A Safer Alternative – the Basics of Vaping (Part 1)
Many of us are already aware of the trend of e-cigarettes and vaporizers. I myself am a “vaper” and I credit it with my ability to stay away from inhaling combustible material into my lungs.
I introduced my Rabbi, my mother, and several friends to vaping, most of whom were 1-2 pack a day cigarette smokers.
I have heard similar stories from countless numbers of people I’ve talked to online, as well as from just hanging around my favorite “vape” shop, the Columbus Vapor Connection.
So, with my knowledge, I have decided to write some articles detailing vaping and some of the regulatory issues that are currently facing this obviously great way to reduce the harm from those currently smoking.
A few years ago, under the Obama administration, there were crippling regulations introduced (I will go into the specifics of these regulations later on in this series of articles) and again, recently, the FDA has made a move to reduce the amount of nicotine in tobacco cigarettes.
We have known for a long time now (through scientific study) that nicotine is not really the dangerous part of smoking cigarettes; it is merely one of several components which keep you addicted to smoking. The real danger lies in the actual combustion of tobacco.
The British National Health Service conducted a study proving that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than smoking. I myself am an asthmatic, but I vape all the time and I can definitely confirm it’s far easier on your lungs.
In fact, in “Peering Through the Mist,” by the Drexel University School of Public Health, there was a study that performed more than 9000 observations of electronic cigarettes and concluded that, “there was no evidence of potential exposure of e-cigarette users to contaminants that are associated with risk to health.”
“How is this possible” you might ask? Well, there are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes which, when burned, create more than 7,000 chemicals, 69 of which are known cancer causing compounds.
In comparison, vaporizers and e-cigarettes contain 4 ingredients in their e-liquid or e-juice:
- Vegetable Glycerin (VG): Used in many foods and drinks. Higher VG allows for thicker and larger clouds of vapor.
- Propylene Glycol (PG): Used in many foods and drinks, and even my own asthma medication. This is used to thin the VG as well as to add a better flavor, and produce a better “throat hit” which tobacco user’s desire.
- Nicotine (Optional): Used to help satiate the nicotine addiction from cigarette smokers. What is unique though in vaping is that the user can control the dosage of nicotine they desire (from I have seen it can be as high as 36mg/ml to 0mg/ml).
- Flavoring liquid: Ingredients here vary from each manufacturer of flavorings as well as the flavors themselves. But these are the same flavor liquids used in many different foods and drinks.
Most e-liquids, used to fill vaporizers and e-cigarettes, are mixed in a ratio designated as the VG/PG ratio. Most e-liquids are found in 50/50, 60/40, 70/30, and 80/20 ratios with 3mg/ml Nicotine increments; though some manufacturers can have different ratios and Nicotine increments.
Some people may respond to us who vape and say, “Why not just quit completely as that’s 100% safer.”
While that is true, not everyone can completely quit. My Rabbi and I vape with 0mg/ml Nicotine, but we need to satiate our oral fixation.
It’s a form of harm reduction, no different than how condoms reduce the chances of pregnancy and STI’s by 82-98%. We know abstinence is the only way to prevent it 100% of the time, but is everyone going to just stop having sex?
One thing we in the vaping community will always say is that if you currently do not smoke, do not start vaping.
Vaping is to help smokers quit smoking. There are a good number of people I know who eventually kicked the nicotine addiction altogether, after a period of time, and eventually stopped vaping.
This observation is corroborated by a survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health. Many people tried all forms of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and were unsuccessful in attempting to kick the habit until vaping.
E-cigarettes and vaporizers are only about as addictive or even less than nicotine gums, which are not all that addictive.
Some advocates against e-cigarettes will point to toxic chemicals in the e-liquid. Cadmium, lead and nickel have all been detected, but in trace levels only, comparable with levels in Nicorette inhalers.
The formaldehyde levels found in the NEJM study were based on a severely flawed process of testing. Even the authors of that study have distanced themselves from media and public health interpretations, made to mislead you.
One other concern of many those not familiar with vaping is the concern over exploding products.
I will guarantee you that ninety-nine of every one-hundred incidents involving a vaporizer catching on fire is due to user error with a more advanced device.
I, and other avid vapers, will almost guarantee that, whenever an explosion or fire occurs with a vaporizer, it is because the operator did not follow proper battery safety steps. To understand this we have to understand the anatomy of a vaporizer.
- Device: There are a large variety of devices available with many different features. Some are modifiable and some are not. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. All of them serve a simple purpose, which is to hold the batteries, take power from the batteries and transmit that power to the atomizer and subsequently the coils.
