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Vaping: How E-cigs Work (Infographic)

Infographic: Electronic cigarettes vaporize a flavored nicotine liquid to produce vapor resembling smoke.
E-cigs vaporize a flavored liquid rather than burning tobacco. (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

In 1963, Herbert A. Gilbert invented a “smokeless nontobacco cigarette,” but it was never commercialized. “Vaping,” or smoking electronic cigarettes, first became widely popular in China, where 60 percent of men are smokers. Modern e-cigarettes were patented in 2003 by Chinese inventor Hon Lik.

E-cigarettes feature a replaceable inhaler cartridge containing vegetable glycerin and/or polyethylene glycol, flavoring and nicotine. With every inhalation, a sensor triggers a vaporizer to heat a small amount of liquid flavoring. The liquid turns to vapor and is drawn into the user’s mouth.

Vaping is not the same as smoking  a water-pipe, or hookah.  In a hookah, a burned mixture of tobacco and molasses is drawn through water to cool the smoke. Burning creates cancer-causing chemicals that are inhaled by the smoker.

The vaping technology of e-cigarettes does not burn anything; the liquid mixture is simply vaporized. The vapor does not contain the harmful compounds found in smoke from hookahs or cigarettes.

The so-called “hookah pen” works like an e-cigarette. The pen vaporizes a liquid and does not involve burning.

In theory, since vaping does not burn tobacco, it should be safer than conventional cigarette smoking. A main ingredient in the liquid cartridges, polyethylene glycol, is FDA-approved and is used in many consumer products.

A 2013 study in the journal Tobacco Control found that the harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes occurred at levels 9 to 450 times lower than in regular cigarette smoke.

A 2009 study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that the e-cigarettes studied “contained detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed.”

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Karl Tate
Karl has been Purch's infographics specialist across all editorial properties since 2010.  Before joining Purch, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University.