Electronic Cigarette Primer – The Basics to Get You Started

Janty eGo

Even though I’m fairly new at vaping, I thought I’d create a post about what I’d recommend to someone interested in purchasing their first electronic cigarette and cover some lingo, hardware and e-juice basics. Lets start off with some common lingo you will see in the electronic cigarette community.

Analogue: This is what some vapour people are calling traditional cigarettes. The idea being electronic cigarettes are digital in nature (or something). I don’t care for the term myself.

Atty: Atomizer

Cart: Cartridge. The mouthpiece which contains the liquid used to create vapour.

Cartomizer: A disposable, combined, atomizer and cartridge.

DIY: Do it yourself.

Dripping, Drip, Dipping, Dip: Putting e-juice directly on the atomizer (see below)

e-juice / e-liquid: The liquid which produces the vapour in an electronic cigarette.

Juice: The liquid which produces the vapour in an electronic cigarette.

LR or LR Atty: A low resistance atomizer which allows more power to the heating coil.

Mod: Short for modification. This is a custom design or a redesign of some aspect of the electronic cigarette.

PCC: Personal Charging Case.

PG: Propylene Glycol

PT: Pass-though. An alternate way of powering an electronic cigarette.

PTB Mod: Pyramid Tea Bag Modification. This uses tea bags as filler in a cartridge.

PV or Personal Vapourizer: The electronic cigarette

Ruyan: the company who first developed the electronic cigarette

TH or Throat Hit: The sensation on the back of the throat.

Topping or Topping Off: Refilling or topping off a cartridge with e-juice.

VG: Vegetable Glycerine

Vape or Vaping: This is commonly used in place of the term “smoking”.

-Electronic Cigarettes – How They Work

All electronic cigarettes contain the same basic elements – a power source (battery or some form of power adapter), an atomizer, and a mouthpiece (also known as a cartridge if it contains fluid).

The vapourizer liquid is heated by the atomizer. When this happens the liquid turns into a fine mist which is inhaled. The atomizer is basically a small heater coil and a wick of some sort to help feed the liquid into the coil.

-Types of Electronic Cigarettes

DSE-601 Electronic Pipe

E-cigarettes come in various shapes and sizes.

Super Mini – These are about the same size as a traditional king size cigarette.

Mini – These are about the same size as a traditional “100” size cigarette.

Super – Supers are also made to look like regular cigarettes but are longer than the “mini”.

Pen Style – This is where we start to get away from emulating the cigarette look. Pen styles are just that, they look more like a ballpoint pen.

Cigar – Just what you would expect.

Pipe – These look like a traditional pipe.

Mods – This is a vast category. Most mods are basically a different battery holder for a standard group of atomizers. Some look like boxes, screwdrivers, flashlights and a whole slew of things. One mod I’ve seen is called the laser mod because it uses the case from a cheap laser pointer.

302 Pen Style

-Manual and Automatic

Electronic cigarettes come in two different operational modes – manual and automatic.

The automatic e-cigs have a sensor which activates when you inhale from the tip. This powers up the atomizer to provide vapour. The manual ones are just that. They have a switch of some kind you press to activate the atomizer.

The only ones I’ve used were manual. I read some of the automatic types can be triggered just by bouncing around in your pocket. I read of one case where the loud music in a club triggered the e-cig to fire in the guys shirt pocket.

Of course manual e-cigs can misfire as well. If it has a regular button, something can press on it when you least expect it. There are a few manual mods out there that provide a main power switch or a touch sensor switch.

-Atomizers (AKA; Atty)

The anatomy of an atomizer is basically a heating coil, a wick, a handful of air passages and a place to connect the battery.

New atomizers normally come with some sort of “primer” on them. This is a result of the manufacturing process. Many people report the primer as being safe but bitter tasting. It takes a handful of drags on a new atomizer before the primer taste disappears. Personally myself, I haven’t really noticed. It’s there, I can taste it, but I don’t find it as bad as some people claim.