- Battery: This is the most important part of the device. Some devices have a non-replaceable internal battery. However, a large number of devices have replaceable, high-drain batteries. Ones with a replaceable battery will always have a Lithium-Ion cell battery, just like a cell phone or laptop. Vaporizers usually use the 18650 size; however 20700 and 26650 sizes can be used in some devices.
- Atomizer: This is a heat resistant part which contains one or more resistance wire(s) and its wick(s) most often with a reservoir of some kind to hold e-liquid. There are many different kinds of atomizers; atomized cartridges (obsolete), Cartomizers, Clearomizers, Rebuildable Tank Atomizers (RTA), Rebuildable Dripping Atomizers (RDA), and Rebuildable Dripping Tank Atomizers (RDTA).
- Coil(s): This is a piece of resistance wire that is coiled to look like a spring. The resistance determines the amount of electricity that will flow and the amount of heat it will produce. These can be made of kanthal, nichrome, nickel, titanium, stainless steel, and ceramic.
- Wicks: These are made from various kinds of materials depending on the manufacturer. For pre-built coils, or the users choice in a rebuildable atomizer. The materials can be cotton, twisted silica cord, ekowool, hemp, ceramic, stainless steel mesh, and cellucotton. The wicks act as a way for the e-liquid to transfer from the tank or well to the coils.
Battery explosions or fires usually have to do with vaporizers that use a mechanical “mod.”
“Mod” is short for modified or modifiable. When it comes to vaping devices you have two kinds of mods
- Power-regulated mods, which are also known as variable wattage/voltage mods, or more commonly known as just regulated mods.
- Mechanical Mods, also known as “mechs” which are an unregulated mod.
The difference between the two is rather simple. Regulated mods contain an electronic chip between the battery and the coil, which varies the voltage, wattage or the coil whilst vaping, via a button or dial. Some regulated mods allow direct control of the temperature via voltage regulation on the chip.
Regulated mods quite often contain a LCD screen to display useful information such as voltage, power and resistance. Regulated mods also contain various safety features for fire prevention and battery protection.
Mechanical mods in comparison are extremely simple; you press a firing pin which allows the atomizer to subsequently heat up the coils and vaporize the juice.
Since there is no circuitry they are extremely simple, reliable and durable, but also lack any safety features.
Mechanical mods rely on the user to understand Ohm’s Law when picking their coils (so they don’t use coils that have too little resistance) as well as pick a battery capable of handling the load. This is because different coils will have different amounts of resistance and different batteries are capable of handling different loads.
Unlike regulated mods, a mechanical mod will send all the power it can from the battery to the coils, much like putting the gas pedal to the floor in a car.
Specific to keeping your batteries safe, there are some things to consider:
- Never overcharge or over-discharge: Use a quality battery charger to combat this issue. I personally use a Nitecore D4 charger which ensures there is no overcharging. It safely charges the batteries at a slower rate so it does not stress the battery
- Never short circuit a battery: Shorting a battery can burn out the battery, damage your mod and even blow up in your face. This is the number one cause of battery explosions and can be avoided by following safety precautions. Short circuits happen when the voltage from a battery is discharged through a low resistance wire at a discharge rate that exceeds the battery’s upper amp limit. Short circuiting a battery is very close to what a mechanical mod with a sub-ohm coil is doing, except you are trying to keep the resistance under the upper amp limit of the battery.
- Never use a battery with insulation that is cut, torn, or nicked: This goes along with shorting. The top of the battery is the positive contact, and there is an insulator ring at the top as well as the wrap. The top is the only part that is positive, the rest of the battery is actually negative and by exposing the bare metal of the battery you leave it at risk of being shorted. If this occurs you should either rewrap the battery (with shrink wrap or pre-cut battery wraps) or replace the battery.
- Never let your batteries touch each other or other metallic items: Keeping batteries loose in your pocket is a big no-no. Always store them in a case and then put them in your pocket.
All in all, vaping is a safer alternative to cigarettes as long as you observe common sense safety. If you do, then you should be perfectly safe when using vaporizers and e-cigarettes.
(There will be more to come in my series on the vape industry.)
- “FDA aims to lower nicotine in cigarettes to get smokers to quit” (28 July 2017)
- “E-cigarettes ‘95% less harmful than smoking’ says report” (19 August 2015)
- “Peering through the Mist” (9 January 2014)
- “What’s in a Cigarette”
- “Tobacco Use in Minnesota” (January 2015)
- “Dependence levels in users of electronic cigarettes, nicotine gums and tobacco cigarettes” (18 December 2014)
- “A fresh look at tobacco harm reduction: the case for the electronic cigarette” (4 October 2013)
- “Verified: formaldehyde levels found in the NEJM study were associated with dry puff conditions. An update” (4 February 2015)