In news certain to cast a pall over high school bathrooms across the nation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today ordered all Juul e-cigarette products currently marketed to be removed from store shelves, effective immediately. “The company must stop selling and distributing these products. In addition, those currently on the U.S. market must be removed, or risk enforcement action,” The FDA said in a statement.
If you’re hopelessly addicted to the drug Juul provides, consider the news a wake-up call: It is time to quit nicotine. Just kidding—we both know that isn’t happening. But it is the perfect time to switch from a cartridge-based or disposable e-cig to real vaping.
Why vapers and smokers should switch to an open vaping system
While there are still competing e-cigarettes on the market, some of which have already received FDA approval, if you ask Michael Kohanoff, the owner of Los Angeles-based Studio City Vapors, open vapes (devices you fill yourself) offer significant advantages over disposable or pod-based systems.
First, there’s the cost. “There’s a little bit more of an upfront cost because you have to buy the equipment,” Kohanoff explained, “but in the long-run, there’s a significant discount.”
According to vaping wizard Matt Taylor, a Studio City Vapors’s clerk, it can be up to 50% cheaper to use a fillable vape as opposed to closed system like Juul or Vuse. Moreover, open vaping is probably a quarter of the cost of smoking traditional, non-electric cigarettes, Taylor estimated.
Along with being cheaper, having your own rig means making your own decision about what you’re inhaling. “You can also control the amount of nicotine in your juice and slowly start tapering off,” Kohanoff said. “Plus, you have only a few flavors with something like Juul, instead of limitless ones [with open vaping].”
What exactly is vaping?
Put simply, vaping is using an electronic device to inhale the vapor produced by heating up a liquid mixture that usually contains flavoring, vegetable oil, and nicotine. You can either do this through completely disposable e-cigs, “closed,” pod-based systems, or by filling your own heating element with whatever vape juice or nicotine salts you’d like.
If you’re just starting out, the number of vape devices and options can be intimidating. Culturally, we haven’t even really settled on a name for the device that creates the “vapor” of vaping—is it an e-cig? a tank? A box mod? A vape kit? I’m going to go with “mod,” but no matter what you call it, it’s just a box that holds a heating element and some batteries, an attached tank to hold the liquid, and a mouthpiece to draw in that sweet, sweet vapor.
The intimidation of vape culture
Vaping is weird. There’s a whole subculture of people making insane modification to vape boxes, getting very specific about ohms and amperages, or trying to blow the biggest, most artistic smoke clouds, usually while sporting dumb looking beards. They have contests!
Your local vape shop is probably full of esoteric, unidentifiable devices and hundreds of little bottles of liquid with weird names like “Jam Monster” and “Planet Whoa.” But do not let the strange subculture surrounding vaping dissuade you. All you’re doing is buying a device that vaporizes a liquid so you can breathe in the drug you like in a (probably) less harmful way.
How to choose your first vaping device
At its most basic level, you’ll need two things to get started in your new career as a vaper: A e-cig rig and something to fill it with. It’s possible to walk out the door of a vape shop with a complete system for less than $30, but I think going a step up from “cheapest possible option” is the best move, even for beginners.
A starter kit like the SMOK X-PRIV 225W Starter Kit will cost you about $50. It isn’t overly complicated, so you’ll be able to get right into things, but as you get more “experienced” at vaping, you’ll be able to tweak the power settings to improve your experience. Plus, if you find you’d like a bigger tank or a different mouthpiece down the line, you can switch them out easily.
The drawback to this style of vape is that they’re big—about the size of a pack of cigarettes. If you’re into a slimmer look, there are more discreet options. Vaporesso has a line of “pod mods” that look really slick and don’t cost much, and there are tons of pen-style systems too. I started with a pen system and thought it was great—until I tried something more powerful. That’s the main drawback of smaller rigs: They usually have a single battery, so they won’t stay charged as long or have as much power as a two-battery mod.
The difference between e-juice and nicotine salts
Nicotine salts are a newer addition to the vaping world, and are designed to provide higher concentrations of nicotine to users. They provide a “hit” that’s closer to a cigarette than traditional e-juice. Personally, I prefer the more chill nicotine delivery of regular juice to the punch of nic salts, but you may feel differently. Many vape systems allow you to use either nicotine salts or “regular” e-juice, but each burns at different power levels, so make sure your machine’s settings are correct for your chosen substance.
Choosing the right vape juice or nicotine salts for you
There are hundred, maybe thousands, of brands of vape juice and nic salt on the market. They range from complex, multi-note flavors to bare-bones, even flavorless, juices, so picking your favorite will ultimately comes down to personal taste. I like Naked Berry, a combination of berry and menthol, and hate sweet/candy flavors. Many vape shops will let you sample different juices to help you choose.
For safety reasons, vape store owner Michael Kohanoff recommends sticking with well-known, established brands like Beard Vape Co. or Glas Basix, and avoiding cheap juices imported from China and anything mixed “in-house” at a local shop. “All of the juices we carry are from within the United States and manufactured in laboratories,” he explained.
Vape juices come in variety of strengths, from 0 percent nicotine to 24 mg/ml, although the standard juice strengths are 0mg, 3mg, 6mg, and 24 mg. Nic salts are generally in the 25mg to 50mg range, although weaker versions are available too. I started in the middle with 6mg vape juice, and three years later, that’s still the strength I use. It’s ultimately a trial-and-error thing.
Lets get vaping
Now that you have your rig in hand and your vape juice/salt, it’s time to try it out. How you actually fill your tank and operate your box will vary based your device, so check out the manual. But generally, you pour the juice in the tank, fire it up with the push of a button, then breathe in that sweet vapor.
If you’re used to smoking “real” cigarettes, vaping can take some getting used to, particularly if you’re using juice instead of salts. For me, vaping is a much more mellow experience than smoking tobacco. Cigarettes tend to slam you with a huge amount of nicotine all at once, while vaping is a more civilized drug ingestion experience, where smaller amounts are taken in over time.
Basic vape maintenance: Cleaning, coils, and batteries
For optimal vaping enjoyment, you have to clean your gear occasionally. I usually give mine a bath about every two weeks, or when I change my coils. Most mods are designed to be taken apart, and you can clean them by dissembling the components, soaking them in alcohol, then letting them dry. The specifics, again, will depend on your machine.
Along with cleaning, you occasionally need to change your coils—the element that actually heats the liquid. It’s basically a thin wire that wraps around a cotton wick. The juice is drawn into the wick and the wire heats up and vaporizes the liquid. You should put in a new coil every two weeks or so, or if you detect a burnt or dry taste while vaping.
Vape devices are generally powered with rechargeable lithium batteries of various strengths and sizes. Your device should come with a charging cable, or you can use a dedicated battery charger. Which batteries will work with your device will, again, depend on the device. While vape boxes probably aren’t any more dangerous than a laptop, any device that uses lithium ion batteries can potentially pose a risk of combustion, so take the manufacturer’s safety information seriously.
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