Updated: Aug 2021
Since we first wrote this guide nearly a decade ago, vaping has changed significantly. There is a wider variety of vape devices and e-liquids. Crucially, the devices are both better and easier to use while there are more e-liquid choices for the new vaper.
We also have a decade more of research and vaping has been endorsed by the UK government and a host of charities and organisations, from Cancer Research to the Royal College of Physicians.
There’s never been a better time to ditch cigarettes and switch to vaping. You’ll find this guide contains all the basics you need to get started, with plenty of links to further resources for those who want to know more.
- What is vaping?
- Why is vaping better than smoking?
- Types of vapes (and which is right for you)
- Vape Juice/E-Liquid
- Types of e-liquid
- How to use a vape
- Additional resources
What is vaping?
When you vape, you use an electronic cigarette to heat a liquid (called e-liquid or vape juice) into vapour before inhaling it.
The e-liquid usually (but not always) contains nicotine. Vaping replicates the action and sensation of smoking, but without the tobacco smoke that causes smoking diseases.
What is the difference between a vape and an electronic cigarette?
Electronic cigarette (or e-cigarette) was the first term to be used for the device used for vaping. Over time, the term vape or vape device came to be used. Nowadays, the term vape device or electronic cigarette can be used interchangeably.
How does vaping work?
Every vape device uses a battery, a container (known as the tank, pod or cartridge) to hold the liquid and a coil. It will also have a wick in the coil that absorbs the liquid. When you inhale or press the button, the coil heats the e-liquid. This heat turns the e-liquid into vapour.
Why is vaping better than smoking?
People smoke cigarettes for the nicotine (as well as other addictive elements in tobacco smoke) but die from the smoke. Vapour contains nicotine, which scientists state has a similar risk profile to coffee, but only a fraction of the other harmful elements contained in tobacco smoke.
After multiple, annual reviews of the evidence, including longer term studies, organisations like Public Health England have concluded that electronic cigarettes are at least 95% less harmful than cigarettes.
Scientists also estimate that vaping carries just 0.5% of the cancer risk of smoking, while long term studies have demonstrated that switching to vaping can reverse some smoking diseases.
You can find a great overview of the benefits of vaping in the video by Yorkshire Cancer Research below:
Types of vapes (and which is right for you)
There are many types of vape devices, and it can be confusing to choose which one will meet your needs. There’s also some cross-over between different types of devices. The most important to be aware of is open vs. closed systems.
Closed systems, such as the Hexa V2, come with pre-filled e-liquids and fixed coils. They are convenient and easy to use, but are more expensive than open systems in the long term
Open systems can be used with different e-liquids. These give you the choice of many different flavours, e-liquid types and nicotine strengths. While initially awkward to fill, modern vape devices are increasingly easy to refill via handy filling ports. They are more economical to use than closed systems.
Many open systems come with replaceable coils. This reduces cost (as you only need to replace one part) and reduces waste. Modern devices increasingly use push-pull coils, which are quick and easy to replace.
Cigalikes look and feel like a regular cigarette. They come with a recharchargable battery and disposable cartridges.
- Very easy to use
- Closely resemble a cigarette
- Compact, fit easily into a pocket
- Limited flavour choice
- More expensive in the long run than refillable systems
- Less vapour than other vapes
Disposable vapes have gained in popularity in recent months. They contain a lithium-ion battery, coil and e-liquid in one device that is thrown away after a few hours of use.
- Although initially cheap, very expensive over the long term.
- Disposing of a battery (which can be recharged 300 times) after a single use is bad for the environment.
Pod systems come in two parts: a pod that contains the coil or e-liquid and the device which contains the battery. The device usually clips into the battery section. They range from simple systems with fixed coils to more powerful devices (or ‘pod mods’) capable of producing larger clouds of vapour.
- Huge range of choice to suit different needs
- Easier to use than most mod devices
- More compact than most mod devices
- Open pod systems can be used with a wide range of e-liquids
Vape pens consist of a device that holds the battery and a tank. They are usually long and thin and resemble the pen that gives them their name.
- Easy to use
- Usually open systems that can be used with a wide range of e-liquids
- Usually light, fit easily into a pocket or bag
- Less functionality than mods
- Lower battery life than mods and some pod devices
- Less vapour than mods and pod mods
Also see: Best Vape Pens roundup
Mod kits are larger and (usually) more powerful than other vape kits. They also usually have a larger battery life. Mods range from simple devices designed for beginners to more advanced devices with multiple modes and functions suited to more experienced users.
