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The Electronic Cigarette seems to have garnered a great deal of media and DailyKOS interest, so I've put together a basic primer. Regrettably, the subject is very complex, so this will span several diaries...
Step below the non-toxic vapor cloud below for more information.
What Is That Thing?
This is probably the most often asked question. We've seen them on TV, but those are usually very familiar, cigarette-like shapes.
Mine is not. It resembles a Sharpie marker with a trim bullet-like tank at the end and a Ming-style tip. My mother uses the same, but prefers a trimmer mini-tank. My cousin has one that could be used as a small club (for D&D fans, it could probably do 1d4 crushing damage if used as a weapon).
Most, but not all, feature a colored light at the end or in the button of the device. Many of those lights are blue, but other colors are available on some models.
Don't Those Explode?
Very rarely, yes. Lithium batteries are high-density energy storage and that comes with some inherent risks.
One gentleman's vaporizer exploded and knocked out his teeth. The media did make a large issue out of this, and it does sound terrible.
The media neglected to report that the gentleman in question was using a non-standard electronic (a "case mod"), was stacking two batteries to generate more power, and was doing so in a sealed case with no hole to vent the batteries. Stacking is never recommended unless the device in question is capable of negotiating correctly with the batteries.
Lithium batteries are most likely to fail during charging or when immediately off the charger. We do recommend charging batteries in a safe location where failure won't produce a fire risk, and allowing your batteries time to "cool down" after charging.
And of course never, ever use a battery that has begun to exhibit unusual behavior, any more than you would continue to flip a light switch after the wiring sparked.
You're Still Smoking
No, I'm not (if you detect a bit of annoyance there, you're right). I'm inhaling a diluted nicotine solution, very similar to the nicotine inhalers sold to curb cravings. At no point is smoke produced, merely vapor.
So...How Does That Work?
The technical explanation is that your old cigarette worked by burning the tobacco (and paper and other chemicals) to supply nicotine in smoke that you inhaled. You also inhaled three to four thousand other chemicals, some of which cause cancer, and some of which were added to make the nicotine in the cigarette more available.
The electronic cigarette (usually called a PV, Personal Vaporizer, by people who use them) works by heating a solution of propylene glycol (generally), vegetable glycerine (sometimes), flavoring, and nicotine solution to the steam point. You draw this into your lungs if you wish--although absorption is primarily through the membranes of the mouth, tongue, and throat.
Vegetable glycerine is an optional addition that can range from 0 to 100% of the dilutant in the mix. More vegetable glycerine equals more vapor, but less flavor. As a general rule, most people seem to prefer amounts of VG (vegetable glycerine, but I'm trying to adjust you to the industry standard abbreviations slowly) ranging from 0 to 50%. Others find VG makes them phlegmy.
My personal preference is 70% PG (Propylene Glycol)/30% VG. Yours will vary. Some mixes work better in some devices, but that's quite another story that we'll cover a bit later.
That Sounds Kind of Familiar
If it doesn't, it now should. I've just described how the fog machine at your favorite club or concert works. Yes, your electronic cigarette is, at its heart, a tiny little fog machine.
If you're clever and there's no wind, you can gently push un-inhaled vapor out of your mouth with your tongue and into a glass, vase, or other container. Being heavier than air, it'll settle into the container and sit, like a ground fog.
But Propylene Glycol is Antifreeze!
Or so the news frequently trumpets. And yes, PG is frequently used as an antifreeze. A safer, much less toxic antifreeze than ethylene glycol, which is very toxic.
PG is also used in asthma inhalers, vaporizer treatments given to lung transplant patients, and hospital/hotel air systems to safely disinfect the air by weighing down the bacteria and viruses and settling them to the floor.
Although true, this is only part of the story. Your intake of PG will be low using the electronic cigarette, far and away under the level of toxicity. Just as your daily intake of salt is far and away under the level of toxicity.
Ethanol can also be used as an anti-freeze, but put it in a drink and we call it alcohol. Just like PG, it has a level of toxicity, but you don't generally approach that. So this is part of the story, but not all of it by any means.
So How Safe Is This?
We can't be one hundred percent certain that this isn't causing problems. However, what we can say:
* The heavy-hitting carcinogens either do not appear in the vapor or are present in very tiny amounts (nicotine solution naturally contains a very small amount of nitrosamines, the same amounts present in most nicotine-bearing items including the gum, patch, inhaler, and so on).
