As electronic cigarettes become a familiar sight many business owners, bar staff and waiters are finding themselves faced with a sticky question – should they allow these new devices or not? It’s understandable that they’re worried about it, and natural that they’ll look for advice on what to do. Unfortunately not all the advice they’re getting is very good.
The reason smoking is banned in enclosed public spaces is that smoke – whether it’s exhaled or “sidestream” smoke that comes off cigarettes between puffs – contains several hundred toxic or carcinogenic chemicals and it’s known to pose a health risk. It now seems that some of the risks of secondhand smoke, such as lung cancer, are a lot lower than many people thought. There are still dangers though, so it’s reasonable to minimise exposure. But does the same apply to e-cigarettes?
It’s common to hear anti-nicotine activists insisting that “We don’t know what’s in e-cigs.” It’s more accurate to say that they might not know what’s in them, but the users – and more importantly the scientists – certainly do. In fact there have been over 900 scientific studies into the contents and effects of exhaled e-cigarette vapour, and the results are overwhelmingly reassuring. Yes, there are some substances in the vapour that can be toxic at high levels, but there’s nowhere near enough of them to actually do any harm. Medical experts know that “the dose makes the poison,” and no matter how toxic something might be there’s a level below which it’s safe. Everything in vapour is far below that level – usually less than 1% of it.
Obviously it’s up to property owners if they want to allow vaping; it’s their property, after all. But whatever they decide that decision shouldn’t be based on misleading evidence. It would be a shame if people who’ve managed to switch from tobacco are forced back out into the smoking area to inhale secondhand smoke – especially if it’s done with the excuse of protecting health.
Spend any time talking to experienced vapers and you’ll soon hear them talking about “mods”. No, this has nothing to do with parkas and Lambrettas; they’re talking about those big, elaborate devices they’re vaping with. Mod is short for “modified”, and it goes back to not long after electronic cigarettes first hit the British and American markets.
The first electronic cigarettes went on sale in around 2005, and they were very simple devices. All that was available were earlier versions of the small “cigalike” type, and while they worked well enough many users weren’t satisfied with the performance. They started looking for something better, and when they realised there wasn’t anything available some of them decided to create their own.
All those early e-cigs were made in China, but the enthusiasts turned to another Chinese product for a solution. The problems with the e-cigarettes boiled down to two: They didn’t have much battery life and the power they put out was too low. The answer was to modify the LED pocket torches that China was beginning to export in large numbers. These held powerful, rechargeable lithium ion batteries, they already had a power outlet at one end that could be easily modified and they looked good. People started replacing the LED units with screw-in connectors for a cartomiser and mods were born.
It wasn’t long before other ideas were tried out; batteries and switches were fitted into small boxes, rebuilt pipes and hookahs, empty shell casings and elaborate home-made housings. Seeing the enthusiasm one British vaper set up a company to sell a purpose-built mod, the Screwdriver, based on a torch design (which is still available in an improved version). Now there are thousands to choose from, but while they’re designed and built from the start as e-cigarettes they’re still called mods.
Electronic cigarettes are still relatively new, but people are slowly getting used to the sight of these unusual devices where they used to see cigarettes. That doesn’t always mean they understand them though and one of the things that creates a lot of misunderstandings is the liquid that’s vaporised with every puff. Unfortunately sloppy press reporting doesn’t do a lot to help. When daily newspapers are talking about “concentrated nicotine” it’s hardly a surprise that people get worried about risks that aren’t really there.
Most e-liquid does contain nicotine, but it’s hardly concentrated. The strongest liquid most shops sell is 24mg per ml; that means it’s only 2.4% nicotine. While it’s true that a few drops of pure nicotine could seriously poison someone you’d have to drink quite a lot of e-liquid to get the same effect (and while the vapour tastes great the liquid itself tastes disgusting, so there’s not much chance of that happening).
Next there’s the flavouring. The flavour concentrates used in e-liquid are all food-grade, but in fact they’re more selective than that. Many food flavours use an oil base and while that isn’t toxic it’s not a great idea to inhale the vapour, so e-liquids only use flavours based on propylene glycol.