- Long-lasting batteries
- Lots of options for advanced/techy vapers
- Best options for vapers who prefer clouds
- Can have a steeper learning curve than other devices
- Not usually as compact as other devices
- Bulkier and heavier than other devices
What should new vapers buy?
If you’re starting vaping, the key is to select a starter kit. This can be a cigalike, vape pen, a low-powered pod device or a simple mod kit. These devices are easy to use and have less power (which means there is less to go wrong). They are also economical to run.
A great place to start looking for a device is our round-up of the best current vape kits for beginners. In this guide we match different devices to different needs, so you can choose the one that’s right for you.
If you use an open system, you will need vape juice (also known as e-liquid) to go into it.
Vape Juice is a liquid that usually has four key components:
Propylene Glycol (PG) and Vegetable Glycerine (VG)
These are colourless alcohols with slightly different properties. VG is sweeter and produces more vapour. PG has a stronger throat hit and produces better flavour. Most e-liquids contain both VG and PG, which is expressed as ratio. For example, an e-liquid which is half VG and half PG would be expressed as VG:PG 50:50.
You can vary your experience by varying the VG:PG ratio. For example, if you wanted a strong throat hit you might choose a VG:PG ratio of 40:60. If you wanted more vapour you might choose a VG:PG ratio of 60:40.
Most new vapers choose to use a ratio of 50:50.
Nicotine (and how to choose the right strength)
Most (but not all) e-liquid contains nicotine. Nicotine is one of, but not the only, addictive elements of cigarette smoking. However, it is not the cause of smoking diseases. In Europe, nicotine content in e-liquid is currently limited to 2%, although this may be increased in future in the UK.
Using too low a strength is a key reason who some smokers fail to switch to vaping. It’s important to use a strong enough strength to curb nicotine cravings. Once you have stopped smoking, and are confident you won’t revert, you can always reduce your nicotine strength in the future.
For more information, see our guide: Nicotine and E-Liquid: What strength do you need?
The final component of choosing a vape juice is flavourings. In the UK and Europe, flavours are regulated. Ingredients known to be harmful when inhaled are eliminated and e-liquids must undergo emissions testing before they can be sold.
There is a wide choice of e-liquid flavours available on the UK market, with everything from tobacco to fruit, dessert and beverage-flavoured blends available.
Research shows that when you start vaping with a non-tobacco flavour, you are more likely to be successful.
Types of e-liquid
This e-liquid usually has a VG:PG ratio of 50:50 and has a stronger throat hit, making it a great way to replicate the experience of smoking.
Nicotine salts have a smoother throat hit than freebase e-liquid, even when combined with higher levels of nicotine. They are suitable for vapers who use higher levels of nicotine, or simply prefer a smooth vape.
Learn more in our Guide to Nicotine Salts.
Shortfills are larger bottles of e-liquid. They don’t come with nicotine, which needs to be added separately in the form of nicotine shots. They usually have higher VG levels, making them suitable for more powerful and advanced devices and for vapers who prefer larger clouds of vapour.
What e-liquid should new vapers buy?
You should start with either freebase e-liquid (if you prefer a stronger throat hit) or nicotine salts (if you prefer a smoother throat hit). It’s best to try a range of flavours to see which you prefer, and try different nicotine strengths (but don’t go too low). At E-Cigarette Direct the most popular brand we sell is Halo e-liquid, which is a great option for all-day vaping.
How to use a vape
Fortunately, vaping with a starter kit is not rocket science! That said, there are a few things you need to know.
Priming the coil (open systems only)
As mentioned before, the coil is the element that heats up e-liquid. It’s important to prime the coil before you use it for the first time. For beginners devices, simply:
- Attach the coil
- Fill the tank
- Allow to stand for five minutes
For more advanced devices, drip some e-liquid into the coil hole and ports before using it.
For a more in-depth guide see How to Prime a Vape Coil.
When you smoke, you take short, sharp drags on a cigarette. Vaping is a bit different. When you inhale, you close your lips firmly around the mouthpiece of your device. Inhale longer and slower than you would on an electronic cigarette and without allowing any air to enter.
Most new vapers prefer to hold the vapour in the mouth for a second before drawing the vapour into their lungs. This is known as Mouth-to-Lung vaping.
For more information on inhaling, and different inhale styles, see How to inhale when you vape.