* There is as yet no study that shows increased danger over background levels.
* Air quality tests show that the air in the chamber is as breathable as it was before vaping and violates no air quality standard in any country.
Most users conclude that we are at least 99% better off than when smoking. There is valid argument for saying that electronic cigarette users are 10,000 times (or more) better off.
Understood. I wanted to give you some background before getting to the nitty-gritty, but you can feel free to ignore the chemistry if you like. Most people don't mix their own liquids (I do, so can answer questions on this as well if you like) and have no interest in doing so.
Should I Buy One That Looks Like a Cigarette?
For some of us, the look and feel of our old cigarette "friends" is important (most friends don't try to kill you, but I felt the same way when I quit). For others, it isn't.
Many of us start out thinking it's important, then other considerations suddenly rise in importance as we leave the cigarettes behind.
There isn't a thing wrong with using a cigarette look-alike (called a cig-alike) if you so desire. Don't go overboard buying many of them, it's likely that you'll grow frustrated with them in a month or three and switch to something else.
They work. High-quality ones, like the Bloog (http://www.bloog.com/...) or the Smokeless Image Volt (http://smokelessimage.com/...), work very well. The last puff is very similar to the first. These are what's called "moderated" batteries, and prices tend to range from around $12 per battery to $15 or so.
Low quality ones, and I include every mall version in this group, are constantly annoying. The first puff is very strong, the last ones on the battery very weak. All this for $200.
Given that larger batteries are not much more expensive, if you can divorce yourself from the cigarette concept immediately that would be good. If not, most of us (as I did) started with a cig-alike and made the transfer later when we were comfortable.
Hey, Bloog and Smokeless Image Have Kits!
Yes, they do, and these can be a good choice for the inexperienced e-cigarette user. They'll send you batteries, a charger, and cartomizers.
Many other companies feature kits as well. Prices should be approximately the same as the Volt and Bloog kits, and should include similar items. If they don't, keep looking.
Once again, I have to stress that you probably don't want the mall kit. These are overpriced, underpowered, and generally not going to make you happy. There have been exceptions.
Um, What's A Cartomizer?
Another industry term I slipped in on you, that's what it is. Way back when, electronics were three-piece items (some still are). You had a battery, an atomizer (a resistor that heated the liquid) and something to hold the liquid--a cartridge.
Somebody got smart and realized you could combine the atomizer and cartridge for ease of use, and called it a cartomizer.
For realistic use, one cartomizer is approximately 3 to 5 cigarettes, but can be refilled several to many times before you either burn out the atomizer or the batting flavor becomes intolerable.
Make sure you have the cartomizers to make it through until a new order can reach you!
More experienced users tend toward wick cartomizers, cartomizer tanks, wick tanks, or the like. I'll discuss these under advanced stuff.
Yes, it's pretty easy. If using the cartomizer, which is the no-brainer delivery device of the vaping world (ha! Got you again, ex-smokers who use the electronic call themselves vapers), refilling isn't quite a snap, but it's not too bad.
You can remove the plastic cap (not the metal end) with an eyeglass screwdriver or other small device. Most of us use a blunt-needled syringe (available on most of these sites), fill the syringe with liquid, and inject around three quarters of a milliliter into the cotton batting of the cartomizer to refill it. Then put the cap back on, make sure it isn't dripping, and use it.
If it is dripping, blot it on a tissue several times. You can also blow through it a bit to remove excess liquid. When it no longer drips, use it.
When the flavor of the cartomizer is more like singed cotton than your liquid, throw it out.
Does This Taste Like My Cigarette?
No. Mouth feel is very different. Some like it, some don't. Many of those that don't have a bad flavor, and there are certainly enough bad flavors on the market (crab juice and bacon, I'm looking at the two of you--and no, I'm not kidding).
Nobody can replicate the flavor of a cigarette without adding the chemicals that hurt you. Therefore, nobody tries.
Many people who dislike or detest menthol find that menthol or mint flavors become their new favorites when switching to the electronic. Mint flavors tend to be ones that are most tolerable for all-day usage.
I strongly recommend choosing several flavors. On average, out of four flavors you'll probably dislike two. Perhaps three.
