How do electronic cigarettes work?

E Cig basics

Before considering electronic cigarettes, let’s digress for just a second or two and look at how the regular, conventional cigarette works: dried tobacco leaves are rolled into a paper tube, you light the end of it, draw on the lit tube, inhale the smoke from it, exhale the remaining smoke and flick the remaining ash into an ashtray, where you also deposit the spent butt.

The electronic cigarette has none of that: no tobacco, no fire, no tobacco smoke (to inhale or exhale), no ash and no cigarette butt to dispose of. Yet it looks the same as a conventional cigarette, tastes the same and satisfies the same craving for a nicotine “fix” that any regular smoker will know only too well.

It does this by way of an ingenious piece of electrical micro-engineering.

The electrics

The electronic cigarette is powered by a small, lithium ion battery that is cleverly designed as the same shape and size of the body of a regular cigarette. Not only does this provide the power for the device, but it also allows for the sleeve covering the battery to be made in virtually any color – from the white or black of “normal” cigarettes to more novel shades from any color of the rainbow.

When the user takes a drag on the e-cigarette, a sensor detects the flow of air and activates an atomizer, or vaporizer, which transforms a small amount of liquid into a spray, or vapor, which is inhaled by the “smoker”.

Not only does this clever piece of circuitry vaporize the liquid inhalant, it also illuminates the tip of the cigarette, which glows in a way that simulates the burning end of a regular cigarette.

The components

Understanding how electronic cigarettes work makes it easier to appreciate the relative simplicity of its construction. Although all of them are based on essentially similar working components, some have a three-part and some have a two-part assembly:

  • Three-part assembly: this variant brings together the three separate working components of the electronic cigarette as individual items. That is to say, there is a battery (forming the longest, “body” part of the cigarette); a pre-filled or refillable cartridge, containing the vaporizable flavoring and nicotine (or nicotine-free) fluid (hidden in what looks like the “filter); and in-between these two components, a separate, electronically-powered  atomizer, which vaporizes a measured volume of the liquid to produce a vapor that can be inhaled as it gives off a puff of what appears to be an authentic and realistic-looking cloud of “smoke”.How do electronic cigarettes work?
  • Two-part assembly: another type of electronic cigarette is even simpler to put together, since it come in just two parts. It comprises the same working components, of course, but in this case, the atomizer forms an integral part of the cartridge so that the battery housing simply screws into or push-fits onto a single unit, containing the cartridge and atomizer.

How do electronic cigarettes work?

The taste

Whether it fits together as a three- or two-part device, what is most likely to distinguish the various brands of electronic cigarette is the taste and flavor. This is what makes the cartridge and the fluid it contains probably the single most critical component and carries the desired dose of nicotine (or a nicotine-free substitute, if that’s what you prefer) and your chosen flavoring (made from a harmless, food-derived additive).

So, both the nicotine (if you’ve chosen it) and the flavorings are suspended in a water-based liquid that goes by the chemical name of propylene glycol. This is a lot less scary than its name might imply, since it is commonly used throughout a whole range of widely-used products from medicines, to cosmetics, food and even toothpaste. Needless to say, therefore, propylene glycol has already been fully approved by the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Simple ingenuity

Like so many other modern gadgets and devices, therefore, smokeless cigarettes are modeled on a simple yet ingenious design to bring you all the satisfaction of enjoying a good smoke, without the troublesome downsides of damage to your own health, the health of those around you, the smell, or the mess. Enjoy one, therefore, in places where you could not otherwise smoke or simply for the pleasure of indulging a habit in a far less damaging way.

Disclaimer: Reviews found on are based on personal views and opinions. The views of guest users may not be that of the site owners. E cigarettes are not medical devices and therefore are not intended as nicotine replacement therapy nor are they a cessation device. E cigarettes are intended for use by existing smokers aged 18 or 21 (dependent on state laws) as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes. Not to be used by children, pregnant or breast feeding women or any persons in ill health. E cigarettes contain nicotine which is an addictive drug. If unsure of use please consult your doctor. In accordance with FTC guidelines on endorsements and testimonials, we disclose that we are compensated by advertising revenue and/or affiliate revenue on this site. We will always give our honest opinion on products we review. All claims and statements found on this site should be verified with the manufacturer of each product.