Before I start, I’d just like to say I am not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this blog. Their products just happen to be the ones I eventually settled on as the best, for me.
OK, so, a couple of friends recently asked for advice on vaping, as I’ve been doing it for near enough three years now (and haven’t had or wanted a cigarette since), so I published a post about the health and safety side of things, and to try to counter the myths, mistaken beliefs and basic untruths that are still out there. But this follow-up is purely advice on the actual vaping side, not a definitive how to do it by any means – each to their own – but how I do it, my experiences and experiments, and my conclusions.
I started, as most people do, with the ‘cigalikes’, the electronic imitation cigarettes that you can get from any corner shop and petrol station. That was a good few years before I finally gave up, and I wasn’t struck by the experience. A friend had in turn recommended that particular brand, saying she’d never gone back to cigarettes (she did eventually), and I gave it a try. I didn’t like the tobacco-flavoured cartridges it came with (I still don’t like the basic tobacco flavours, far too rough and harsh for me), so another friend recommended the vanilla ones, but that was too sweet, and in the end I gave up. I think that starter kit is still in a drawer somewhere.
But a few years later, I gave up in earnest, and gave vaping another go. Our corner co-op sold the 10 Motives cigalikes, so I tried those, and while I still rejected the tobacco-flavoured ones, I did quite like the menthol ones.
I’d always secretly quite liked menthol cigarettes, and these looked and tasted close to menthol cigarettes, but fairly soon I realised that the cartridges didn’t last very long, and if I was going to carry on with those, it was going to get pretty expensive.
Meanwhile, my godson had just quit vaping (I still hate the word, there has to be a better one out there somewhere). He’d been using a serious bit of kit, the Smok Alien:
He’d done a lot of research before he started using that one, and had settled on it because it was solidly-built, with a virtually bullet-proof atomiser, and he could (just about) fit it in his pocket. The main thing though was the batteries lasted all day (the basic cigalike batteries will last for a couple of hours of heavy vaping at most), and you could refill it. He’d eventually rejected the shop-bought 10ml bottles of eliquid, and started making his own, from a mixture of Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerine, known as PG and VG respectively, and flavouring. For more details on what these are, go here. You can buy PG and VG by the litre for a few quid online, and the flavouring in 100ml or so bottles equally cheaply. Mixed up (a science in itself) a couple of litres of the resultant vape liquid lasted him a year, for around twenty quid. I was hooked. Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerine sound like dangerous chemicals that you really shouldn’t be putting into your body, but actually they’re relatively harmless, and used mostly as food additives. The FDA has decided they’re safe to ingest, and if you want links, gohere for PG and here for VG. Personally I use a 70/30 mix of PG/VG, but I’m afraid if you’re going down the self-mixing route, that’s entirely down to personal preferences. In the end I gave up mixing completely, and use shop-bought flavourings and water them down with a 70/30 PG/VG mix I keep in a plastic bottle with a narrow spout (narrow enough to be inserted into the 30ml juice bottle (available for a few quid on the ebay) seen on the right of this photo.
Frankly, it’s a lot easier. With the proper vape machines, you also only need a low nicotine content, 6mg max, so if you buy a bottle of 18mg liquid, you can water it down with a PG/VG mix and make it last three times longer.
Basically the VG gives the liquid its body, and the PG its ‘throat hit’, (mostly) replicating the sensation you got from inhaling a cigarette. It’s not the same sensation to be honest, but a different one, but I find it still satisfies the need for the throat hit.
So I used the Alien for a while, and amassed a goodly quantity of spare batteries (realistically you only really need three or four, one in the device, one fully-charged spare and a couple charging). These are 18650 batteries, slightly larger than AA batteries (I so wish these things were powered by AAs!), and available all over the internet. If you’re going to carry a few around though, keep them in silicon cases like these, also available all over the internet for a couple of quid.
You’ve heard stories about vaping devices blowing up? It’s not the devices themselves that are dangerous, it’s the batteries, but only if they’re misused, wrongly charged, or kept in a pocket together so the terminals can touch together. Chargers can also be readily had on the internet, and are not expensive. I’m not going to recommend one over another, but just take a few minutes to read the reviews. They mostly all do the job.
