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Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
VaperCaperLtd Offline
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Post: #1
Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
Updated

This thread is intended to outline the differences between the mechanics of smoking and vaping to help new vapers adjust better to, and get better results from their vape. The original post I wrote is contained in a spolier at the end of this new post. I've kept it in here for now so that the following posts make some kind of sense. It was jumped on by several posters who all said I was talking rubbish. As of the time of this rewrite replies to the original post go up to post #26.

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Vaping isn't smoking. It's important to understand this when you are new to vaping. It works differently, the mechanism for the nicotine getting into your system is different and if you treat a vape like a smoke you'll not get the best results.

I think that understanding the differences between the way that the nicotine gets into your system can help improve your quality of vape experience so this post tries to outline the differences.

Please note that this is limited to a user using a cig-alike device, an eGo battery with a clearomiser attached, or a cartomiser running at around 7watts or similar setup.
Pretty much all of the scientific literature around presently that I can find is testing a cig-alike. As this post is aimed at new users though, and as new users are most frequently going to be using a cig-alike or similar device or an eGo+clearo combination certainly to start with I think it's still useful.

Users who use well setup Genesis atomisers, well setup micro coils, high end silica based atomisers such as a Kayfun or Spheroid will get different (better) results. As the physics involved in evaporation are different. Many users have reported using Genesis and other high end setups getting a good "hit" of nicotine and having to reduce the nic levels in the e-liquid they vape because those devices do a much better job of vapourising the nicotine in the e-liquids.

So what are the differences a new user using a basic setup will experience? How do the techniques differ to get best results?

this was covered a while ago in this post on the ECF forum which is a good read.

There's more on this subject on ECF here as well.

Smoking:
A smoker typically inhales the smoke directly into the lungs, holds it there and exhales a couple of seconds later. A smoker takes 10 or so drags on the cigarette until it's burned up, then puts it out.
An average 20aday smoker smokes about 1 cigarette an hour. the reason being that nicotine levels in the body spike very quickly. It takes 7 seconds or so for nicotine to get to the brain, and around an hour for the nicotine levels in the body to subside to a level where the user starts to get nicotine cravings again.

The nicotine in tobacco cigarettes is contained in the smoke (along with lots of other bad stuff) tobacco smoke has very fine particle size of around 0.15 micrometers [Chung & Dunn-Rankin (1996)] It is drawn into the users lungs and rapidly absorbed by the lungs, and while some nicotine will be absorbed by the mucous membranes lining the respiratory tract it's the lungs that do most of the work.

Vaping:
A vaper typically takes a longer draw on an e-cig, holds the vapour in the mouth and then briefly inhales the vapour into the lungs before exhaling.
It's thought that the mechanism for nicotine absorbtion by the body is different to tobacco cigarettes. In various papers this mechanism (the pharmacokinetic profile) is likened to a nicotine inhalator. (Bullen et al 2010[pdf]) (Vansickel 2010 [pdf])

In both of these papers and others it's estimated that an e-cig is only delivering about 10% of the nicotine to the user that's contained in the e-liquid.

There are 3 ways that nicotine in e-cig vapour is absorbed. Mostly via the mucous membranes that line the nose, throat and respiratory tract. Secondly via the lungs in the same way that tobacco cigarette nicotine is absorbed and thirdly by ingestion. Some of the e-liquid that a user vapes gets to the stomach (washed down when a user takes a drink or swallows saliva)

Once you start using higher end setups then the vape experience gets closer to that of smoking as more nicotine is turned into vapour and is more readily absorbed via the lungs rather than the nose/throat.

The amount of e-liquid swallowed is likely to be very small and not have a large effect on the vape experience.

