sub-ohming at high temperatures and low resistance. Opt for sweet, creamy flavors.
7. Getting Rid of Used Vape Pens
Vapes are made of various materials including glass, metal, plastic, and fabric (for the wick). Few – if any – of these components are biodegradable so you need to recycle your vape. The trickiest part is the lithium-ion battery. It can explode, burn, or leak, and this releases toxic by-products. So you should always take used vape batteries to a certified recycling facility.
Many vape stores accept used vapes, so find out from your e-juice supplier. If your vape is disposable, you’ll send the whole thing for recycling. But for mods, tanks, and re-buildables, you can replace the battery or any other damaged part. You can also upcycle the parts e.g. coils or tanks once you’re familiar with tinkering. But always be extra careful with batteries.
If you’re a regular vaper, have a specific bin or plastic tub for old vapes. Pile them up and when you have a significant haul, you can take them to the recycling center or vape store. Keep a portable bin in your car or backpack too. This will reduce the temptation to toss the disposable vape, cartridge, or pod in the nearest trash can, creating another set of problems!
8. Maintaining Your Vape Pen
The most common type of vape pen has a 510 Thread that’s compatible with 510 cartridges that twist into place. You can also buy dedicated vape pens for THC oil, CBD oil, wax, or dab. But marijuana pens have filters to prevent dry herbs from drifting into your mouth and lungs.
If you’re not into disposable vapes, these 510 vape pens are the most convenient re-usables. Clean the threads and mouthpiece with rubbing alcohol when they get gunky. Check how long the battery lasts and replace it once it stops charging. And keep spare cartridges handy.