What is an electronic cigarette?
An electronic cigarette, e-cigarette or personal vaporizer, is a battery-powered device that provides inhaled doses of nicotine or non-nicotine vaporized solution. It is an alternative to smoked tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. In addition to purported nicotine delivery, this vapour also provides a flavour and physical sensation similar to that of inhaled tobacco smoke, while no smoke or combustion is actually involved in its operation.
An electronic cigarette takes the form of some manner of elongated tube, though many are designed to resemble the outward appearance of real smoking products, like cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Another common design is the “pen-style”, so named for its visual resemblance to a ballpoint pen. Most electronic cigarettes are reusable devices with replaceable and refillable parts. A number of disposable electronic cigarettes have also been developed.
How does it work?
In automatic models, when a user inhales using the device, air flow is detected by a sensor, which activates a heating element that vaporizes a flavoured liquid solution stored in the mouthpiece. On manual models, the user must press a button to activate the heating element to produce vapour which is then inhaled by the user. On most models an LED on the opposite end of the device is also activated during inhalation, which serves as an indicator of use.
The mouthpiece is a small disposable plastic cup-like piece affixed to the end of the tube. Inside the mouthpiece is a smaller plastic cup which holds an absorbent material that is saturated with a flavoured liquid solution that may contain nicotine. This inner cup is made such that air is able to flow around it and through a hole in the end of the outer piece; this is necessary for the device to provide the ability for suction to move the vapour into the user’s mouth. The mouthpiece is referred to in the industry as a “cartridge”. When the liquid in the cartridge has been depleted, it can either be refilled by the user or replaced with another pre-filled cartridge.
Heating element (“atomizer”)
The heating element serves to vaporize the liquid in the mouthpiece so that it can be inhaled. This component is referred to in the industry as an “atomizer”. Atomizers have a finite life of about one month (on average) and are one of the recurring expenses associated with electronic cigarettes. Some models combine an atomizer and pre-filled disposable component referred to as a “cartomizer”.
Battery and electronics
Most electronic cigarettes employ a lithium-ion rechargeable battery to power the heating element. Battery life varies depending on the battery type and size, frequency of use, and operating environment. Many different battery charger types are available, such as wall outlet, car, and USB chargers. The battery is generally the largest component of an electronic cigarette.
Some electronic cigarettes employ an electronic airflow sensor to automatically activate the heating element upon inhalation, while other models require the user to press a button while inhaling. Various other electronic circuits are usually employed as well, such as a timed cut-off switch to prevent overheating and a coloured LED to signal activation of the device and also to mimic the glow of a cigarette’s end tip.
Traditionally, electronic cigarettes have utilized an electronic means of activation. This involved the use of small tactile switches, vacuum switches and the related wiring and electronics necessary to run them. Users soon discovered these could be unreliable. With the advent of “mods”, several manufacturers have created all-mechanical electronic cigarettes that eliminate the use of any wiring, solder or electronics in an effort to improve switch reliability.
While some larger electronic cigarette models employ a user-replaceable standard-size battery cell, many models are too small to house a standard-size cell and instead require a proprietary component made by the electronic cigarette manufacturer. For those models, the battery and electronic components are housed within a single replaceable part, which is still generally referred to in the industry simply as the “battery”.
Nicotine and non-nicotine solution
Nicotine solutions sold separately for use in refillable cartridges are sometimes referred to as “e-liquid” or “e-juice”, and commonly contain some amount of flavouring, with hundreds of different flavours available. They consist of nicotine dissolved in propylene glycol (PG), which is a common food additive.
Solutions are also available in differing nicotine concentrations, to let the user decide the amount of nicotine to be taken in. Concentrations range from Zero Nicotine, low and midrange doses (6-8 mg/ml and 10-14 mg/ml respectively), to high and extra-high doses (16-18 mg/ml and 20-24 mg/ml respectively). The concentration ratings are often printed at the e-liquid bottle or cartridge, although the standard notation “mg/ml” often gets abbreviated to just “mg”.
Are electronic cigarettes safe? Even though, there is no smoke produced by an electronic cigarette, it still has nicotine, which is another harmful element in real cigarettes. Though, there is no conclusive study to prove the electronic cigarette health risks, long term inhalation of nicotine vapours can cause the following health problems. Nicotine can constrict arteries, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood throughout the body. Nicotine overdose symptoms can in time result in high blood pressure, heart diseases, etc. The person may also become prone to stroke, GERD, peptic ulcer disease, etc.
Conventional cigarettes contain over 4000 harmful chemicals including:
Arsenic – Commonly used in rat poison, arsenic finds its way into cigarette smoke through some of the pesticides that are used in tobacco farming.
Cadmium – A toxic heavy metal that is used in batteries. Smokers typically have twice as much cadmium in their bodies as non-smokers.
Ammonia – Ammonia compounds are commonly used in cleaning products and fertilizers. Ammonia is also used to boost the impact of nicotine in manufactured cigarettes.
Carbon Monoxide – Present in car exhaust and is lethal in very large amounts. Cigarette smoke can contain high levels of carbon monoxide.
Hydrogen Cyanide – Used to kill people in the gas chambers in Nazi Germany during World War II. It can be found in cigarette smoke.
The only harmful chemical contained in electronic cigarettes is nicotine. So if you compare the two together although they cannot be certified to be 100% safe, the electronic cigarettes are the better alternative.
In short, electronic cigarettes are safe to some extent, especially, when compared to the conventional ones. However, studies are still underway regarding electronic cigarette health risks.