Science of E-Cigarettes
by Gino Fanelli | published Sep. 4th, 2015
With the installation of RIT's C16.0 Tobacco-restricted University policy comes further pushing of smokers into areas, where non-smokers won't be constantly subjected to wafting clouds of stale Seneca menthols. In short, it's a fair policy.
As much as smokers enjoy their daily or hourly nicotine fix, non-smokers wish to not be constantly subjected to second-hand smoke. It's a compromise which allows one side to have their vice while allowing the opposing side to avoid that vice.
However, under this policy which specifically states tobacco in its title, e-cigarettes are included as the same offense as traditional cigarettes. While dozens of articles exist stating the overwhelming health benefits of e-cigarettes over smoking, understanding e-cigarettes is a not an issue which requires a constant, insufferable nagging voice weighing these factors. Instead, perhaps, differentiating the difference between an e-cigarette and a true cigarette on a purely physical level can help clean up some of the misconceptions.
First and foremost, what is an e-cigarette? While most are familiar with seeing the typical Blu "cigalike" type of product, those aforementioned giant, alien probe looking devices are essentially the same thing. In that, each device is made up of two components; a battery and an atomizer. The battery, often referred to as a "mod," harkening back to the days where e-cigarettes were made from customized rechargeable flashlights, is generally the body of the device, and come in two forms; unregulated, or mechanical, and regulated. An unregulated mod is an extremely simple piece of equipment, consisting solely of a battery suspended between two metal pins, or held in a circuit that is closed when the button is pressed. The power comes directly from the battery into the atomizer, with no safety features or adjustments available. Some people prefer these devices due to their simplicity and the fact that they are essentially indestructible, while others avoid them due to the possibility that they can, quite devastatingly, explode if used wrong, such as in the case of a Gates man in March of 2015. Regulated mods, on the other hand, come with safety features which prevent such events from occurring, as well as often allowing users the ability to adjust their experience by increasing or decreasing wattage or voltage.
The atomizer or tank, meanwhile, is the portion of the device which actually holds the fluid, or "juice" being vaporized. While these come in a variety of forms that can be universally swapped across devices via a standard 510 threaded connection, this is an area where "cigalike" type products differ from the pack. Blu, for example, does not allow users to simply replace the juice in their device with whatever juice they want. Instead, users are required to buy Blu cartridges, pre-filled with the company's own juice. More on that later, but in simplest terms, an atomizer works by running electricity from the battery through a kanthal or nickel wire, usually wrapped around cotton which absorbs the juice. The result is the heat in the wire vaporizing the juice, often infused with nicotine, which the user then inhales. A user can either buy tanks which take pre-made coils, or build the coils themselves. Drip atomizers, most popular among mechanical mod users, for example, are extremely simple devices which the user builds coils, of varying resistance, in order to tailor their experience to their preferences.
Back to the subject of juice. The juice itself is the product being vaporized, and is the true subject of inquisition when the vaper is inevitably told "that's so bad for you, no one even knows what's in that." However, juice, though being a booming industry with hundreds of small boutique companies producing it, is not as much a mystery of science as one would think. In fact, it's made from four ingredients; Propylene Glycol(PG) for a throat hit, Vegetable Glycerin(VG) for vapor production, food-grade flavorings and nicotine (optional, and contrary to popular belief, is not a known carcinogen.) PG and VG do certainly have names which could raise alarm bells, but both PG and VG are used extensively in food products, from pasta to ice cream, to the extent that you'd have to throw out the majority of your pantry to avoid the stuff.
While this could constitute a whole new article, tobacco companies have simply taken a beating from the e-cigarette market. Tobacco sales have fallen to a record low, coinciding directly with the rise of ecigarette use. Thus, we look back at those pre-made cartridges for Blu e-cigarettes, a company owned by Lorillard tobacco company, which, from the track record of cigarette manufacturers, could contain damn near anything. While the small companies are beating out the massive corporations, this results in a push using political sway and faulty studies to help them stay afloat. Which is why you end up with tobacco company RJ Reynolds, producer of Vuse e-cigarettes lobbying to outlaw all personal vaporizers, save, of course, those they produce themselves. It's why studies showing e-cigarettes put off a dangerous amount of chemicals fail to acknowledge that the conditions these results are produced under are far beyond how any vaper would ever use there device, and are often bankrolled by these corporations.
The market for e-cigarettes is booming, and certainly, there is a time and place for speculation to be put into place. But one can argue that lumping e-cigarettes into the same category as the more dangerous, traditional alternatives is a way of dissuading people from choosing a healthier option. Policies specifically aimed at tobacco use, by most basic definition, should only affect actual tobacco products.