The technology behind e-cigs – how do they work?

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31 Dec 15

The technology behind e-cigs - how do they work?

The technology behind e-cigs – how do they work?

As we’re on the cusp of a new year, people are making their new years resolutions, and for many people, that we mean trying to quit smoking, and are looking for alternatives. When Hon Lik, a 52-year old pharmacist from China, developed the first electronic cigarette in 2003, he probably didn’t realise how big of an impact it would have on smokers trying to kick the habit all over the world.

But in 2015, global sales of vaping devices hit £6bn according to data from Euromonitor International, with companies like Phoenix eliquid supplying wholesale cigs to small businesses so they can capitalise on this consumer trend.

While most ‘vapers’ won’t think twice about how their electronic cigarette works, others are a little more inquisitive. So, if you’ve ever wanted to know about the technology behind e-cigs, here is a quick insight.

The components of an e-cig

Although the look and feel of e-cigs can vary, from those resembling standard tobacco cigarettes to incredibly ornate and futuristic-looking devices, the vast majority will feature the following components:

  • A cartridge – This contains a liquid consisting of nicotine, flavouring, and other chemicals such as glycerin or polyethylene glycol.
  • An atomizer – This features a heating coil that warms up the liquid.
  • A battery – This is usually a lithium battery, charged via USB cable.
  • A mouthpiece – This is where the user inhales.
  • A sensor – This registers when the user inhales and activates the atomizer.
  • An LED – This isn’t a feature on all e-cigs, but is meant to simulate a burning cigarette.

How e-cigs work

The technology behind e-cigs

The technology behind e-cigs

When the cartridge holding the liquid is inserted into the electronic cigarette, it makes contact with the atomizer’s bridge. Through gravity and capillary action, the liquid is then absorbed into the atomizer’s steel mesh reservoir.

As soon as the user inhales on the mouthpiece, the liquid is sucked from the reservoir into the ceramic atomizer pot. The liquid is again absorbed but this time by the aromatic polyimide wick, situated inside the ceramic pot. Simultaneously, the device heats the coil around the wick, warming up the liquid until it becomes vapour, which the user breathes in.

Some electronic cigarettes feature a manual switch, which when pressed will activate this process and only vaporise the liquid already in the ceramic pot. No more liquid will be drawn into the pot or absorbed by the wick without the user inhaling.

The difference between e-cigs and traditional cigarettes

In many respects, the only similarity between e-cigs and traditional cigarettes is that they both contain nicotine. Despite its addictive properties, nicotine is frequently used for its performance-enhancing effects on cognition, alertness and focus.

However, the main and most crucial difference between e-cigs and traditional cigarettes is combustion. While e-cigs simply heat-up liquid containing nicotine, traditional cigarettes must burn tobacco to release nicotine. In turn this produces smoke, which contains over 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing (carcinogenic) compounds and 400 other toxins.

For this reason, e-cigs are a much safer alternative and can also be used as a cessation aid to help quit smoking altogether. Even though the EU and US are set to introduce new electronic cigarette regulations in 2016, their popularity will undoubtedly continue to rise.