There are a number of posts on forums such as ECF that say that the particle size of e-cig vapour is thought to be around 10 micrometers with smoke particle (vapour and ash) around 1 micrometer. (like this one - which is a pretty good and recent summation of the differences between smoking and vaping by Chris Price) Having spent 2 days searching for scientific articles to back this up, I can't find any. The best and most recent scientific paper comparing particulate size is this one (Ingebrethsen et al (2012) Ingebrethesen is senior R&D Chemist at RJ Reynolds Tobacco. There's a short paper here from more tobacco reasearchers (BAT this time) that agrees with this.

As I understand the ECF posts it was thought that the perceived difference in particle size of the vapour accounted for a lot of the "10% of nicotine absorbed by the body". the more I've read in the past 2 days though the more I think that this is not the case and it's simply down to lower end setups doing a very poor job of delivering nicotine to the user.

You can get around the poor delivery of lower end vaping setups by simply using a higher strength e-liquid. Intellicig while trying to satisfy the MHRA in their (ongoing) quest to get an MHRA license did a lot of testing on 4.5%(45mg/ml) strength e-liquid and introduced 4.5% strength cartridges. Their research showed that a liquid of that strength, used in their e-cigs delivered an experience very close to tobacco smoking.
John from FlavourArt worked there and has a much better understanding of this research than I do (see post #24)

That backs up the idea that low end setups are poor delivery vehicles. however greatly increasing the strength or e-liquid brings a number of other problems, for example if you supplied 4.5% e-lquid to use in a refill then the risk of accidental poisoning to yourself or perhaps children/pets rises significantly.

We know that e-cigs work. Many people report that they have quit smoking 'accidentally' after trying and prefering vaping. most of the e-liquid sold is far below 4.5% strength. (My most popular e-liquid stength is 18mg/ml by some distance)
It's safe to assume that the majority of vapers are using low end devices, rather than advanced mods, so how can a vaper get the best results from these?


As in this post on ECF that describes the ideal inhalation technique.

Take a longer slower draw on your e-cig. This allows the coil to get hotter and turn more of the nicotine in the e-liquid into vapour.

Hold the vapour in your mouth, briefly inhale into your lungs then exhale. Exhaling some vapour through the nose will increase the amount of mucous membrane exposed to the e-cig vapour and improve the nicotine uptake.

Using a more common 1.8% e-liquid srength (18mg/ml) a user should experience a nicotine "hit" around 30 seconds after use. The nicotine level in blood will increase slowly over time and peak after a few minutes as absorption from mucous membranes takes longer than lung absorption.


As there is a longer time lag from inhalation to the nicotine levels in your blood getting to a similar level as from tobacco smoking it can take a new user some time to adjust to vaping. It is different. Once you get the hang of it and once your body has adjusted it is very effective.

As always if you have any health concerns the best thing to do is consult a doctor.

So what have I learned from 2 days or so of reading about the science of vaping?

the science behind what is going on is pretty dam complicated. If you look at the scientific literature then there are conflicting ideas.

Some of what is 'common knowledge' from reading posts on ECF like the particle size of e-cig vapour turns out to be unsupported (unless I missed it somewhere)
there are scientists with competing agendas, with budgets coming from Big T or Big P some of whom seem to be finding out what they are being told to find, so which papers are actually credible gets confusing if you're not a scientist (I'm not)

I am passionate about vapng and want to give my customers and potential customers the best advice I can on which devices might suit them better and how best to use them.



Vaping isn't smoking. It's important to understand this when you are new to vaping. It works differently, the mechanism for the nicotine getting into your system is different and if you treat a vape like a smoke you'll run into potential problems.

Everyone is different and some people have next to no issues, and some do. The longer and heavier you smoked the longer it could take to adjust to vaping. There is nothing wrong with vaping and smoking (known as duel fueling) at all. If you want to switch from smoking to vaping then understanding the differences in how the differing nicotine delivery systems work might help you adjust.

