What is vaping and how does it work?

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It's obvious vaping has become pretty popular these days. However there are still people out there who are not sure what the term means or easily confuse it with something else. By reading our full guide on e-cigarettes, mods, e-liquids, and vaping in general, you will find answers to some of the most popular questions we get.

The definition of vaping

Vaping is the process of inhaling vapor from an e-cigarette or mod but it also describes inhaling the volatile compounds released by dry herbs or extracts when heated up inside a vaporizer. In the case of e-cigarettes and mods, a substance called e-liquid is vaporized inside the atomizer to produce a nicotine infused mist. It's similar to puffing out of a tobacco cigarette but without the smoke, tar or ash, which are the main hazardous byproducts associated with smoking.

In the case of dry herb vaporizers the material is placed inside the heating chamber. This heats it up by conduction or convection to a specific temperature which helps the oils inside become volatile. The process doesn't involve any combustion and generally accounts for much better flavor than with smoking the loose leaf mixture.

The most asked questions about Vaping - Quick FAQ

Before diving deeper into what vaping is actually all about, let's dive into some of the most asked questions about vaping. From common vaporizer safety to questions about the relatively new Nicotine Salts.

Should we be concerned about vaping and e-cigs?

Vaping is relatively new and therefore there aren't any conclusive scientific or medical studies on its long term effects. It has been referred to as 95% safer than smoking by some scientists, however it's still soon to tell.

Since vaping doesn't involve combustion it's safe to assume it doesn't produce the same toxic chemicals as smoking. As a matter of fact e-liquid, the substance that gets vaporized with electronic cigarettes, is made out of only four ingredients: vegetable glycerin or glycerol, propylene glycol, nicotine and food grade flavorings. All these substances are generally regarded as safe and used in many other industries.

Apart from allergies and isolated sensitivities to certain components, the most common side effect of vaping is dehydration. But as long as you drink plenty of fluids there's nothing to worry about.

Can you get high from vaping?

Since e-liquids generally contain nicotine and nicotine is considered a stimulant, it has the same effect as smoking cigarettes. Also referred to as nicotine buzz, the high people feel includes calmness, pleasurable sensations, euphoria, relaxation and increased focus and energy. This buzz usually lasts from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.

When talking about dry herb vaporizers and THC containing materials, then the effect is different. This type of vaping can get you high and it is legal only in a couple of states. Of course you can also use tobacco, mint, lavender or other loose leaf mixtures in your vaporizer that deliver a calming sensation without the buzz.

Can you become addicted from vaping?

Nicotine is considered one of the most addictive substances and the main reason why smokers have such a hard time quitting. And while in the case of vaping it's not accompanied by the same cocktail of chemicals as in tobacco smoke, nicotine is still highly addictive.

If you are not a smoker there is absolutely no reason to try vaping. There are some studies which show nicotine in low concentrations has the same effects as caffeine, however the risks of getting hooked up on the substance are pretty high.

How about nicotine-free juices - are they bad?

Vaping without nicotine is generally used to help people with their oral fixation from smoking. But even without nicotine, vaping still means you will be inhaling a couple of substances which are not usually found in the air. And while these are considered to pose no harm to humans their long term effects are still unknown. Most studies indicate they are still a lot safer than smoking however we do not recommend non-smokers to take on vaping.

The biggest unknown is flavor. The natural and artificial substances used as flavorings in most e-liquids are the same ones used in the food and drinks industries. However, this means they are intended to be ingested and not inhaled. Some e-liquids can also contain traces of Diacetyl, Acetyl Propionyl, and Acetoin. These have been associated with certain illnesses, however the concentrations in vape products are far below those found in regular tobacco cigarettes.

amount of vapers infographic

Taking you back in time, vaporizers than and now

Vaping has been around in various forms since ancient times. Herodotus, often referred to as the “Father of History” described an ancient practice enjoyed by the Scythians. They would take hemp seed and throw it on red hot stones in order to vaporize the oils and inhale the resulting mist.

Irfan Sahaikh

Then, almost 1500 years ago in the court of Mogul Irfan Shaikh an Indian physician invented the hookah. Also known as a water pipe or shisha, this is the first ever vaporizer to see the light of day.

Joseph Robinson

The first person to come up with an idea for a small and portable nicotine vaporizer was Joseph Robinson. He filed a patent back in 1927 for a Butane ignition vaporizer that was approved and published by the USPTO. In 1960 Korean war veteran Herbert A. Gilbert had an idea and patented a device that looks very similar to the vape pens we see today. He realized that smoke was responsible for all the nasty side effects of tobacco cigarettes and used logic to create a smoking alternative.