After a while though, I decided the Alien was too big (and heavy) to carry around for when I needed a hit, so the search was on for something smaller that could go in a pocket. I started with this one.
This is the Innokin T18E, a starting point for many new vapers, and they’re good. I would certainly recommend them. The atomiser is very good, but make sure you let the wick soak for a good while when you fill it for the first time, then ‘dry pull’ a few times before using it, which basically entails sucking on the thing a few times without pressing the button. It helps draw the liquid through the cotton wick in the atomiser, and avoids burning it. You will burn your coil/wick now and then, trust me, and once you have done, you basically have to throw it away. Keep spares, and preferably a spare broken-in atomiser. This applies to all devices.
For those new to the whole thing, the atomiser is basically a cylinder that screws into the battery with a mouthpiece, and a heating element (the coil) and some cotton wadding (the wick) that holds your e-liquid. The T-18’s atomiser is top-filling, in that you unscrew the lid, and pour your liquid down the side of the metal tube in the middle. Be VERY careful not to get liquid in the tube, because then it goes down into the middle of the coil, and gurgles a lot when you draw on it, and it’s a pain in the a**e to clear it out, involving much blowing, and sometimes completely washing the whole thing out. I’ve just thrown the whole thing away and started again in the past, because it’s easier. One thing about the T-18 though, make sure you keep it roughly vertical, because it will occasionally leak (although way less than others on the market). Frankly, all vape devices will leak if they’re just thrown into a pocket or a bag.
Now, the T-18 is great, but it’s a USB rechargeable, and if you’re out at a festival for a few days, for instance, you need something with replaceable batteries. But those, like the Alien, tend to be too big to fit in a pocket. After quite a few types were bought and rejected, I finally settled on this, the Smok OSUB 80W Baby.
They are cute, take a single 18650 battery, have enough info in the digital display to set most things, and they (just about) fit in a pocket. The atomiser it comes with, the 2ml TFV8 Baby (NOT the Baby Beast, that’s a different thing entirely), is one of the best, and rarely leaks. They also have a big firing button which is basically the whole of one side of the thing, which is a whole lot easier to use than fiddling around for a tiny button, especially when you’re driving. I have the black one, but for those who are into that kind of thing, they come in a whole load of different colours.
So for quite a while I was happy. But while all these devices are great, there’s one thing they’re not. A cigarette. What they don’t replace is the sensation of having a cigarette between your fingers, dragging on it, and getting a hit. Yes, it’s a different experience, and gets way more nicotine into you, but it’s not quite the same. Because the truth is, I miss smoking. I don’t miss it making me feel and smell like s**t, I don’t miss not being able to walk up a small hill without getting out of breath and getting chest pains, I don’t miss knowing that it will kill me, I don’t miss the expense, I don’t miss having to stand outside pubs in the freezing cold or the rain, I don’t miss the late night panic when you realise you may not have enough to last until bedtime, and I don’t miss many other things about it, almost all of it in fact. But I do miss the aesthetics of it.
Which is why, once I discovered this next fact, I went back to cigalikes. YOU CAN REFILL THE CARTRIDGES.
No-one tells you this, but that six or seven quid pack of cartridges that will last less than a day if you’re a heavy user, can be made to last a week or so. Basically those cartridges are a metal tube containing a small coil, cotton wadding, and a plastic tube that connects to the hole in the top through which your ‘smoke’ comes, plus a connector that screws into the battery. Flip the top off, and you can put your own liquid into them. And this is how.
First, you’ll need one of those tiny screwdrivers, with a head smaller than the hole in the top of the cartridge.
