Vaping is one of the most talked-about new pastimes of the 21st century – so popular and newsworthy that it’s already made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary. What exactly is it, though? Especially if you smoke, it’s likely some of your friends will have suggested you take up vaping instead. What does that involve? Is it a good idea? Here’s what you need to know.

Basically, vaping is using an electronic cigarette as an alternative to smoking tobacco. E-cigarettes were designed to give smokers what they want from tobacco without the harmful smoke. It’s been known for a long time that nicotine is the main reason people smoke, but it’s the smoke itself that kills them. Vaping simply uses technology to give a similar experience in a much safer way.

Instead of burning tobacco to create smoke, e-cigarettes evaporate a liquid that contains flavouring and, usually, nicotine. The vapour this produces looks like smoke, but it isn’t – nothing has been burned. It’s the process of burning that creates most of the toxins and cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke, so simply eliminating this makes it much safer. In fact the UK’s leading medical organisations – Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians – say there’s at least 95% less risk from electronic cigarettes.

There are some other advantages in switching to vaping, too. It’s allowed in many (but not all) places where smoking is banned, for example. If you find an e-cig friendly café or pub you can socialise without having to stand outside in the rain every half hour. Vaping at home won’t mess up your walls and furniture with smoke and ash. It’s much cheaper, too; depending on the e-cigarette you use, vaping will cost you no more than half as much as smoking and possibly up to 90% less.

Batteries and mods

An electronic cigarette has two main parts – a power source and an atomiser. The power is supplied by rechargeable batteries. Smaller, basic versions are just called batteries; more advanced ones, which may use built-in or replaceable batteries, are called mods. There’s a wide variety of batteries and mods, but they all have at least three features: The actual battery, a fire button or automatic switch to activate it, and a connector for attaching an atomiser.

More advanced mods will give you extra functions. For example you can set how much power the battery delivers, or in the latest models even set the temperature the atomiser’s coil heats up to. This lets you customise the experience to suit yourself, by giving a warmer or cooler vape, different amount of vapour production or more intense flavours.


The atomiser is the part of the e-cigarette that turns the e-liquid into vapour. It contains a heating coil, a tank to store e-liquid and a wick to carry liquid from the tank to the coil. Some atomisers combine all these parts into a disposable cartridge, but most modern ones are refillable and can have the wicks and coils replaced.

It’s the atomiser that has the biggest effect on the quality of the vape, so it’s important to find one that suits you. Some models are quite specialised, and aren’t a good choice for the average vaper. That includes most of the ones designed to be used at very high power levels. If you’re a new vaper it’s always best to ask around to see what people recommend.

Because it’s quite a new thing, vaping is developing rapidly and the technology is changing fast. Affordable e-cigarettes now have performance that the most expensive high-end gear couldn’t deliver even two years ago. There’s a much wider variety of liquid flavours available, too. The one thing that doesn’t change is that vaping is a safer, cheaper and more enjoyable alternative to smoking.


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