Various Atomizers

There are a handful of popular size atomizers which are identified by the manufacturer model number. At the moment these are the 901/808D-1, 801, 401, 103/4081, and 510 (there are more but I don’t care to list them all). From what I can tell, most of the atomizers are all constructed in more or less the same way with the main difference being the size of the screw threads to attach the atomizer with the battery. Of course whenever someone creates two things of a different size, someone will invent an adapter so you can connect the two.

401 Atomizer

Atomizers have an unspecified life-span. Some people say they got several weeks of use off an atomizer while others say they’ve been using the same atomizer for months. Two main things can go wrong with an atomizer. The heating coil can burn out (a break in the coil so no electricity can pass) or it can become clogged. The heating coil can also get fully, or partially, coated in burned e-juice. This insulates the coil from properly heating e-juice and can result in poor or no vapour production.

There are many methods on how to clean and extend the usefulness of an atomizer and there is some minor regular maintenance that should be done to keep your atomizer running smoothly. I won’t get into the specifies of all the different ways to clean atomizers (that will be a future post), but here are a few guidelines.

Some people have had good luck using the “dry burn” method to clean the burned crud from the coil (google “atomizer dry burn”).

The air passages can get filled with old fluid and residue. Reduced airflow can result in low vapour production, It is fairly easy to maintain this. Remove the atomizer from the battery and cartridge. Put a paper towel over the mouthpiece end and blow into the atomizer from the battery side. This should blow out all the residue that has built up within the atomizer. You can also rinse the atomizer under hot water and then blow out the extra water. Make sure to let the atomizer fully dry before using it.

510 Atomizer in various colours

Sometimes liquid and other gunk can get on the battery connector. It is a good idea to clean around the battery contacts and threads on both the atomizer and the battery so there is always a good electrical contact. A few days back I actually thought I had a dead atomizer. I’d screw it on to the battery and it wouldn’t fire. The only thing wrong with it was the battery contact needed wiping off. Doh.

One thing that really sets atomizers apart is how you choose to use your electronic cigarette (see below). Some atomizers like the 510 are popular with people who use cartridges where as the 401 is good for dipping as the wick is exposed.

-Cartridge and/or Mouthpiece

The cartridge is a mouthpiece which contains a reservoir for e-liquid fluid. The cartridge attaches to the atomizer. There is a filler inside the reservoir which helps to hold the liquid. The most common filler is a fine threaded polyfill – much like what you see as the stuffing inside some pillows. There are two basic types of cartridge mouthpieces – flat (or whistle tip) or round. At first I thought I’d like the flat ones but the manual button on my battery is on the side and sometimes the button and flat mouthpiece don’t like up. This results in having to hold the e-cig in an unnatural way to trigger the button. Not a big deal, but I don’t have this problem with the round ones.

Flat or Whistle Tip cartridge

There are a number of modifications people are attempting to increase the usefulness of the filler and how it wicks fluid to the atomizer. This is something you won’t really need to worry about when you first get started but if you like fiddling with things you’ll have fun with this (I’m using the PTB Mod – using nylon tea bags as the filler – and having good luck with it).

Some electronic cigarettes use a cartomizer which is a cartridge and an atomizer combined.

There are other mouthpieces designed specially for “dripping” (see below).

-The Liquid (AKA e-juice)


The vapourizer liquid is a base of propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG) or a mixture of the two and a flavouring. The liquid may also contain nicotine which is often listed in milligrams per milliliter (16mg, 20mg, etc).

You can buy e-juice in pre-filled cartridges or in bottles. Most bottles come in 10, 15 and 30 ml sizes. You can buy it flavoured or unflavoured, nicotine or no nicotine, in a drippy bottle or with a dropper, or in giant bulk bottles. Many people are buying unflavoured with nicotine and adding their own flavours.

How much e-juice fluid will you go through? This is really hard to say. Some people say they use 2 ml a day, others more, some less. I’ve stopped keeping track but I think I’m somewhere around 1-2 ml per day. The nicotine level I’m commonly using is 18-24mg. I have some e-juice I diluted from 24mg and I estimate it is around 12-14mg.

Like everything, the price varies on where you buy it and how much you buy at a time. I’m seeing 30ml bottles going for around $15-20 CAD.


