Beginners Guide to Electronic Cigarettes

The use of electronic cigarettes (known as e-smoking, or vaping,) is an alternative to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes or hookah. Instead of being lit, an electronic cigarette vaporizes a solution of water, nicotine & flavoring. There’s no smoke, no combustion. Even better, you can often use them in traditionally non-smoking venues, although many regulations are classifying e-cigs as tobacco related items. Electronic cigarettes are not meant to be a smoking cessation device and so are not FDA approved, but what they can do is leave no lingering odor, have just a few ingredients instead of several thousand like traditional cigarettes, and no longer bother others with second-hand smoke!

Common Terms Used:

  • Cartomizer – The cartridge and atomizer combined for holding and delivering e-liquid or Smoke Juice (in our case) to the e-cigarette user. A cartomizer is the two pieces (atomizer/cartridge) fused together into one “cartomizer.” Cartomizers are great for most e-smokers as they can be refilled or filled if purchased blank, but many times the atomizer is of lesser quality as they are meant to be disposed of after one use.
  • Tank System – A tank system uses a special atomizer and cartridge (or tank) that supplies Smoke Juice to the atomizer. The tank can hold a larger amount of liquid per fill meaning you spend less time refilling.
  • Atomizer or Atty/Attie – The portion of electronic cigarette hardware that heats Smoke Juice into a vapor. This part is potentially the most critical part for an e-cigarette and can be the main culprit if you are experiencing poor vapor production or are experiencing a burnt or “electric” taste while vaping.
  • Heating Element/Coil – The actual coil of wire in a Atomizer or Cartomizer that heats up.
  • Cart, Cartridge – A molded plastic cartridge containing polyester filling material or “wool” and Smoke Juice for an electronic cigarette. A blank cart is one with only filling material, and no juice.
  • Drip, Dripping – Bypassing a cartridge and dropping Smoke Juice directly onto the atomizer. Johnson Creek Original Smoke Juice strongly advises against using this method unless you are an experienced e-smoker and are familiar with hardware specifications.
  • Drip Tip – A molded mouthpiece specifically created to facilitate dripping.
  • E-liquid – The liquid used in electronic cigarettes that contains distilled water, flavoring, and nicotine. We weren’t content to create just any old e-liquid, so we refer to ours as Smoke Juice.
  • PG, Propylene Glycol – The ingredient in most e-liquid recipes that produces vapor. Propylene Glycol, or PG, is on the FDA’s list of substances generally recognized as safe, and is used in everything from fog machines to artificial flavors.
  • VG, Vegetable Glycerine – A very small percentage of vapers have a sensitivity to PG. Our Red Oak™ line of flavors uses VG instead of PG to carry flavor and create vapor.
  • Vaping – Using an electronic cigarette. Alternative word to smoking.

Different E-Cig Components:

The largest component is the rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, similar to one you might find in a mobile phone or laptop computer. The next part is the atomizer or atty. This is activated by inhaling on the cartridge end or by holding a manual switch, depending on the model. On a pen-style electronic cigarette, the atomizer is contained in a metal tube that looks a lot like a cigarette holder, where they’re far more hidden on a mini or super-mini e-cig. The atomizer instantly heats the liquid into a vapor, which lingers in the air for just moments after exhaling. The final piece is the cartridge or more recently the cartomizer. The cartridge is the mouthpiece. On minis and super-minis, it’s often made to look just like the filter of a regular cigarette. Inside the cartridge is a polyester fill material or “wool” which holds the earlier mentioned solution. Rather than a separate cartridge and atomizer as you may have used before, these two pieces are fused together into one “cartomizer.” Cartomizers are great for most vapers as they are often pre-filled and are very easy to use.

  • Pen-Style – The first type of electronic cigarette created. They have the appearance of a cigarette in a holder, like the ones popular from the 1920s to the 1960s. These have a large, standardized cartridge that holds about 1.3mL of e-liquid.
  • Mini – A compromise between physical size and liquid capacity/battery life. These generally look quite a bit more like a traditional cigarette, but are still slightly larger. Mini cartridge capacities vary greatly, but usually contain between .5mL to 1mL of e-liquid.
  • Supermini – Almost the same size as a traditional cigarette, this hardware has smaller capacity cartridges and batteries. The batteries do, however, charge significantly faster than other types. Supermini cartridge capacities also vary greatly, holding between .2mL and .5mL of e-liquid.
  • Electronic Cigar – The e-cigar looks similar to a cigar. Thicker around than most other e-cigs, they employ a similar cartridge to the pen-style, with a greater capacity. E-cigars can sometimes hold as much as 1.5mL of e-liquid. Disposable e-cigars are available, which look extremely similar to an actual cigar with no external mouthpiece.
  • E-Pipe – As the name may suggest, these look just like a pipe. They have big cartridges, but blanks aren’t quite as readily available as the rest of the styles. The cartridges hold more than 2mL of e-liquid.
  • Disposable – There are many shapes and sizes of disposable e-cigarettes and e-cigars on the market. These aren’t refillable, and should always be disposed of responsibly when used up.