Most of us discuss "throat hit" when talking about a liquid. I personally prefer moderately strong throat hit, so use a menthol liquid with cinnamon (and a tiny touch of milk chocolate to smooth and round out the other flavors). Throat hit is, literally, how much sensation you receive in your throat when inhaling.
Minty, hot, and spicy flavors will tend to have higher throat hit. Fruity, bakery, or smooth-sounding flavors will tend to have lower throat hit. The larger the percentage of VG (again, vegetable glycerine) in the mix, the lower the throat hit.
Are The Flavors Dangerous To Inhale?
In most cases, we don't know. Many people prefer unflavored nicotine liquids (available from Wizard Labs or My Freedom Smokes).
Diacetyl is no longer used by any reputable company in flavorings as it's known to cause issues, up to and including death.
Other common flavorings, such as cinnamon, spearmint, peppermint, and menthol, have been used for decades in inhalable items and apparently cause no issues. However, we still don't know if they do cause problems when chronically inhaled--save that menthol has been used in cigarettes with no noticeable (additional) problems.
Certainly this is safer than smoking, but we certainly can't assure you that it's safe.
What's This About Nicotine Strength?
Just like a cigarette, nicotine liquids are available in many strengths. The most common ones are 6 mg/ml, 12, 18, and 24.
The relationship between the nicotine level and your original cigarette is, at best, confusing and opaque. As an example, I was a heavy smoker of ultra-light cigarettes, but ultimately found myself at 22 mg/ml (making my own, I have finer control over what I use).
My mother, a somewhat lighter smoker, did very well at 12 mg/ml.
For most people, I tend to recommend purchasing extra bottles of nicotine solution in several strengths. They keep for a period of a year, so even if you don't use it now you may use it later. Or gift it to another newly-minted ex-smoker who may be able to use it. The vast majority of those who I've helped quit smoking tended to use 18 mg/ml at first, but that varies. A lot.
You'll know if your nicotine level is too low. You'll want a cigarette. Raise your nicotine level until that goes away.
You'll know if your nicotine level is too high. You'll be a little nauseous, headachey, trembling, and in extreme cases your heart rate will rise. Lower your nicotine level immediately, and put down your electronic cigarette until you feel better.
What About Side Effects?
An important PSA: People with depression or other mental illnesses may notice that their symptoms intensify. It's very important that you see your doctor immediately if this happens! Cigarettes contain MAOIs that have been elevating your mood for years and suppressing symptoms. Your electronic cigarette does not supply these. Your medications may need adjustment, and the side effects from quitting smoking can last for many months.
Like any exposure to any chemical, there can be some! Quitting smoking also comes with a host of side effects, many of which you'll experience on the electronic.
I developed a terrible and extremely large canker sore, a known quitting side effect. A visit to my doctor resulted, and I was given an anesthetic mouth wash and the admonition to return if it didn't clear up in two weeks. Others experience cold sores, sore throat, draining sinuses, severe coughing, and so on.
My skin is producing more oil, with the side effect that the smaller lines are disappearing. I didn't go to the doctor as I personally love that side effect, I look ten years younger. The acne in my mid-forties I could do without, but again, this is a known side effect of quitting smoking and it seems to be subsiding over time.
It's important not to confuse your quitting smoking side effects with the electronic cigarette.
You can, as a small percentage of people are, be allergic to propylene glycol. This can include a rash (inside your mouth or throat), severe irritation, and an entire host of sinus and lung issues. Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect a reaction.
But I'm Just Substituting
True. Just like the patch or gum, this is a substitution of a less dangerous alternative for your smoking habit.
Some people consider their new vaping habit a hobby, much as a wine expert consumes (potentially dangerous) alcohol and other chemicals. Given what we currently know, this is a far safer alternative for them.
Others, such as myself, are using this to reduce their nicotine dependency. From my initial 22 mg/ml, I've reduced my liquid to 12 mg/ml while not using any more liquid during the day. My next step, to 10 mg/ml, will be around August first. At my present, very slow, rate, I'll be at 0 mg/ml and nicotine free around next spring.
I Have More Questions!
My hands are tired. But please feel free to ask in the comments. If I miss them, please send me mail here on DailyKOS pointing out that I'm an idiot.
Next time we'll look at screw threads...or everything you never wanted to know about the major connection types. Plus other battery styles and lifespans.
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