At first glance the power aspect of electronic cigarettes seem confusing – but it really isn’t. I’ll try to explain the differences.

Battery – The most used power source for an electronic cigarette is a lithium ion battery. Obviously this is because it is small, portable and convenient. Batteries are recharged in a standard charger or some can be charged in a charge case (PCC). The common voltage for the mini’s are around 3 – 4 volts. The mAh (or, in simple terms, how long the battery will last) is around 100-200 mAh. The higher the mAh number is, the more vaping you can do on a single charge.

510 Manual Battery

To give you an example; I have two different batteries for my 510 atomizer. One is 180 mAh and the other is 650 mAh. The 180 mAh battery will last around 1-2 hours of average use. The 650 mAh will last around 8 hours of average use. I read somewhere one person counted 499 20-30 second drags off a single charge of a 650 mAh battery. To put that in perspective of average cigarette use, before I switched to e-cigs I counted about how many drags I took off a king size cigarette. It was normally around 10-14 drags.

Commonly the electronic cigarette battery will have an LED on the end of the battery which lights when the device is in use.

Some batteries contain an electronic component which shuts the battery down if it is switched on too long. This is to avoid atomizer coil burnout. Some will shut down the battery if the voltage is too low – which would not produce proper vapour. On these, when the voltage runs too low, the LED will flash 15 or more times to indicate it is time to recharge.

USB Pass-Through

USB Passthrough – A USB passthrough is a device which plugs into a USB port and connects directly to the atomizer of the e-cigarette. Many USB passthoughs also contain a small box with a battery somewhere along the wire. On those devices the atomizer is powered by the battery and the power from the USB port recharges the battery.

A USB passthough can be powered by the USB port in your computer or laptop, a powered USB hub, or an adapter (AC or auto cigarette lighter).

Battery Pack – I don’t think battery packs are in production by any major electronic cigarette manufacturers, but I’ve seen some on-line. Basically the battery pack is an external battery which connects to the atomizer by a wire. The reason for this is to have a power source which provides either more voltage or more mAh.


As I mentioned above, most minis run around 3 to 4 volts. 3.7 volts seems to be fairly common with the “popular” models.

Some people have discovered that providing a bit more power (5 to 6 volts) to the atomizers this causes the heating coil to heat up faster and run hotter which produces a thicker vapour. The downside to running at higher volts is you will run a risk of burning out your atomizer heating coil. Higher volts will also eat through more e-juice. There are companies out there which produce higher volt devices which commonly use the 801, 901 or 510 atomizers.

I would say the higher volt models are not a good jumping off point for entry-level vaping.

-Low Resistance Atomizers (AKA; LR or LR atty)

Low resistance atomizers allow more power to travel from the battery (or power source) to your atomizer heating coil. This emulates the results of higher voltage devices. Commonly a 510 atomizer has a resistance of 2.3 ohms. Low resistance atomizers run around 1.5 ohms.

Like running an atomizer at a higher voltage, low resistance atomizers run hotter and the talk is they burn out faster.

To reduce the risk of damaging your battery, you should only use LR atomizers at 3.7 volts and on batteries with over 450 mAh (at least this is true with the 510 LR atomizers).

-How People Rate “Vaping”.

Vaping is the verb for the action of using an electronic cigarette. Commonly people will refer to how well it produces vapour, the “throat hit” (TH), and fullness of flavour. The throat hit is really what emulates smoking a real cigarette. It is a slight peppery burn in the back of your throat. Not all e-liquids provide the throat hit. If you were to vape on plain VG fluid you wouldn’t feel it (trust me, I tried it). The throat hit comes from the nicotine content, the fluid mixture, and how well of a vapour the device produces.

Vegetable glycerin is good at creating a thick vapour, but doesn’t seem to be able to provide a good throat hit. Propylene glycol can produce a good throat hit but doesn’t produce a great vapour. Needless to say this is why more and more people are mixing both bases to get the best of both worlds.

The only way I can describe the vapour itself is to say it is softer than cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke is smoke. Vapour is more like dense steam.

-How To Use Your Electronic Cigarette.

