How do Vapes Work?

Vapes, otherwise known as e-cigarettes, typically rely on the same fundamental components to function - a battery, atomizer, and e-liquid. However, exactly how a vape might work will depend on the type of device it is. 

For adult users, having a fundamental understanding of how vapes work could help you keep the device in better condition, get your coils to last longer, and improve the vape’s battery life. With all this in mind, exactly how do e-cigarettes work? Read on to explore how different types of vapes work. 

Understanding How Different Vapes Work

There’s a variety of different types of vapes currently on the market. Some of the types you might have heard of include:

  • Cigalikes: as the name suggests, these are vapes that generally resemble the look of cigarettes. They are usually disposable, but some may be rechargeable and use replaceable cartridges.
  • Vape pens: these are typically slim, long, rechargeable devices with a vape tank.
  • Box mods: often a large, high-tech device that also utilises a tank.
  • Pod mods: generally, pod mods are rechargeable, compact vapes that use pre-filled pods or refillable cartridges.

So how does a vape work? All of these models will typically follow the same basic principles outlined below:

  • The device is powered by a battery.
  • E-liquid is used, either pre-filled in a pod/cartridge or added manually to the device’s tank by the adult user.
  • The wick draws e-liquid to the coil.
  • The coil heats the e-liquid into a vapour for adult users to draw out of the device’s mouthpiece.

While all these different types of vapes may operate in the same fundamental way, there can still be some distinct differences between models. For example, vape pens and box mods often use a tank, whereas pod mods and cigalikes typically make use of pods or cartridges instead. 

Different vapes may also activate differently. Some can come with buttons you’ll need to press to turn the device on, while others may be buttonless and draw-activated. 



What Are the Components for Different Types of Vapes?

There are a range of different vape components that could be included in devices. While the fundamental mechanism behind vapes is generally the same across different vape models, the actual components it comprises can vary.

Discover more on the components for different types of vapes below - just keep in mind that these are the general components you may find in different vapes. The exact design of a device will depend on the product in question.


Typically found in: all vapes.

Vapes are powered by batteries. Many vapes feature an in-built battery that can be recharged via USB. Some models may have removable batteries – like classic AAs – that can be recharged with a mains-powered charging kit.

Atomizer, Wicks & Coils

Typically found in: all vapes.

This is the part of the vape that includes the coil and wick. The atomizer is what enables the device to turn liquid into vapour.


Typically found in: different types of vapes, including vape pens and box mods.

The tank is the part of a vape that generally contains the atomizer. It’s also where e-liquid is inserted before it’s turned into vapour.

Pods and Cartridges

Typically found in: different types of vapes, including pod mods and cigalikes.

In vapes, pods and cartridges have the same function as a tank – they house the e-liquid. Cartridges are easily inserted and removed in compatible pod mods or the battery base of a cigalike. The cartridge or pod contains the heating element, so there is no need for separate coil replacements.

Activation Button

Typically found in: different types of vapes, including vape pens, box mods and some pod mods.

The activation (fire) button is a common feature in certain vapes, and can be used to start up the device. When the fire button is pressed, the heating element vaporises the e-liquid. In practice, this means that adult users need to press the button every time they use the vape. You may encounter buttonless cigalikes and pod mods. Otherwise known as draw-activated vapes, these devices start automatically when drawn on.


Typically found in: all vapes.

All vapes use e-liquid, but some need to be manually filled with the user’s compatible e-liquid of choice. Others use pods pre-filled with e-liquid. Common ingredients include vegetable glycerine (VG), propylene glycol (PG), flavourings and nicotine. E-liquids can come in different PG/VG ratios, which can subsequently create different vaping experiences.

Other Alternatives to Smoking

While this guide covers the basics on the different types of vapes and how they work, these devices aren’t the only potential alternatives to smoking. IQOS heated tobacco products are another alternative you may want to consider over continuing to smoke, including our latest heated tobacco device series - IQOS ILUMA. IQOS ILUMA Smartcore Induction Technology heats tobacco instead of burning it to deliver the taste of real tobacco. Visit the IQOS blog for more information. 

Smoke-free products are not risk-free and provide nicotine, which is addictive. The best decision any adult smoker can make is to quit tobacco and nicotine use altogether. Smoke-free products are not alternatives to quitting and are not designed as cessation aids.   

This article is for general information and educational purposes. Some of the information in this article is based on external, third-party sources and we make no representations or warranties of any kind regarding the accuracy, validity or completeness of such information.

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