Tobacco cigarettes differ little from one another in form and function because the industry has had many decades to evolve and consolidate since the first automated tobacco rolling machine was invented in the 19th century.
The electronic cigarette industry, by comparison, is just a few years old and still evolving rapidly. Before you buy your first electronic cigarette, familiarize yourself with the basics to gain a better understanding of the products available and decide which type may be right for you.
What is an Electronic Cigarette?
An electronic cigarette is a device that allows a smoker to consume nicotine while replicating the act of smoking a real cigarette as closely as possible. The electronic cigarette – or “e-cigarette” – vaporizes a solution of propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin, flavors and nicotine, creating a mist that feels similar to smoke in the throat and lungs and tastes like tobacco or a wide array of other flavors. This solution is called “e-liquid.”
Although all e-cigarettes have the same basic components – a battery, a heating element and e-liquid – there can be many differences in the types of components used and how they are implemented.
Electronic Cigarette Types
Atomizer-Based Electronic Cigarette
In the first few years following the introduction of the electronic cigarette, atomizer-based or “three-part” e-cigarettes were the most common devices available. In this e-cigarette design, the component that provides the heat needed to vaporize e-liquid is called an “atomizer.” An atomizer contains a heating element and a wick to hold e-liquid.
Above these components is a metal bridge that draws e-liquid toward the wick when a cartridge is installed. Originally, the e-liquid for a three-part electronic cigarette was stored in the inner capsule of a disposable plastic cartridge. Today, however, a three-part e-cigarette generally stores e-liquid in a tank that fits more tightly and delivers e-liquid to the atomizer more reliably than a cartridge.
Some people use atomizer-based electronic cigarettes for “dripping,” or using a hollow tip in place of a cartridge and feeding the atomizer with e-liquid directly from a bottle. Without a cartridge to hold the e-liquid in suspension, you have to feed more e-liquid to the atomizer after every few uses of the e-cigarette. However, using a “drip tip” rather than a tank or cartridge eliminates the sponges, plastic and other filler material that can muddle flavor and prevent some of the vapor from reaching the mouth.
Cartomizer-Based Electronic Cigarette
Atomizer-based electronic cigarettes have certain benefits, but they lack the convenience that many people need when they first switch from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes. For this reason, many e-cigarette refill cartridges now include their own heating elements. In this system, the cartridge and atomizer are combined to create a single component called a “cartomizer.”
Cartomizers eliminate the need to purchase new atomizers periodically because each time you replace a cartomizer, you get a new heating coil. Many cigarette-shaped e-cigarettes now include cartomizers. Third-party companies also manufacture alternative cartomizers with different colors and sizes, different types of heating elements and different filling methods.
Personal Electronic Cigarette Vaporizer Mods
While cigarette-shaped e-cigarettes are chiefly manufactured in China, hardware development has evolved differently in the United States and elsewhere in the form of “mods.” Mods – originally given the name because the first examples were constructed from plastic boxes and metal tubes modified to hold e-cigarette attachments and batteries – are electronic cigarettes that aren’t cigarette-shaped.
To differentiate mods from the conventional electronic cigarette, many people refer to them using the term “Personal Vaporizer” or “PV.”
Real cigarettes are small; any device that mimics one must, therefore, have a small battery. Long-term and heavy smokers may find that the shortcomings of small e-cigarettes – short battery life and decreased voltage under load – make it difficult to transition from smoking to “vaping.”
A PV mod may have more than ten times the battery capacity of a small electronic cigarette.
In addition, manufacturers of mods are free to select the most appropriate batteries for their devices and frequently choose batteries that can remain at peak voltage for the majority of their discharge cycles. Because the battery in a PV mod does not tend to experience decreased voltage under load, PV mods often produce more vapor than small e-cigarettes.
PV mods are also the only electronic cigarette that can use low-resistance atomizers and cartomizers reliably. Some even give you the ability to vary the voltage of the device to produce the vapor quantity and flavor intensity you want.
Electronic Cigarette Terms: What You Need to Know
Atomizer and Cartomizer Resistance
Electronic cigarette attachments such as atomizers and cartomizers are classified according to their resistance – how readily they allow electrical current through – in ohms. Resistance isn’t a concern if you purchase atomizers from the same vendor that sells your e-cigarette.
If you want to buy third-party attachments, though, the resistance should be appropriate for your e-cigarette to avoid damaging the attachment or the battery. Most e-cigarette attachments have a resistance of about 2.5 ohms.
High-resistance attachments rated at 3.0 ohms and higher are intended for high-voltage mods that operate at five volts and above; these attachments allow high-voltage operation while restricting the electrical current slightly to avoid damage.
Low-resistance attachments rated at 1.5 ohms and lower restrict the current less, allowing low-voltage e-cigarettes to produce more vapor. However, they also cause battery strain; a low-resistance attachment is only safe to use on a battery with a capacity of 450 mAh or higher, which precludes most devices except PV mods.
Electronic Cigarette Battery Types
A small electronic cigarette may have an automatic or manual battery.
In an automatic battery, the terminal is mounted on a flexible membrane that moves when air passes through. This allows the battery to touch the atomizer or cartomizer when you puff on the e-cigarette, vaporizing the e-liquid automatically.
A manual battery is engaged with a button instead. Although the experience of using an e-cigarette with an automatic battery is closer to that of smoking a cigarette, many “vapers” prefer manual batteries for more control over vapor production.
Larger e-cigarettes and PV mods always have manual batteries as people who buy these devices generally prioritize high vapor production over convenience.
Electronic Cigarette Battery Capacities
Battery capacity is measured in milliampere-hours or mAh; a battery with a higher mAh rating provides more puffs between charges and more puffs at its maximum voltage level than a battery with a lower mAh rating.
The smallest electronic cigarette batteries have capacities of approximately 90 mAh, while batteries in PV mods can have capacities of 2000 mAh and higher.
Electronic Cigarette Battery and Device Voltage
Most e-cigarette batteries and PV mods operate at 3.7 volts. However, some PV mods utilize two batteries stacked in series to achieve five-volt or six-volt operation.
Others include boost or buck circuits, allowing you to vary the voltage on demand. At higher voltages, an e-cigarette produces more vapor with a more intense flavor.
Electronic Cigarette Attachment Threading
When you shop for third-party attachments, you will see designations such as “510” and “808.”
These numbers refer to the threading of the attachments; a 510 attachment has male threading and an 808 attachment has female threading. Other threading types include 801 and 901.
If your electronic cigarette battery or PV mod doesn’t have the same threading as the attachment you want to use, you’ll need to purchase an adapter.
To find the right electronic cigarette for your needs, take a look at the reviews of electronic cigarettes, and personal vaporizor mods I have compiled here.