(If you read American – as opposed to English – please be aware that the original meaning of “fag” is colloquial for “cigarette”)
If you know me, you are aware that I am a seriously addicted smoker, and have been for decades. No, I’m not proud of it, and no, I’m not happy with it either.
Some 5-6 years ago, the Dutch market saw the rise (and fall) of the first generation of electronic cigarettes (and cigars, and even pipes). I was a fairly early adopter. Although the particular brand that I chose (Sedansa) faired comparatively well in terms of quality, it quickly became clear that this product wasn’t even close to ‘ready-to-market’. You had to be a serious hobbyist to be able to keep this thing working. I am fairly sure that the resellers (mainly web shops) in these days made considerable losses due to warranty returns.
I spent a couple months trying to get mine to work. There were good days and bad days… but after a couple of months, the bad days outnumbered the good days, and after half a year, the thing simply ran out of good days.
The idea is simple: you take a liquid that contains propylene glycol, a varying quantity of nicotine (the addictive substance of tobacco), additional flavours (vanilline, fruit flavours) and flavour enhancers, and ethyl alcohol. You then think of a system to vapourise the liquid, and you have the smoker inhale the vapour… and hey presto, the smoker thinks he’s smoking, (s)he gets his/her nicotine fix. But (s)he doesn’t get the tar (which causes all sorts of lung problems such as emphysemia and lung cancer), the benzene and all these 500 other substances that pose serious health risks that should scare any thinking person out of smoking. Take it from me: you really have to switch off your cognitive abilities to light a cigarette. Yet, a surprising number of gifted people like yours truly (heh heh) manage to do so so several times each day.
But I digress.
Electronic smoking was invented in China. They hooked up a vapouriser to a battery, fed the liquid to the vapouriser, and had us inhale the result.
“The Chinese… they invented it??!? Did they not copy the idea from some place else?”
Yea right. Back in the ‘60’s, we said the same thing of the Japanese. Look where that brought us. The Chinese are able of remarkable achievements. They just have to figure out how the global market works. Once they get that down, prepare to be amazed.
There’s a good reason why they’d need to invent that: China has a huge smoking problem. Stivoro would be scared shitless in China. CAN would simply commit suicide (which in itself would be a good idea, but that’s for another rant).
Anyway. While this seems relatively simple (which it is, really), the manufacturers managed to screw this up in a big way, for a long time. Which in itself is no problem when you do that in the testing phase. Unfortunately, ‘testing’ involved selling it to us and see how we would react.
Or so it felt to us.
The early system activated the vapouriser by switching on the battery. The battery was activated by us sucking (a vacuum switch). This meant that there was a little hole in the battery case through which the air could be sucked out to activate the vacuum switch.
Unfortunately, but very logically, the same hole could be used by the liquid to enter into the battery when the cigarette would be carried battery-down. Which you would do… if you pocketed it battery-up, the liquid might pour out of the mouth piece into your pocket,a dn you didn’t want that.
But since propylene glycol is somewhat sticky, the vacuum switches tended to get sticky – and since the battery and switch was a closed unit, there was no way to clean it.
And there was another problem. The vapourisers (for some reason often called ‘atomizers’) turned out to break down quite often. I do not want to know how many panicking addicts tried to revitalise comatose vapourisers with alcohol, ultrasonic methods, and other rituals involving the liberal use of ground bat teeth and blood drained from a virgin under the light of a new moon.
Third problem was that the liquid was “contained” in a ‘cartridge’, containing a blob of cotton drenched in the liquid. Anyone who has ever tried to contain any liquid semi-permanently in a cotton swab knows why I put the word “contained” between quotation marks. Since the cartridge was open on both sides (one side needed to get the liquid in the vapouriser, the other side needed to be able to transfer the vapour into the user’s mouth), the unvapourised liquid eventually went everywhere. Including into the battery, and also into the user’s mouth. And the user did NOT appreciate that sensation.
OK, epic fail.
Fast-forward five years.
Today, the battery is activated by a button on the battery. Apparently, they figured out that it isn’t too much to ask the user to press a button when he wants to take a drag.
Result: no need to drill a hole into the battery to activate a vacuum switch.
Today, the liquid is not “contained” in a blob of cotton swab, but in a container. The container is shaped so that the pressure change induced by the user sucking on the back end forces a stream of liquid to the vapouriser, where it is evaporated and the vapour is then directed to the user’s mouth for further processing.
The vapouriser is now considered a “consumable” (and priced accordingly). The device can be disassembled to the component level – swapping a vapouriser is a user task, requiring no tools except for a couple of fingers.
Net result: the electronic cigarette is approaching maturity.
Net result 2: I can see me quitting regular smoking altogether. In two days, my normal smoking intake has been reduced with 90%.
Next step will be to, step by step, cut the nicotine intake by gradually going towards the 0% nicotine liquid.