Tobacco Cigarettes vs. Electronic Cigarettes

I’m going to describe a few differences between traditional tobacco cigarettes vs. electronic cigarettes. Besides the obvious stench of tobacco cigarette smoke vs. the non-offensive or usually pleasant scents associated with vaping, burning tobacco generates a smoke that is a toxic cocktail of chemicals that affect not only the smoker, but others as well.

Chemicals in Tobacco Cigarette smoke:

  • Acetaldehyde: suspected carcinogen.
  • Acetone: irritant: can cause kidney and liver damage.
  • Acrolein: extremely toxic.
  • Acrylonitrile: suspected human carcinogen.
  • 1-aminonaphthalene: causes cancer.
  • 2-aminonaphthalene: causes bladder cancer.
  • Ammonia: raises blood pressure.
  • Benzene: carcinogen.
  • Benzo[a]pyrene: mutagenic and highly carcinogenic
  • 1,3-Butadiene: suspected carcinogen.
  • Butyraldehyde: damages the lining of nose and lungs.
  • Cadmium: a heavy metal and highly toxic
  • Carbon Monoxide: decreases heart and muscle function.
  • Catechol: causes respiratory tract irritation and dermatitis.
  • Chromium: heavy metal and carcinogen.
  • Cresol: causes upper respiratory, nasal and throat irritation.
  • Crotonaldehyde: thought to interfere with immune function.
  • Formaldehyde: carcinogen
  • Hydrogen Cyanide: lethal poison
  • Hydroquinone: affects central nervous system effects.
  • Isoprene: irritates skin, eyes and mucous membranes.
  • Lead: causes brain damage
  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone: depresses the central nervous system.
  • Nickel: causes bronchial asthma and is a known carcinogen.
  • Nicotine: increases in heart rate and blood pressure, addictive element
  • Nitric Oxide: linked to Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and asthma.
  • NNN, NNK, and NAT: known or possible carcinogens
  • Phenol: damages the liver, kidneys; respiratory, cardiovascular and central nervous system.
  • Polonium – radioactive*
  • Propionaldehyde: skin, eye and respiratory system irritant
  • Pyridine: causes eye and upper respiratory tract irritation
  • Quinolone: causes genetic damage and is a possible carcinogen
  • Resorcinol: skin and eye irritant
  • Styrene: carcinogen
  • Toluene: linked to permanent brain damage.
  • Thousands of other chemicals.

Chemicals in Electronic Cigarette vapor:


Propylene glycol (not Ethylene glycol – which is toxic). Used in asthma inhalers and nebulizers. An experiment using animals determined “air containing these vapors in amounts up to the saturation point is completely harmless”. The USA FDA has classified propylene glycol “generally recognized as safe”.

Vegetable glycerol – low toxicity. Used in medications, cosmetic and food items.

Other chemicals are in the flavorings, which (if coming from a reputable merchant) are food grade and generally recognized as safe. By volume, flavors make up a very small percentage of eLiquids.

However, it needs to be stated that food flavorings are designed to be digested, not vaporized and inhaled and the effects of using food flavors in such a way over a long period are yet to be established. That said, very few carcinogenic chemicals have been found in e-cigarette vapors, and those present only appear to be in trace quantities – far less than in burning tobacco and similar or less than in recognized nicotine replacement therapies. Unlike cigarette smoke, nearly all of the nicotine is absorbed in vaping. Dr. Joel Nitzkin, Chair of the Tobacco Control Task Force for the American Association of Public Health Physicians, believes the hazards posed by e-cigarettes would be much lower than one percent of that posed by smoking tobacco cigarettes. In fact, the AAPHP states: “Substances in the cigarette smoke, other than the nicotine, inhaled deep into the lung, cause most of the tobacco-attributable illness and death in the United States.” The AAPHP recommends electronic cigarettes as a less hazardous smoke-free tobacco/nicotine product.

Ecigs have really only been in use for the past 8-10 years, so nothing is known about the long term effects. However, given 50% of tobacco smokers will die as a direct result of their habit (and often in a horrible way), it would seem to me that it’s a risk worth taking.

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