Hon Lik

However it was Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik who finally got the electronic cigarette mass produced. The idea came to him in a dream and in 2006 he released it to the international public. It slowly caught on in the early 2000s, however it started becoming a global phenomenon in 2013. Nowadays there are an estimate of around 21 million vapers world-wide with the market constantly expanding.

The anatomy of a Vape - How do vapes work?

Electronic cigarette and personal vaporizers come in a variety of shapes and sizes and they fall in two main categories: e-liquid devices and dry herb or oils devices. We will explain in the following paragraphs how it works

E-liquid vapes

E-liquid vapes usually consist of three main elements: a battery, an atomizer and a reservoir for the nicotine infused juice. Each time the user presses the button, current from the battery heats up a coil inside the atomizer and vaporizes the e-liquid. An atomizer consists of one or multiple coils surrounded by a layer of wicking material, usually organic cotton. The wick is also connected to the e-liquid reservoir to ensure a steady flow of juice to the coil.

Dry herb or oil vapes

Dry herb vaporizers are different and they work in a much different way. They consist of a battery and a chamber that acts as the oven. Surrounding the chamber there is a coil that heats up each time the user activates the device. This heat makes the oils inside the dry herb material volatile and easy to be inhaled. Depending on how the heat is transferred inside the chamber we can have conduction vaporizers or convection vaporizers. Conduction is when the material is heated up by direct contact and convection is when the material is vaporized with hot air.

How it works

The types of personal vaporizers

Disposable E-cigs

The most basic devices in this category are called disposables. These look exactly like tobacco cigarettes and they have a built in battery and e-liquid cartridge. They are intended to be disposed once the battery runs out and they rank pretty low on vapor and flavor.


Next in line we have the cig-a-like starter kits. These are similar in shape to disposables however they have rechargeable batteries and swappable e-liquid cartridges. They are easy to use, don't require any extra sets of skills and they are perfect for beginners.

Pod style vaporizers

Pod style vaporizers are relatively new to the market but they are a massive improvement over cig-a-likes. These rechargeable devices are ultra-portable and they work with pre-filled pods. They usually have a higher nicotine content and deliver superior flavor and vapor.

Vape pens

Vape pens are the most versatile and they come with bigger batteries and separate tanks. These devices are usually to help users transition from cig-a-likes to something more powerful and some even have sub ohm coils for extra puffy clouds and amazing flavor. These are recommended for beginners as well as intermediate vapers. They work with e-liquid and they require refills and coil replacements every once in a while.

Box mods

Last but not least we have the mods, which can be either electronic or mechanical. Electronic box mods are very popular due to their output power, features and versatility. They require separate tanks or atomizers and work with internal or removable batteries. With the help of an internal board they regulate power and ensure a consistent vape every single time. These devices have variable wattage, temperature control and various protections and fuses.

Mechanical mods

Mechanical mods or unregulated mods are devices which don't have any circuits inside. They also work with replaceable batteries and they require separate atomizers or tanks. Most of the times mechanical mods are coupled with rebuildable dripping atomizers and they are used by cloud chasing enthusiast. At the same time they don't have any protections and are not recommend for beginners or intermediate vapers.

Dry herb vapes

Dry herb vaporizers are only intended to be used with ground plant material. These are usually portable and come with built-in batteries. They last between 4 – 10 sessions and they can have pre-set of adjustable temperature settings. Wax, oils and concentrates vaporizers look similar to dry herb devices, however they come with smaller chambers and different types of heating elements.

Multipurpose vaporizers

Multipurpose vaporizers can be used with e-liquids, dry herbs and even waxes or concentrates. These devices usually have interchangeable atomizers and their operating mode changes depending on what is inserted. They are highly versatile and portable.

types of vapes

What is inside e-liquids?

E-juices or e-liquids are usually made of a handful of ingredients. Any e-liquid consists of a base, flavorings and nicotine. The base is either a combination of the two components vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol or it consists of just one of the substances.

Glycerol or Vegetable Glycerin

Vegetable Glycerin - also known as glycerol - is a clear, odorless liquid extracted from different plants like coconut, palm or soy. It acts as a dilutant and it’s responsible with vapor production. The higher the concentration of VG the more vapor produced by the ecig.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol synthetic organic compound in the form of a colorless, almost odorless liquid with a faintly sweet taste. It is responsible for flavor and throat hit and also acts as an antiseptic for the whole solution.


