How it Works

Lighting a traditional cigarette causes the tobacco to burn, releasing smoke that contains nicotine. The user breathes in the smoke to deliver nicotine to the lungs. An electronic cigarette doesn’t rely on this process of combustion. Instead, it heats a nicotine liquid and converts the liquid to a vapor, or mist, that the user inhales. Depending on the e-cigarette, the user may simply inhale from the cartridge to begin the vaporization process, though some devices have a manual switch that activates the vaporizer inside.

An e-cigarette has three main parts.

Rechargeable Lithium Battery · Vaporization Chamber · Cartridge / e-Liquid Tank

The lithium battery powers the e-cigarette and can be charged using a charger similar to those used for cell phone batteries. The charged battery is connected to the vaporization chamber, a hollow tube that contains electronic controls and anatomizer – the component that creates the vapor. Before the user activates the device, he or she attaches a cartridge containing nicotine liquid to the vaporization chamber. The tip of the cartridge serves as the e-cigarette’s mouthpiece.

E-cigarette users inhale the way they would with a regular cigarette. This inhalation activates the atomizer to heat the liquid in the cartridge and convert the liquid to a vapor. Inhaling this vapor through the mouthpiece delivers nicotine to the lungs, and the user exhales vapor that looks much like a cloud of cigarette smoke. Fans of e-cigarettes say they enjoy many of the same sensations as tobacco smokers — holding the device in their hand, inhaling and exhaling.

The liquid or “smoke juice” that fills the cartridges is usually propylene glycol, an additive that the FDA has approved for use in food. (Fog machines that create a smoky atmosphere at stage shows also use propylene glycol.) Consumers can buy cartridges containing different amounts of nicotine, or no nicotine at all. Manufacturers usually add flavorings to the liquid. Options range from tobacco and menthol flavor to mint, chocolate, coffee, apple, cherry and caramel.