What are E-Cigs?

Puff where no one else can!

A young woman strolls toward you at the mall, puffing on a cigarette. In most states, it's been years since such a thing was allowed and you do a double take. But something seems a little… off. When she exhales, you see something that looks like smoke, but it doesn't smell. And the lit tip of the cigarette emits a blue glow. Turns out that she's demonstrating an e-cigarette—an electronic device that vaporizes nicotine and has been touted by manufacturers as a safer alternative to cigarettes and other tobacco products.

E-cigarettes, also called e-cigs or personal vaporizers, were developed in China in 2003 and have been available to consumers since 2004. They're designed to mimic the size and appearance of a traditional cigarette, although cigar- and pipe-shaped models are also available. In an e-cig, a heating element atomizes liquid nicotine in a cartridge, delivering a smokeless, scent-free dose of the drug without many of the carcinogens found in tobacco products. E-liquids are available in different concentrations, just as cigarettes are available in light and ultralight formulas.

Automatic e-cigs work when the user inhales; manual versions require the push of a button on the "filter" portion of the device. Most models operate using lithium-ion batteries, and many users opt for rechargeable models that power up via wall outlets, USB ports, or a car's 12v charger. The LED light at the tip of the e-cig usually comes with different color options and signals that the unit is activated, as well as adding to the realism of the experience. Starter kits including an atomizer, cartridges, e-liquid, and a charger run from $20 to $150 at online retailers.

The cartridge needs frequent replacement or refilling with drops of "e-liquid," and users typically pay about $2 for the equivalent of a pack—significantly less than the $6 to $10 per pack that traditional cigarettes usually cost. The liquid nicotine contains other chemicals and flavors, from tobacco and menthol, to mint, chocolate, vanilla, and fruit flavors. Electronic cigarettes also come with their own lingo. You smoke a cigarette, but you "vape" an e-cig. Brands called The Safe Cig, Green Smoke and Smoke 51 are as widely known among vapers as Camel and Marlboro are among traditional smokers.

Sold in mall kiosks, convenience stores, and tobacco shops, e-cigs are currently facing a barrage of legislation from states seeking to ban them and an equally vocal contingent of supporters on blogs, comment boards, and Facebook groups.



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