The Evolution Of E-Cigarettes

The Evolution Of E-Cigarettes

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E-cigarettes have been around since 2006. Whilst they are considerably different now from the original invention, the fundamentals of e-cigarettes really haven’t changed all that much. With every year that passes they evolve incrementally but the industry as a whole, is overdue some real innovation. 

The basic principle of an e-cigarette is a battery that powers a heating element which is fed e-liquid via a cotton wick. You may think there isn’t a lot of room for innovation with such a simple design but whilst that is partly true, the last 13 years have taught me that innovation can come in many forms.

The first real innovations came from hobbyist vapers around 2008 with mechanical or unregulated devices. They realised you could turn a lot of things into an e-cigarette providing there was a battery and an on/off switch. They modified torch housings to fit atomizers on top of, which birthed the term “mod” used to describe the battery part of a e-cigarette. In doing this they realised that if they made the heating element (coil) with a resistance lower than 1 ohm, they got a more powerful hit from it. In fact, the lower the coil resistance, the more powerful the hit. This, in turn, gave birth to one of the most important innovations in vaping today – Sub ohm vaping. Nowadays most manufactured devices and coils are built to utilize sub ohm vaping but back in 2010 this was a real game changer. Without it, vaping would not be anywhere near as popular as it is today.

The next big innovation was more recently with Nicotine salts. Scientists realised that the PH of nicotine has a major effect on how harsh we perceive it to be and how easily the body absorbs it. They discovered this when looking at the difference between cigars and cigarettes. 

Nicotine salts are basically the same as normal nicotine only with an added acid (usually benzoate or salicylate acid) which lowers the PH value, allowing the nicotine to be absorbed much quicker and without the perceived harshness of normal nicotine. 

This allows people to vape at much higher nicotine concentrations which in turn keeps new vapers away from smoking. A couple of puffs on a 20mg nicotine e-liquid is enough to stave off any nicotine cravings for a good while, whereas previously they would need to be vaping for 5 or 10 minutes to get that same level of satiation.

These are, to me at least, the two most important innovations in e-cigarettes. They are what has allowed the industry to grow at the insane speed it has. Without them, smokers would find it much more difficult to quit.

The technology of e-cigarettes hasn’t really changed that much. Whether you use a rebuildable atomizer or a sub ohm tank with stock coils, the design hasn’t really changed since 2011. Chipsets have got smaller and cheaper. Atomizers have got more reliable, better at producing flavour and easier to maintain but overall, the same basic design principals still exist as they did in the beginning. 

Why?

Well I Suppose There Are A Few Reasons:

  • There isn’t that much space for innovation. After all, it is just a battery and an atomizer.
  • The current design works well. I suppose there is the attitude of “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”. 
  • The fear of failure. Failure costs companies’ money.

What Can We Expect In The Future?

Batteries

Vapers desperately need some new battery technology. We need smaller batteries with more capacity but since the common batteries we use are borrowed from other types of devices it is unlikely we will see this in the next few years. Of course, as soon as battery technology moves on for other technological devices, if they are affordable and practical, vapers will adopt them too. 

Atomizers Without Coils Or Wicks

This has been tried several times unsuccessfully, but it’s just waiting for a company to get it right. In order to explain the innovation needed, I need to describe the problem with the current design, so bare with me. 

E-liquid contains sweeteners. Sweeteners caramelise on the heating element overtime slowly making it work less and less efficiently. They also destroy the cotton wick. 

With a rebuildable atomizer this is less of a problem. You can simply remove your cotton. Wash your coil and heat it until the caramelisation has burned away. Then simply replace with new cotton. 

With a tank that uses manufactured coils it is not possible to remove the cotton to wash and burn the coil so that coil simply has to be thrown away and replaced with another. This obviously isn’t cost effective, but these sorts of tanks are often chosen by the vaper for ease of use. 

A tank design that doesn’t require a wick or has a different style of heating element altogether is what the vaping world is waiting for. The issue is that there is no impetus for the companies to make such devices since they would lose money from coil sales. However, the first company to get it right will make a lot of money for sure. 

Regulation

Every year new regulations are imposed on vapers by governments. Often, because the people writing the regulations have no understanding of what they are regulating against, the regulations can seem ridiculous. A good example would be the European Tobacco Products Directive that insists that nicotine containing E-liquids can be sold in bottles no larger than 10ml. If your average vaper goes through between 15 and 30ml a day the amount of unnecessary plastic waste created by this is obscene. Regulation is supposed to be there to make things safer. Unfortunately, I think it can often stifle innovation. 

When we look at the current way the FDA are planning to regulate e-cigarettes in America with their PMA or Premarket Authorization, the costs involved for manufacturers of e-cigarettes and e-liquids to put products through testing make it impossible for companies to bring new products to market. This will have a huge effect on vaping around the world as the USA has the largest share of the e-cigarette market currently.