What is vaping?

By James Powley


Without a doubt, the best option for smokers is to stop using tobacco and nicotine altogether. However, for those who can’t or won’t quit, vaping is a less harmful alternative to smoking.

So, what is vaping exactly, and what makes it a suitable alternative to smoking? Let’s explore the facts.

How Is Vaping Different From Smoking?

While not risk-free, vaping is a much less harmful alternative to smoking. Smoking involves the process of combustion (burning) tobacco to release nicotine, which is naturally present in tobacco leaves. The nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream through the inhalation of the cigarette smoke, which also contains high levels of harmful chemicals.

Vaping, on the other hand, eliminates the process of burning and therefore does not produce smoke. Instead of burning tobacco, vaping heats an e-liquid, also known as e-juice, vape juice, or vape liquid, to produce an aerosol or vapour. Smokers who switch to vaping will usually choose a nicotine containing e-liquid. When this liquid is heated, it vaporises, and the user inhales the nicotine-containing vapour.

Because of the absence of burning, vaping is able to deliver nicotine without the high levels of harmful chemicals present in cigarette smoke. Because aerosol dissipates more quickly than smoke, vaping leads to fewer lingering smells than cigarettes and produces no ash.

How do Vapes Work?

As mentioned, vapes are battery-powered devices that heat e-liquids to release a vapour which is inhaled by the user. All electronic cigarettes work using the same base components and technology. These include:

A Battery

All vapes depend on a battery to function - without a battery, the device can’t heat the e-liquid. Different vapes use different types of batteries. In compact vape devices, this will often be an integrated battery, meaning it is built into the device and not removable. Disposable batteries are commonly used in cig-a-like models; these devices are not rechargeable and must be replaced after the battery runs out of charge (or when the e-liquid is depleted). For more complex devices, such as rebuildable mods, external batteries are used. These are typically removed from the device and recharged separately.

An Atomizer

The term ‘atomizer’ refers to the heating element (the coil) and the wick. The wick is what delivers the e-liquid to the coil. The saturated wick delivers the e-liquid to the coil, which heats the e-liquid to produce a vapour which is drawn from the mouthpiece. The two components are together referred to as an atomizer.

There are different types of atomizers: disposable, replaceable and rebuildable. Disposable atomizers are fixed within the device and are not like rebuildable atomizers (RBAs), which allow users to modify their device. While different atomizers allow for different functionalities, an atomizer is essentially the part of a vape device where the liquid is vaporised.

A Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece is the part of the vape which delivers the vapour to the user. Different sized mouthpieces allow for different levels of airflow, with larger diameters drawing more vapour.

An Atomizer

The coil and wick are both housed within the atomizer. As mentioned, the wick draws liquid to the coil, which heats and vaporises the e-liquid, allowing vapour to be drawn from the mouthpiece. There are different kinds of atomizers, like rebuildable tank atomizers (RTAs) that allow users to customise their experience. While different atomizers allow for different functionalities, an atomizer is essentially the part of a vape device where the liquid is vaporised.

A Tank

Also known as a cartridge or reservoir, a tank is what houses the e-liquid. Some tanks are integrated within the atomizer (like cartomizers) while others are a separate component.

Types Of Vape Devices

Different vape types have different designs and different mechanisms. Vape types include:


Cigalikes were the first generation of e-cigarettes and were designed to look like cigarettes. These devices are disposable and are typically not refillable or rechargeable; once the e-liquid is depleted, the device is disposed of and replaced. Newer versions of cigalikes can be refillable and rechargeable but continue to have a similar appearance to a cigarette.

Vape Pens

These are slim devices that look like pens. Vape pens use tanks that must be manually filled. Some have firing buttons that need to be clicked in a variety of sequences to turn on and have their settings adjusted. Others activate when they detect an inhale and do not have a firing button.

Box Mods

Box mods are the largest devices on the market and, because of the modification and customisation potential, should only be used by experienced vapers who have a solid understanding of vaping technology. These advanced devices support different atomizers, tanks, and more powerful batteries supporting higher wattages.

Pod Mods

Pod mods are compact devices that come in two system types: open systems and closed systems. Open pod systems allow users to refill their e-liquids, whereas closed pod systems use pre-filled pods that are slotted into the device and disposed of and replaced when the e-liquid is depleted.

What is in Vape Liquid?

All vapes use e-liquid. As mentioned above, some vape devices come pre-filled in the device or in an insertable pod. For vapes that require manual filling, a vast range of bottled vape juice is available in a wide selection of taste variants. All e-juices (whether in pods or separate bottles) come in different nicotine strengths and flavours. The following are the main ingredients used in e-liquids:

Propylene Glycol (PG)/Vegetable Glycerin (VG)

PG and VG are the two base ingredients in vape juice. They are often mixed to create an e-juice that balances taste and smoothness based on the properties of each ingredient:

  • PG is thinner and often carries flavour better than VG, while also delivering a stronger ‘throat hit’
  • VG is a thicker substance that creates denser clouds of vapour
  • Due to the two different roles of these ingredients, the PG/VG ratio is something that vape users can select to their liking. High PG gives a stronger taste and ‘throat hit’ which can also feel harsher on inhale. High VG juices, on the other hand, are very thick and may wear out coils quicker than a more balanced ratio of PG/VG.


    Nicotine levels also vary by vape juice, coming in levels between 0mg (nicotine free e-juice) and 20mg.

    Other Alternatives to Smoking

    Vaping is not the only alternative to smoking available for smokers. Another alternative is heated tobacco products, such as IQOS. Unlike a vape product, which uses liquid, IQOS is an electronic device that heats real tobacco for a satisfying taste experience. Learn more about IQOS.

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