Firstly if you are using high end vaping kit then that kit will typically vaporise a higher % of the nicotine in the e-liquid. This is the reason, or the main reason, that you get more 'throat hit' from well setup high end hardware. The throat hit is the sensation caused by nicotine mist hitting the back of your throat. If less nicotine is vapourised by your combination of battery/atomiser then you get less throat hit. So an 18mg liquid vaped on a SS mesh wick on a well setup Genesis provides different vapour to the very same liquid being vaped on a high end silica based atomiser, and different vapour again to a low end setup like a cartomiser or a vivi nova tank. On top of that a different user will experience different vapour to another user on the same setup because of airflow (some people suck harder than others)

So the different strengths of liquid are only really a guide to how much nicotine you get from your setup, what you use and how you use it are also variables. There aren't hard and fast rules.

When you smoke the tobacco burns and this turns the tobacco into tiny smoke particles (and ash) a user inhales the smoke produced into their lungs and because the smoke particles are very very small they penetrate the lungs deeply. Nicotine attaches to some of these particles which gets absorbed by the lung tissue and the nic gets into your blood directly. It takes about 7 seconds or so from when you take a drag for the nic to hit your brain.

When you vape the heating coil turns the liquid into mist. The particles that make up the mist are too large to penetrate the fine pathways of your lungs and none (or as close to none as makes no difference*) of the nicotine in the mist enters your system via your lungs. Instead what is happening is that the mist condenses back into liquid on the soft wet tissues lining your throat, it trickles down into your stomach, so in effect you are drinking e-liquid in very small doses. Nicotine taken orally via an e-cig or via gum or 'sweets' has to negotiate your digestive system before it gets to your brain, which takes 20-30 minutes depending on your metabolism. So an e-cig won't give you instant "nic hit" like a cigarette will.

* However, some setups, especially SS Mesh types can heat the liquid hot enough to produce very fine particles of mist that can get into your system via your lungs, in the majority of setups though this doesn't happen.

The best way to smoke is to inhale the smoke directly into your lungs, hold it there briefly and exhale.

The best way to vape (for max nicotine absorption) is to inhale the vapour slowly over several seconds until you have a mouthful of vapour, then briefly draw it down into your lungs, then exhale via your nose and mouth. This process coats as much of the inside of your mouth/throat/nose with the e-liquid so more of it can condense out and be absorbed by your body. This should also improve the flavour you sense as well.


If you've been a heavy smoker it'll take a while to get used to the new method of nicotine use and your brain is going to be confused as hell for a while. Up till you start vaping your brain is expecting a nic hit a few seconds after you exhale smoke. When vaping you're still exhaling 'smoke' but no nicotine is getting to your bloodstream for 20-30 mins. So deeply ingrained subconcious behaviour and expectation has to get re-written a bit. Which can leave some new vapers feeling spaced out or odd while they adjust. The brain is highly adaptable and will adjust to your new habit in a few weeks.

If you get dizzy or feel light headed or get a headache then those are nicotine overdose symptoms so either cut back the nicotine strength for a while or stop vaping entirely for a few hours and see if that helps.

If you have any health concerns at all the best advice is to go visit your doctor It's possible that you might be allergic to one of the things in e-liquid, though it's more likely that your brain is a bit scrambled while it adjust to the new habit and the lead time between inhaling and getting nicotine.

Finally there are other alkaloids similar to nicotine that are present in cigarettes but not in most e-liquids. It's also possible that you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from these. a 'WTA' (Whole tobacco alkaloid) liquid might help, or any liquid that uses a steeped tobacco rather than chemically extracted pure nicotine if this is what your body is missing. After about 3 weeks the average person has withdrawn from those anyway and can get by just fine with 'normal' e-liquids.

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(This post was last modified: 04/09/13 11:26 AM by VaperCaperLtd. )
31/08/13 09:33 PM
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Big Smurf Offline
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Post: #2
RE: Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
'Instead what is happening is that the mist condenses back into liquid on the soft wet tissues lining your throat, it trickles down into your stomach, so in effect you are drinking e-liquid in very small doses.'

