The expense, inconvenience and hassle of traditional cigarettes is bad enough, but lay on top of that all the health problems with inhaling a thousand and one combustion products, and it’s clear why so much time and energy has gone into finding alternatives to smoking. But the solutions on the market so far have been pretty disappointing – you may get a fix of nicotine from the nicotine patches, inhalers and gum, but where is the experience? Smoking a cigarette involves a satisfying ritual, and a sensory experience that those alternatives can’t match. But now there is a real alternative that might – the electronic cigarette or e-cigarette.
If you want to know what an e-cigarette is, it’s easy – just imagine holding a real cigarette and you pretty much have the modern e cigarette. It consists of the familiar narrow tube, but now filled with a nicotine infused cartridge. It has a glowing tip that is now glowing courtesy of a red or blue LED. It has a ‘filter tip’, but that is now the mouthpiece housing the ‘atomiser’. You can smoke an e-cigarette just like a normal cigarette – simply drag on the mouthpiece, and as you inhale, a smoke-like vapour is produced. Roll it down into your lungs, and then back out again, in that familiar cloud of exhalation. Everything is very similar to smoking, as that is the intent of the design – to replicate an authentic smoking experience.
So you can hold an e-cigarette in your hand and forget that it’s not a traditional cigarette – and it will fool those around you as much as it does you. You can play with it in exactly the same fashion as you would the tobacco filled version – drooping on your lip, wafting along with your extravagant hand gestures, or stabbing down to make an authoritative and important point. That all-important language of emphasis can be resuscitated with an e-cig.
All of this achieved through the fairly nifty technology to be found in the electronic cigarette. The cartridge, sitting snugly in the tube, is filled with an inert liquid, or e-juice, which has nicotine dissolved in it. Within the mouthpiece is a pad, which holds a small amount of the e-juice, and an atomiser. This sounds dangerous, but is in fact just a heating element that quickly vaporises the e-juice in the pad. The trigger for this is your inhalation – as you drag, suction in the mouthpiece is detected, and the atomiser does its work. Hey presto – there’s the ‘smoke’; this is easily inhaled with its all-important nicotine.
The e-juice is usually made of either vegetable glycerine or propylene glycol; these harmless and widely used substances are quick to vaporise under the application of a little heat, producing a satisfyingly dense cloud. As well as nicotine, the liquid in the e- cigarette is often flavoured – tobacco flavouring being a favourite choice to bring the rich smell and taste of tobacco into the vapour. But other flavours, and even zero nicotine cartridges, can be used.
So as far as realistic substitutes go, the e-cigarette has few competitors in the world of smoking alternatives.