Electronic Cigarettes “E-cigs” 101
June 1st, 2015 by Jay Fratt
Electronic cigarettes: “E-cigs” are quickly gaining popularity as a healthier smoking alternative. A large number of users have actually quit smoking cigarettes and turned to the much cleaner and healthier option of vaping. The e-cigarette world offers hundreds of varying categories and styles, this can be a bit overwhelming for a new user. There are mainly three types; e-cigarettes, or “e-cigs”, advanced personal vaporizers (APVs), more commonly referred to as “vape pens” and “mods”(modification). I will explain the few notable differences between the three.
E-cigs: These are the little guys typically sold at gas stations for under ten bucks, that look like a cigarette. They have impressive sales numbers, but most people who quit smoking cigarettes in favor of vaping don’t use them. Nearly all of them are disposable and unable to be reused or refilled, resulting in a very expensive habit for someone who’s a heavy smoker. They come in a package with a pre-filled cartridge attached, and the liquid used tends to be very high in nicotine, but does not produce very large smoke clouds. They generally don’t last more than a couple hours due to the small battery size. However, they are a great option for someone who’s curious about the taste, feel and general effects of vaporization, but who doesn’t want to spend more than the cost of a pack of smokes. These little cheapos are great for dipping your toes in the water.
Vape pens: These are the most commonly used electronic cigarettes on the market, with several marks in their favor. A high quality full setup tends to range in cost from $25-$100 dollars. The battery and tank are easily detachable, and the small size of the battery allows you to easily carry around replacements. (Smokin J’s offers a great starter pen- battery for $13.99, tank for $5.49, and a free charger!) These styles are very customizable. There is great variety of styles of batteries and tanks. Some batteries have a power level adjustment, known as “variable voltage”. This allows you to control how strong of a hit you receive from your vape pen. And some batteries have the option to even use your vape pen while it is charging. To highlight just one of the many well thought out options that are offered. With the typical power output supplied by most of these batteries, it’s best to stick with high propylene glycol e-juices.
Picking Your Nicotine Content: So how do you know what strength of E-juice to get? Nicotine strengths usually range from 6mg-24mg. You can easily do the math for how much nicotine you are ingesting compared to a cigarette. Cigarettes typically contain between 13-23mg of nicotine per cigarette, so an average of 18mg each. Keep in mind that the smoker doesn’t absorb the full 18mg, as some goes into the air in the smoke, some gets trapped in the filter, and some is of course exhaled. So, each bottle of E-juice will say the strength on it. Now let’s say you bought an E-juice containing 12mg of nicotine. The numbers are actually a percentage by volume: 6mg is .6%, 12mg is 1.2%, 18mg is 1.8%, and 24mg is 2.4%. E-juices are often available at 0mg level which is 0 nicotine, just pure flavor—which is great if you just want a little reusable hookah pen. So if each cigarette has on average 18mg of nicotine and let’s say that the smoker ingests 12mg of nicotine, then 10 puffs off of your vape with 12mg E-juice would be roughly the equivalent to 1 cigarette.
But what about the liquid used, the E-juice? Some people are concerned about the components of the E-juice, and worry about possible health risks. The E-juice recipe is really quite simple. A quality American made juice features only 4-5 ingredients: distilled water, nicotine oil, vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol and food-grade flavorings. But how safe are these ingredients? When you switch from smoking cigarettes to vaping, is it any healthier? It turns out, it’s much better for you. E-juice has far fewer ingredients than cigarettes and does not produce the harmful carcinogens contained in cigarettes. As far as propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG) go, they seem to produce no ill effects either. The FDA actually classifies PG as safe for consumption. Let’s take a closer look.
Propylene Glycol: This is a non-toxic organic compound that unfortunately gets confused with diethylene glycol, a highly toxic substance. Diethylene glycol used to be used in antifreeze, and is responsible for the deaths of many animals, who like its’ sweet taste. It was later replaced with propylene glycol, which does the same thing (lowers the freezing point of water) but is non-toxic. It’s considered safe for consumption by the FDA, and has a variety of uses ranging from lotions, synthetic fog at concerts, food and drink, food coloring, e-juices, and even as an additive in some dog foods to preserve the moisture content. It’s also used in the medical field for IV drugs as the base liquid, the “fluid vehicle” if you will,` that carries the drug or medication. It is nearly impossible to reach toxic levels by ingesting PG, and cases of PG poisoning are almost always related to inappropriate IV administration. Long term effects do not appear to be a concern. A 1972 study featured 12 rats who were fed, over the course of 104 weeks (2 years) food containing as much as 5% PG—no ill effects were reported, leading the FDA to approve the use of PG as a food additive. It shows no evidence of being a carcinogen or genotoxic (damaging to genetic information inside a cell, causing mutations). High PG e-juice tends to be thin, so it usually works better with the tanks used on vape pens as its’ consistency allows it to soak into the wicks/coils faster. There are more flavors available in high PG, because PG being tasteless, doesn’t alter the flavor and mixes well with almost any flavoring. It tends to be sensitive to heat and burns at a lower temp, another reason why it works better with vape pens. PG also delivers more of a throat hit than VG, making it preferable for those who are trying to switch from cigarette to vape, as the throat hit is similar to that of a cigarette’s.
Vegetable Glycerin: VG is derived from vegetable oil, sometimes palm or coconut as well. Aside from E-juice, it is also used as a sweetener and in cosmetics. It tends to be thick, almost gel-like, and has a naturally sweet taste, which makes it difficult to mix with certain flavorings without altering the taste, resulting in a lower selection of flavors in high VG. It has a higher heat resistance than PG, making it the desired blend for powerful mods. High VG juice is not recommended for use in the vape pen tanks, because a thicker liquid being heated at a lower temperature tends to result in fouled coils. It has less of a throat hit than PG and creates those huge clouds that are so fun to watch swirl.
Nicotine: By itself nicotine is not harmful, although it is widely believed to be because it is an ingredient in cigarettes. It is addictive, yes, but otherwise relatively harmless. It is the additives and carcinogens in cigarettes that makes them unhealthy, not specifically the nicotine.
So all of this looks like good, solid evidence that vaping is a positive and healthier way to go. But what about all the bad things you’ve heard in the media about electronic cigarettes? What about that one study that found that toxic chemical?
That study, conducted in 2009 by the FDA, is a famous fallback argument for anti-vapers. The FDA selected, out of hundreds of other brands of E-cigs, only two brands. They selected 14 E-cigs from one brand and 4 from the other, for a total of 18 E-cigs used in the study. In one E-cig, trace amounts (less than 1%) of diethylene glycol, the compound discussed earlier concerning it’s toxicity and use in antifreeze, were found. Of course there was alarm, since this is such a dangerous chemical, but the amount found was so low that it would have no effect if it was sold and used. And diethylene glycol has only been observed to be harmful when ingested. Studies were conducted on rats over the course of several weeks where diethylene glycol was sprayed into their cages in a fine mist, forcing them to inhale it. There were absolutely no ill effects reported except for an occasional localized irritation.
However, these ailments quickly cleared up when the subject was removed from the diethylene glycol. And the FDA seems to be somewhat friendly to diethylene glycol, since it is used in cigarettes to keep them moist, albeit in a very low amount. With the amount in a cigarette, a person would have to smoke 750,000 cigarettes before inhaling a lethal dose.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find out what’s accurate in today’s world of media bombardment. Thankfully, with a little research we are able to more thoroughly examine the details and find that those who vaporize seem to be onto something when they say it is the “healthier option.”