Nicotine is a chemical compound that is present in certain plants like tobacco. It comes in the form of an oily liquid that’s miscible in VG and PG. It is responsible for the high people feel when smoking or vaping. The usual amounts of nicotine found in e-liquids are 0mg, 3mg, 6mg, 9mg, 12mg, 18mg, and 24mg.

Nicotine Salts

Besides regular or “freebase” nicotine e-liquids there are also nicotine salts e-liquids. Nic salts have higher nicotine concentrations and they have a milder throat hit. These are usually used in pod ecigs and low output vaporizers and focus more on nicotine satisfaction rather than vapor production.


Flavorings are the final component of any e-liquid and their concentration ranges from 5 - 25%. Flavorings can be natural or artificial and they are the same as those used in the food and drinks industry.

E-juice properties explained

The ratio between the VG and PG concentrations is what typically defines the properties of an e-liquid. Juices with high PG concentrations are thinner, have a stronger throat hit and are intended to be used with low output, mouth to lung vaporizers. Juices with high VG concentrations are thinner, have a milder throat hit and are intended to be used with high output direct lung vaporizers such as box mods and sub ohm tanks.

The 70/30 VG/PG is considered the most versatile base ratio since it works great on both mouth to lung and direct lung vapes. It’s thin enough to wick even in coils with tiny juice flow holes and it’s thick enough not to cause leaks.

Vegetable Glycerin is influenced by temperature. This gets thinner when it’s hot outside and thicker when the weather is cold. Vaping on high VG e-liquids on colder days can cause constant dry hits and premature coil damage.

what e-liquid is made of infographic

Is vaping expensive? What are the costs involved?

Compared to a pack-a-day smoker who spends between $2200 - $2500 a year on cigarettes and lighters, vapers can go by on a much tighter budget. In fact, vaping is usually as expensive as you make it and there are always cheaper alternatives if you ever find yourself in financial difficulties.

While a passionate vaper could spend around $300 on the newest gear and high end e-liquids, a regular ecig user spends around $70. Setting aside the initial cost of a starter kit, which ranges between $30 - $85, the only recurring vaping expenses are e-liquid and coils.

If you build your own coils and mix your own e-liquids the overall cost can get even lower than this. Also monthly subscriptions for e-liquids or pods are cheaper on the long run and they often come with free shipping and various other discounts. Many companies offer these types of services and it’s a great way of cutting down the costs even further.

Where to buy your vaporizer

There are several ways to buy a vaporizer. You can look for a smoke shop near you or find one of those vape kiosks inside malls. The other option is to look for your device online. There are a lot of great online vape shops with great updated collections of devices and liquids. To get a better understanding and to lead you into the right direction, we describe these vape acquisition points in more detail.

Smoke shops & vape stores

This is probably your best option when you're a beginning vaper. The better vape shops have trained personnel that help you making the right decision on the spot. When deciding which vape shop you're going to, please keep into consideration that there are a lot of re-seller vapes out there. These get sold way cheaper that its original. Always look what brands the vape store sells. Most big vape brands keep a close eye on the shops selling their devices.

Vape Kiosks

These fold out pop up vape shops are literally everywhere. There is a chance that you will find a regular quality vape here. Usually outdated and overpriced. The problem with Kiosks is their ridiculous rental rates. The guys selling vapes there try to get as much return on their investment as possible. We are quite sure there are some great high quality vape kiosks out there. We haven't found one yet. Let us know if you do.

Online Vape shops

If you know what to get than this is your best option. Big shops keep an updated stock of the latest vape brands. This is their core business that's why they want you to find the best vaporizer on the market. The other great thing about these shops is their price transparency. When 1 shop lowers their price the other one is almost obliged to go along.

E-cig and Vaporizer Guide websites

Just like ecigguide.com there are more vaping sites that do in depth reviews on vape devices. We believe that this is your best solution to find a vape or e-juice you're looking for. Being the only source that is independent from vape brands you can expect nothing but unbiased reviews. The other advantage about these sites is their alternative device or liquid suggestions. This is information you will not find elsewhere.

Posted by Dave Allan

dave profile pic
Former pack-a-day smoker, I discovered electronic cigarettes back in 2011. Since then vaping has slowly turned into my hobby and my full time job. I’ve tested hundreds of e-cigarettes and mods across the years and constantly used my knowledge and experience to help others make the switch. I’m passionate about technology, I enjoy reading and I love big flavorful clouds.


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