Propylene glycol is also the major ingredient of most liquid. It’s a thick fluid that’s been approved for food and medicine use in the UK for decades, and it’s found in most medicines and processed foods. It’s even used as a carrier fluid in asthma inhalers. Often it’s mixed with vegetable glycerine, which gives a thicker-feeling vapour. This is also licensed for medicinal use.
There are a few opportunist liquid sellers who’ll call it an “oil” or just “nicotine”. It isn’t; it’s actually very close to what you get from a Nicorette Quikmist spray, although it has less added chemicals. If anyone tells you it’s highly toxic don’t worry – it isn’t!
Most vapers buy either prefilled cartridges or bottles of liquid, usually from a local specialist shop or online. It’s easy and relatively cheap – certainly compared to smoking – and there’s a huge choice available. If you buy from a major vendor quality is very high, too. However if you look on vaping forums or attend any form of meeting you’ll quickly find that many people are mixing their own liquid.
There are various reasons for home mixing. Some people prefer a different blend of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine to the ones available in premixed liquids. Others want a milder or stronger flavour. A few don’t trust commercial liquid, although they should probably relax – what’s produced in a reputable company’s clean room is at least as safe as anything you can make in your kitchen. It doesn’t matter why you want to do it though, because it’s surprisingly easy and very cheap.
Mixing your own doesn’t involve any sophisticated chemical equipment. All you need is something to measure liquids with – a large syringe is very precise, and a standard laboratory measuring cylinder is also good (and easily found on ebay), a pair of nitrile gloves and some suitable bottles. Just make sure it’s all clean, then line up your ingredients and get started.
The most important ingredient is nicotine base. This can be found online in various strengths, up to 72mg per ml. That’s far too strong to vape but it’s easily diluted. Just go to your local chemist and buy pharmaceutical grade (BP) propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine.
Flavourings are important, and it’s vital to get one that’s designed to be vaped. Many mixers are tempted to try food flavourings from the local supermarket or catering supplier. Don’t! You need flavours with a propylene glycol base, and food flavours often contain oil. That’s potentially unhealthy if vaped, so stick to specialist suppliers.
The last thing you need is a way to calculate the proportions of ingredients you need, and that’s easy – there are plenty of good calculators online, like this one. Just measure everything out, mix it in a glass bottle and store it in a dark place for two weeks and you’ll have your own custom liquid to enjoy.
If you’ve recently bought an e-cigarettes starter kit there’s a very good chance it’s based around an eGo-type battery. Originally designed by Chinese manufacturer JoyeTech as part of their tank-based devices these neat units have now become one of the industry standards. Their simplicity makes them an ideal choice for new vapers and they’re also popular among more experienced users – even if you use an advanced device at home it’s great to have something compact when you’re at work or in the pub.
The eGo has a built-in lithium ion battery and a manual switch, which can be switched on or off with five rapid presses. The built-in electronics package has a safety cut-off that prevents it firing for more than ten seconds – so if you forget to switch it off it won’t burn a hole in your pocket – and there’s also a voltage regulator that delivers a steady current to the connector.
It’s the connector that makes the eGo so versatile. As well as the standard 510 connector, used by almost all cartomisers and atomisers, it also has external threading. This was originally designed for the eGo tank system but many manufacturers have adopted it for clearomisers. The popular CE4 and eGo designs use this threading, among others.
The original JoyeTech eGo had a 650mAh battery, but JoyeTech and others have now produced a range of capacities from tiny 350mAh models to large 1,100 and 1,300mAh versions. Most of them deliver a constant 3.7V or 3.8V of current but there are variable voltage ones like the JoyeTech Twist that can be adjusted with a small dial on the base to anywhere between 3.2V and 4.8V, allowing you to set the power to suit your favourite liquid.
There’s now an almost endless choice of eGo-style batteries, and although the tank system they were designed for has almost vanished the batteries themselves are as popular as ever. That’s because there’s an eGo to suit everyone.