Vaping technically means inhaling any type of vapor. However, in today's society, it overwhelmingly refers to the practice of using electronic or e-cigarettes in addition to -or as an alternative to- traditional smoking.
How Vaping Works
Unlike a traditional cigarette, which requires the user to burn the enclosed tobacco leaves by lighting them on fire, e-cigarettes contain a liquid, which is heated by a coil, similar to using an electric stove. The liquid begins to evaporate as it gets warmer, creating a gas that is more like steam than smoke.
The e-cigarette itself consists of four parts:
- The Inhaler Cartridge - This changeable part of the cigarette attaches to the back. It contains either polyethylene glycol or vegetable glycerin along with nicotine and flavoring (menthol, lavender, cinnamon, etc.). This is the liquid that will be vaporized.
- The Vaporizing Chamber - This mid-section is where the heating occurs when the liquid is released from the inhaler cartridge. It usually contains a simple metal coil and a wick to aid in liquid absorption. This section can also be referred to as the atomizer.
- Power Source - Of course, the cigarette does need an energy source to work. This one sits right in front of the vaporizing chamber. Usually, it is a rechargeable battery. On occasion it's a plug-in, attached to a USB cable. Connected to the power source is a microprocessor - a tiny computer that tells the cigarette how to function.
- LED Light - Located at the tip of the cigarette, this light (often blue) tells the user when the cigarette is operating. It also provides the illusion of the cigarette being "lit."
Sometimes the inhaler cartridge and vaporizing chamber are one piece. It depends on the brand and type of cigarette.
When a smoker attaches the inhaler cartridge to the vaporizing chamber, the liquid is absorbed into its reservoir through capillary action. Essentially, it diffuses into the center of the cigarette. Nothing else happens until the user puts the cigarette to his or her lips and inhales. This inhaling action activates the microprocessor, which tells the battery to begin heating the coil.
When it's warm enough, the vapor forms. Part is inhaled, and the rest is released through the tip of the cigarette. As soon as the user stops sucking on the cigarette, it will cease to heat the liquid. Only liquid that was already vaporized will continue to be released.
Vaping Versus Smoking
Vaping and smoking are two completely different chemical processes. Smoking depends on combustion, or converting a solid to a gas through burning. In contrast, vaping is converting a liquid to a gas.
Because e-cigarettes do not produce smoke, they are currently allowed in many places that traditional cigarettes are not permitted. This is one of the major reasons that people choose to vape - for the comfort and safety of those around them.
Other popular reasons include:
- Perceived health benefits - E-cigarettes do not contain tar and the user does not inhale smoke. This leads many to believe that vaping is less harmful - although long-term health effects are unknown, due to the newness of the product.
- Flavor variety - Traditional cigarettes do not come in a huge variety of flavors. Cartridges for e-cigarettes have a much greater variety.
- Quitting mechanism - Since the amount of nicotine can vary depending on which cartridge you use, some smokers use e-cigarettes as a method to gradually taper down the amount to help lessen and eventually eliminate their addiction. It's similar to how they use nicotine gum.
- Modernity - Some simply want to have the latest and greatest smoking device, just as the want the newest cell phone. They could see the act of vaping as a status symbol.
A Word of Caution
It's important not to think of vaping as a safe alternative to smoking. The jury is still out on the health effects of the practice. According to the Washington Post, as of March 2014 e-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA. This means there are no rules governing what chemicals are allowed to be in them. Also, most contain nicotine, which is the key ingredient that makes cigarettes so addictive - and don't forget that it is a stimulant.