The idea of vaping might seem a little funny to you if you have never been a smoker. For smokers, though, vaping is nothing short of a revolution. Never before has any technology allowed tens of millions of people around the world to quit smoking so painlessly and easily, thus making major improvements to the health of millions of nicotine users everywhere.
Whether you’re a smoker, a vaper or not a nicotine user at all, one thing that you may not have thought about much in the past is the actual technology that makes vaping devices work. Vaping isn’t the first attempt to create a safer cigarette. In fact, there have been previous attempts to give people a way to inhale their nicotine without the combustion of traditional cigarettes. Until relatively recently, though, technology hadn’t advanced quite far enough to catch up with inventors’ aspirations.
That all changed when the first modern e-cigarette appeared a little over a decade ago, and vaping technology has continued to advance by leaps and bounds since then. Whether you’re getting ready to buy a new device from a vape shop like Vape Juice or simply are happy that a friend or family member has successfully quit smoking by switching to vaping, it’s worthwhile to pause and appreciate the technical marvels that e-cigarettes are.
This is how vaping technology works.
The biggest reason why vaping technology took as long to arrive as it did is because battery technology wasn’t ready yet. Our portable devices have used rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for so long that it’s sometimes difficult to remember a time when we used disposable alkaline batteries for almost everything – flashlights, portable game consoles, music players, cameras – and nothing ever seemed to last. With the extreme demands that a vaping device places on its battery, the e-cigarette simply couldn’t have been possible until lithium-ion batteries appeared on the market and became affordable enough to use in consumer devices.
The Vaping Device
The device is essentially the “brain” of a vaping setup. From the smallest pod- and cartridge-based e-cigarettes to the largest and most powerful box mods, every vaping device on the market – with the exception of mechanical devices that have no electronic components – has an integrated circuit that controls the delivery of power from the battery to the atomizer coil. The integrated circuit has built-in firmware the controls the operation of the vaping device, allowing the device to output the correct level of power, to manage the battery and to detect safety issues like overheating and short circuits. Today’s user expects his or her vaping device to produce huge, flavorful clouds at the push of a button – and to do so completely safely. That’s only possible because of the hard work of the engineers who have developed the integrated circuits and firmware for today’s vaping devices.
Whether you’re using a full-sized vape mod, a vape pen or a pod-based system, your vaping device stores its e-liquid in a tank. A vape tank is essentially a self-contained unit that’s responsible for holding the e-liquid without leaking and allowing the e-liquid to flow to the atomizer coil, which vaporizes it. Most vape tanks provide a means for easy refilling, although some e-cigarette companies sell their e-liquid in pre-filled pods that aren’t designed for refilling. The most important parts of the vape tank are the wick and atomizer coil, but the tank itself is a marvel of technology because it allows air to enter – and allows vapor to leave – without leaking.
In a vape tank, the wick is essentially the gatekeeper that regulates the flow of e-liquid from the tank’s reservoir to the atomizer coil. During vaping, the e-liquid held in the tank’s wick boils away, leaving the wick dry. The wick then absorbs more e-liquid from the tank’s reservoir, leaving the tank ready to be used again. The wick is an important piece of vaping technology because a wick that doesn’t absorb e-liquid efficiently will be dry when the user attempts to vape, leading to a harsh “dry hit.” A wick that’s too efficient, on the other hand, will cause the tank to leak.
The primary way in which some vaping wicks differ from others is in the materials they use. The most common material for wicks in larger vaping tanks is cotton, which transports liquid fairly efficiently and produces a clean flavor. Some other popular materials for vaping wicks include silica, ceramic and alternative natural fibers such as hemp and flax.
The Atomizer Coil
The atomizer coil is the component in the center of a vape tank. It is the component that vaporizes the e-liquid in the tank, and it is the component primarily responsible for the volume of vapor the device produces per puff. The larger and more efficient the atomizer coil is, the more vapor it’ll produce, and the higher its operational wattage will be. The most common material for heating wires in vaping devices is kanthal, an alloy that produces heat – but does not change greatly in electrical resistance – when power flows through it. Kanthal is a popular material for use in heating elements for appliances such as toaster ovens.
In a traditional atomizer coil, the heating element is a wire that’s twisted into a coil shape, like a spring. However, manufacturers of vaping products have recently begun to experiment with other coil designs. The most notable of those experiments is the mesh coil, which replaces the traditional coiled wire with a strip of mesh for greater surface area and higher efficiency.
The final piece of technology that makes vaping possible is the e-liquid, which is a liquid solution usually consisting of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine and flavors. The propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin are there to dilute the nicotine and flavors, both of which are extremely strong in their undiluted forms. Those liquids also comprise the bulk of the clouds that the user inhales and exhales when vaping.
The fact that e-liquid exists would be a major technical accomplishment on its own. The real magic in e-liquid, though, comes from the flavor. Using food-grade flavorings in various combinations and ratios, e-liquid companies can create vape juices that taste like almost any dessert, snack, beverage or candy on the market. The fact that e-liquid can taste so good is one of the major factors that has helped tens of millions of people switch from smoking to vaping.