How you use the e-cig comes down to how you get the liquid to the atomizer. There are three main ways;

Cartridge – This is the standard method. The cartridge is part of the mouthpiece and it contains a reservoir which holds the liquid e-juice. The amount of e-juice a reservoir can hold depends on the cartridge – but from what I can tell is seems to be commonly around 1/2 ml or so. The majority of the cartridges are refillable in one way or another. Refilling your own cartridges takes time (not THAT much time) and it can also save you a bundle of money. Another benefit of refilling is you can mix various flavours and nicotine strengths. I think 80% of electronic cigarette users refill their cartridges.

Drip Tips

Dripping – The user drips a few drops directly on the atomizer’s wick. Some companies have started making mouthpieces designed for dripping. These are called drip tips. They are designed to be able to drip liquid directly down the mouthpiece without removing it.

Dipping – The user dips the atomizers wick into the e-juice.

-Sounds good. I want to use one. What should I buy?

Like I mentioned in my first post, Adventures in Electronic Cigarettes – Part 1, I did a fair amount of research on devices before I jumped in and bought my own. I waded through many different websites and forums, read reviews, and took into consideration the comments left by the general population of vapour-people.

Overall, the top contender for a entry level device is the Joye 510.

The core of every system is really the atomizer and the 510 atomizer tends to be a generally well liked product. There are tons of modifications and other products that use the 510 atomizer so your options for the future are open. You wouldn’t want to invest in 5-8 atomizers ($50-80) and then decide to change to an entirely different format. Many people started with the 510 and months later are still very happy with it.

510’s are also readily available. Almost every full service on-line store I’ve seen carries parts and accessories for the 510.

So, you’re ready to take the plunge into the world of electronic cigarette? Now, where to start and what to buy. Here is where I point people.


I have two recommendations.

A basic 510 Starter Kit

Joye 510 Starter Kit – There are several starter kits out there but find one that contains a couple batteries, a PCC (charging case), a few atomizers and a handful of cartridges. Some include a USB passthrough device or other battery charging options which are nice to have.

This really is a fine jumping off point. The charging case has a slot for three full cartridges, a battery (which will charge in the case) and space for a spare atomizer (Because atomizers can fail at any time, it is a good idea to carry a spare with you). The 510’s are a nice size and the PCC fits in a shirt pocket.

Janty eGo starter kit – Commonly this comes with two batteries, an atomizer, an atomizer cone, a charger and a handful of cartridges. The advantage to the eGo is the higher mAh battery (650 mAh) over the standard Joye 180 mAh battery. If you order the eGo starter kit, I would recommend ordering at least one more atomizer.

The eGo does not have a carry case because ideally the battery should last you most of the day. This also means you’ll need to figure out a way to carry around your extra cartridges. To start, an empty Altoids tin works well.

Janty eGo

While you are at it, order a handful of ready to be filled cartridges. These often come in a pack of 5. This will give you a chance to play with your new e-juice flavours.


Normally the starter kits come with some kind of pre-filled cartridges. Take a shot in the dark with these. Just pick what sounds good.

I suggest getting a few small bottles of different flavours and nicotine strengths. I would advice starting with a nicotine strength under 24mg – just to be on the safe side.

Being a smoker, at first I was interested in tobacco flavours. I’m sort of drifting away from this right now. I’m starting with a tobacco base and highlighting it with other flavours. Right now, peppermint is my augment of choice. This is kind of weird because I always disliked menthol cigarettes.

I mixed two of my e-juices together and it produced a maple aftertaste. I actually really enjoyed this. So much so I’ve ordered a maple flavouring to add to my tobacco flavours. I would never have expected that.

But, this isn’t that unusual. I’m actually reading many people are experiencing the same thing.

Pick out a few flavours that sound good and experiment. 10ml bottles are small and are fairly inexpensive.


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  2. My birthday is in May and its coming in a few months and I am going to be 18 and I am going to buy my first pack of Cigarettes. I started smoking cigarettes a while ago and I find Cigarettes that are on the ground and I smoke them and I want to buy Cigarettes because I am addicted to Cigarettes, the smell of the smoke and seeing people smoking Cigarettes.

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