I'm no scientist, but wut?! Is that actual scientific fact or layman theory?
(This post was last modified: 31/08/13 09:47 PM by Big Smurf. )
31/08/13 09:46 PM
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Paul Offline
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Post: #3
RE: Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
Is this a Scientific/Medically based Statement ?


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31/08/13 09:51 PM
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VaperCaperLtd Offline
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Post: #4
RE: Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
I'm not a scientist or a doctor, it's what I've read on other forums and it makes sense.

You don't get a nicotine buzz in the same way that you do from smoking. Tests have shown it takes 20-30 mins for nicotine from e-cigs to be absorbed into your body, same time frame as for gums, lozenges, inhalators, so the method of ingestion must be the same.

Vapour particles are approximately 10x larger than smoke particles.

Thread on ECF about the same topic here.

I'll try and dig up some better references tomorrow.

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31/08/13 10:00 PM
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JustPoo Offline
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Post: #5
RE: Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
I vape in the morning, I immediately get a nicotine buzz.

Your argument is invalid.
31/08/13 10:01 PM
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Ash2Ashes Offline
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Post: #6
RE: Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
i walk into the wall and stub my toe on the coffee table first thing in the morning, i get a buzz of no kind at all....no....anyone....Blinksmiley

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31/08/13 10:06 PM
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Big Smurf Offline
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Post: #7
RE: Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
'k. So how did you come up with your theory from that thread? Especially the absorption through the stomach thing?!

What that thread actually says is that nicotine is absorbed through membranes within 30 seconds. I seriously doubt any of us would be vaping if it took 20 minutes or so to remove the craving?

Are you two still awake (JP and A2A)? Having a bit of PM cyber are ya? No wonder UKV is having issues due to too many PM's! Wink
(This post was last modified: 31/08/13 10:10 PM by Big Smurf. )
31/08/13 10:09 PM
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VaperCaperLtd Offline
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Post: #8
RE: Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
(31/08/13 10:01 PM)JustPoo Wrote:  I vape in the morning, I immediately get a nicotine buzz.

Your argument is invalid.

Most people don't get a nicotine buzz immediately. I don't. Different people are more or less sensitive to nicotine, if you use a high end, well setup atomiser it might well vapourise the nicotine in the mist to a small enough particle size to be absorbed more readily in your lungs to get into your system quickly like cigarette smoke does.

The research that's been done on this is a year or so old and used, presumably, cigalike devices for their testing. I'll go do some digging tomorrow and source the claims in it properly.

This is meant to be an article, like the ECF one, that outlines the broad differences between the way smoking works and the way vaping works. It assumes that most new vapers are using an eGo with a clearomiser kind of setup and not a Genesis or top end silica atomiser setup.

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31/08/13 10:12 PM
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Ash2Ashes Offline
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Post: #9
RE: Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
aye, he can't manage on his own for more than a few hours. Big Grin

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31/08/13 10:13 PM
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Big Smurf Offline
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Post: #10
RE: Vaping vs Smoking - the differences
(31/08/13 10:12 PM)VaperCaperLtd Wrote:  
(31/08/13 10:01 PM)JustPoo Wrote:  I vape in the morning, I immediately get a nicotine buzz.

Your argument is invalid.

Most people don't get a nicotine buzz immediately. I don't. Different people are more or less sensitive to nicotine, if you use a high end, well setup atomiser it might well vapourise the nicotine in the mist to a small enough particle size to be absorbed more readily in your lungs to get into your system quickly like cigarette smoke does.

The research that's been done on this is a year or so old and used, presumably, cigalike devices for their testing. I'll go do some digging tomorrow and source the claims in it properly.

This is meant to be an article, like the ECF one, that outlines the broad differences between the way smoking works and the way vaping works. It assumes that most new vapers are using an eGo with a clearomiser kind of setup and not a Genesis or top end silica atomiser setup.

Have you considered applying for a job with the Daily Mail's 'Health' column? Wink
31/08/13 10:15 PM
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