How an Electronic Cigarette Works
To a new user the Electronic Cigarette (E-cig) may seem like a complicated futuristic device, and it is to a certain extent, but its functionality is actually quite simple. In order to fully understand how it works you must first understand the pieces that make up the e-cig. No matter what brand or model of electronic cigarette you purchase or use there are three main components that are required: a battery, an atomizer, and an E-liquid delivery system such as a cartridge or tank.
The battery simply supplies power to the atomizer and can be activated manually by a button or automatically when taking a draw depending on the type chosen. E-cig batteries are generally lithium ion batteries that can be recharged many times over. They are available in all shapes and sizes, but the larger the battery, the longer it will last between charges.
The atomizer is the actual working part of the e-cig that makes it possible to deliver the nicotine in the E-liquid to the user without actually burning anything. While again there are many different sizes and styles of atomizers, they all function in a similar fashion. Inside of each atomizer is a small coil that heats up when the battery is activated much the same way that the filament in a light bulb heats up and produces light when power is supplied. The heat from the coil inside the atomizer is what actually vaporizes the E-liquid so that it can be inhaled by the user.
The E-liquid delivery system of the electronic cigarette comes in many forms. The most common form is the cartridge or tank. It is normally attached directly to the atomizer and may or may not contain filler material. Regardless of design its purpose is to store E-liquid until needed and then deliver the liquid to the atomizer at a steady and consistent rate. The E-liquid delivery system also doubles as the mouthpiece in most cases with small channels that route the vapor from the atomizer, around the E-liquid chamber and to the user’s mouth.
Sometimes the atomizer and cartridge are combined into one piece called a cartomizer. Cartomizers are preferred by many users because of how simple they are to use as well as their ability to hold larger volumes of E-liquid, making refills less frequent. However, cartomizers are built to be disposable and therefore while they can be refilled, they generally do not last as long as stand along atomizers and cartridges.
The E-liquid used in the electronic cigarette is made up of several ingredients. The main ingredient may be either propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG) which serves as the diluting and carrying agent for the nicotine and flavoring in the E-liquid. As the vapor is inhaled by the user they are able to both taste the flavoring and absorb the nicotine that is diluted in the E-liquid. Both VG and PG are USP Food Grade ingredients, have been approved by the FDA for consumption, and are commonly found in many household items such as toothpaste. While very similar in nature, VG is somewhat thicker than PG and therefore provides more vapor, but also tends to alter or dull the flavor slightly and reduce the amount of throat hit experienced by the user. Therefore, most users prefer E-liquids made of a mixture of both PG and VG such as 85% PG and 15% VG or 60% PG and 40% VG. The mixture percentages of each user are merely personal preference based on the tradeoff between flavor, throat hit, and vapor production.