Put the tip of the screwdriver into the hole, and carefully lever out the cap. Some are glued stronger than others. You can get empty refillable ones with a rubber bung, which is simpler, but I found the bungs come out too easily, and, well, they taste of rubber. They also don’t last any longer than the pre-filled ones, and with the latter, you also get an hour or two of extra vaping because they come pre-filled. I use the basic 10motives menthol cartridges. Sometimes the caps will break, and then you just have to throw them away, unless you keep a supply of old caps from worn-out cartridges (that’s going too far even for me!). So then you have this:
There’s the open cartridge, and its cap. Don’t worry that the bit in the middle of the cap gets mudged up by the screwdriver – I don’t find it makes any difference to the draw. After a while it will come adrift anyway, and you just cut it off with the tip of the screwdriver. See the wadding around the plastic tube in the middle of the cartridge? That’s where you put your liquid. But it’s a narrow gap, slightly too narrow for the ‘nose’ of most e-liquid bottles. So I use a needle-nose bottle that I bought from Best4Ecigs (more of them later). I threw the liquid away (it wasn’t very nice) and filled it with my own. It’s actually cheaper than the empty needle-nosed bottles available on ebay. It’s in the middle of the picture. The bigger bottle is the one I mentioned earlier, that I keep reserve liquid in, for filling the smaller bottle.
Before you refill the cartridges for the first time, use the needle nose to loosen the wadding from the sides of the cartridge – that way, the liquid goes further down the cartridge, and penetrates the wadding better. The coil is basically connected to a thin metal wire in the middle of the wadding, so you need as much of the wadding soaked in liquid as possible, so the coil isn’t heating up dry wadding. Now you can put the liquid in.
As I said, squeeze the liquid down the side of the plastic tube. However, if you do get some in the tube, it’s not the end of the world. You just clean the screw thread, get a bit of tissue over the open end of the cartridge, and blow through the bottom of the cartridge. This will blow the liquid out of the tube. You want to squirt enough liquid in to form a meniscus around the plastic tube without overflowing into it:
Sorry, bit out of focus, but you get the idea. Leave it for a few seconds before the liquid soaks down into the wadding, then squirt some more in. I find a new cartridge will take four squirts before it’s full, but the second fill will generally only take three. Basically, if the liquid is soaking into the wadding in seconds, put more in. If it just sits there and takes a while to soak in, you’ve put enough in. I do seven at a time –
10motives packs have four each in, so that’s two packs and one spare in case the cap breaks on one of the others. I find the first time I fill the cartridges they don’t last long, but they last longer on each subsequent fill. You can fit six in a pack and one on your battery:
And that’s it – I find I refill them once a day if I’m not working (and using them a lot!), once every two or three days if I am working. Two packs refilled will on average last me ten days to two weeks before the coil dies, sometimes longer.
One last note, on batteries. Obviously the more serious vape machines have much more powerful batteries than cigalikes, but then they need to have to power the devices. Your average shop-bought battery will be 180ma (milliamps), which will run out after an hour or so of heavy use. This isn’t about the power – it doesn’t make any difference to the amount of vapour generated – it’s just about longevity, i.e. the time between charges. The most powerful ones on the market (that I’ve found) are the V2 cigalikes, at 380ma, but they use a different connection to their cartridges, and you can’t buy new carts for them in the corner shop. The most powerful ‘standard’ connection batteries I’ve found are from an online company called Best4Ecigs, at 320ma. Connected to a cartridge they’re about the length of an old Dunhill International (which I used to love back in the day). They’re about seven quid each, and last on average three months before they start losing their charge. I find I can get through a day of heavy vaping with about three of them. I carry six or seven around though. This is my whole kit, which also satisfies the OCD ‘perfect bag’ thing:
One last thing – buy the right charger and usb connector for your battery, and DON’T use any old phone charger. They’re the wrong voltage, won’t charge the batteries properly, and will degrade them quite quickly. There is also a very slight risk of the batteries blowing up or catching fire or whatever through overheating because of the wrong voltage. You can leave them charging overnight – they cut out once they’re charged, and contrary to mythology it doesn’t degrade the battery, in my experience.
I think that’s it. As I said, it’s each to his/her own, and you will find your own perfect solution after a while. This post is just about my own. Don’t give up because it’s too complicated or whatever though – as I said in my previous post, vaping is WAY less bad for you than smoking, and, for me, satisfies the craving, for nicotine, for something to hold in your hand, something to help in anxious moments, and even replicates the ceremony of smoking and the kit involved.
Having written this, I pulled out my old Smok OSUB Baby, and started using it again, as well as the cigalikes, but with an Innokin Zenith tank, which is basically bombproof. This combination is still the best one out there, for me.