Unlike traditional cigarettes, which burn tobacco to deliver nicotine to the user, the electronic version or e-cigarette instead vaporizes a liquid nicotine solution into a vapor that is then inhaled. This vaporized nicotine is usually accompanied by a flavoring and by using a glycol based liquid produces a mist similar to that of entertainment fog machines which gives the user the sensation of smoke without any actual combustion or real smoke.
Electronic Cigarettes are usually battery powered devices that resemble their traditional counter parts in shape and size and are often packaged to look just like a traditional smoking product whether that be a cigarette, cigar or even a pipe. Some versions are referred to as the “Pen Style” because they more closely resemble a ball point pen but most versions look identical to standard tobacco products right down to the glowing red tip.
The first design for an electronic cigarette was created in china by Hon Lik of Ruyan. Ruyan now markets these patent pending versions under the Ruyan brand as an herbal device. His version uses ultrasonic technology to vaporize the solution while most electronic cigarette designs now use a heating element to create their vapor.
Electronic cigarettes are marketed as an alternative to smoking, one that can assist smokers in circumventing recent bans on smoking in public places which specifically mention tobacco products. Since the electronic cigarette contains no tobacco, it does not fall within most smoking ban laws. Marketers also point out that e-cigs do not use smoke or combustion nor do they contain the thousands of toxic substances found in most smoking products and pitch them as a healthier alternative to smoking as well as a great smoking cessation aid.
The electronic cigarette in recent months however, has drawn fire from governmental regulatory agencies like the FDA in the United States as well as other health organizations who claim these devices are unapproved drug delivery systems and that marketers have been illegally marketing these products as a stop smoking aid or claiming other health benefits which have yet to be proven in clinical studies by the medical community. However, users claim these devices are invaluable to them as a stop smoking aid or simply a safer, healthier alternative to tobacco smoking, and many health professionals agree.
For now the fate of e-cigarettes is unknown; some countries have banned them until medical studies can be conducted, others allow their unregulated sale and still others have not yet decided.
How electronic cigarettes work
So, how does an electronic cigarette work?
E-cigs contain four main parts: The battery, which supplies power. The control switch, which of course turns the system on and off. The atomizer, or “atty” as its sometimes called, which vaporizes the liquid. And the mouthpiece, which stores the nicotine solution or “e-juice”.
Each time a user puffs on it, air passes through a sensor, which then sends power from the battery to the atomizer, which produces the vapor, and usually an LED at the end, which is simply there to give the user a visual indication the system is activated and may, in many units, simulate the look of a real cigarette’s lit tip.
The Atomizer then either heats up or uses ultra sonic vibrations to vaporize some of the nicotine / propylene glycol solution into a mist. This mist very closely resembles smoke, but there is no combustion and therefore no smoke. While technically it is “steam” it is not hot. This is basically the same process used in theatrical fog machines.
Finally, the vapor is inhaled by the user out of the opening in the end.
Most brands also have a safety sensor that activates the system long enough to deliver just the right amount of vapor with every puff.
While there are many different brands and styles of electronic cigarettes, they can be broken down into two basic designs: The three part and the two part.