Updated: January 2023
Here’s a common scenario that plays out in vape shops across the country.
A smoker enters the shop, completely new to vaping but intent on buying their first e-cig kit.
“How can I help you today?” the sales manager asks.
“I’m looking to buy an e-cig kit,” the smoker responds, sheepishly looking at the wide array of different devices in the glass displays.
The sales manager launches right into the usual questions, “What are you looking for – a Mouth-to-Lung vape or a Direct-Lung vape?”
You may never have heard of Direct-Lung or Mouth-to-Lung vaping, but it’s every day vape lingo for many vapers.
Although it’s poor service, it’s easy to forget that people outside the industry have never heard of these terms, and soon we end up confusing the very people we are meant to help.
For anybody who’s as bewildered about these terms as our fictional smoker, this post will explain the different types of inhaling, and the advantages and disadvantages of both.
- Inhaling: Vaping v. Smoking
- How do you inhale your vape?
- Different inhaling styles for different devices
- What is Mouth-to-Lung vaping?
- What is Direct-Lung vaping?
- How to vape without inhaling into the lungs
- Inhaling and flavour
- Inhaling and coughing
- Vaping inhale tricks
- Inhaling and health
- Finding Your Inhale Style
Vaping is modelled after smoking, but there are big differences between how you inhale on a cigarette and how most vapers inhale from their devices.It does depend on the type of vape tank you’re using and your personal preferences, but regardless of this, there are some differences that are unavoidable.
The length of your inhale
The most important difference is the length of your inhale. Generally speaking, vapers inhale for a longer time than smokers.
The reason for this is simple. If you puff harder on a cigarette, it burns down more quickly and you get more smoke. On a vape device, puffing harder accomplishes very little. The only way to get more vapour is to keep the button held down for longer and inhale for longer.
This takes some getting used to when you first start. Research has shown that more experienced vapers puff for longer than smokers using e-cigarettes, and they end up getting nicotine more efficiently as a result.
Do you hold vapour for longer than smoke?
After the inhale part of the puff, there isn’t much difference in how long vapers and smokers hold the vapour or smoke in before exhaling.
The longer inhale time from vapers does mean that they’ll probably hold some vapour in their mouths for longer than smokers do. Overall this isn’t a crucial factor and you’re unlikely to have to think about it when you switch to vaping.
The whole process with vaping is slower, but after you finish your inhale, there isn’t much difference in the exhaling process – apart from the size of the clouds, that is!
Do you need “priming puffs” when you vape?
Back when vaping was first getting started, many devices were “automatic,” meaning the coil activated as you inhaled rather than as you pressed a button, as on “manual” devices. Withthese devices, “priming puffs” were often recommended.
Note that this is different to “priming” a coil (unfortunately vape lingo isn’t always easy to get to grips with!). When you prime a coil, you manually soak the wick of your coil before filling up the tank or pod. This is important with any type of device, but it’s particularly important with Direct-Lung devices because they tend to operate at higher wattages.
Priming puffs were basically little draws – like you would just before taking a draw on a cigar – that gave the coil time to heat up before your proper puff.
The vast majority of e-cigs on the market today are manual, so priming puffs aren’t really needed in the same way, especially with higher-powered devices. However, you can still replicate the same effect as a priming puff by pressing the fire button for a second before you actually start inhaling. The coil takes a second to reach vaping temperature, so even though it isn’t strictly necessary, this still helps you get a harder hit when you start your puff.
The only issue is that this can lead to condensation around the drip tip. This can either end up getting sucked up into your mouth when you take a puff or potentially drip back down to the coil and risk flooding. If you do this, make sure you continue your draw for a second after releasing the fire button to protect against these risks.
Another important distinction between how you inhale on a cigarette vs. how you inhale on an e-cig is the fact that your specific device can make a difference when you’re vaping.
Whichever brand of cigarettes you smoke, you inhale in the same way. For vaping devices, it isn’t quite so simple. The main factor is the specific type of tank you’re using, or how much airflow it has.
For tanks with a restricted airflow, such as the Aspire K2 or the Aspire Nautilus Mini, the draw is a lot like the draw on a cigarette and you can perform “Mouth-to-Lung” inhales.
We’ll cover this in more detail in a moment, but a Mouth-to-Lung inhale is basically just the same way you inhale on a cigarette. Mouth-to-Lung tanks tend to use higher resistance coils and work best with lower power settings, so if you have a basic vape pen, Mouth-to-Lung inhales are more common.
For tanks with more open airflow, vapers often inhale directly into their lungs. This is different to how you smoke (and again, we’ll give more detail in a moment), and is more common when you’ve gotten used to vaping a bit.
Sub-ohm tanks tend to have much more open airflow (although they do let you control it too), and they’re usually paired with higher-power mods rather than simple vape pens. If you have this type of advanced setup, you’ll get better performance with the Direct-Lung inhale style.
Mouth-to-Lung (MTL) vaping comes naturally to most smokers, but works best with some specific types of device and not so well with others. But how do you do it, why would you do it and what type of device is it best for?
How to MTL vape
A Mouth-to-Lung (MTL) inhale is a two-stage process. First, you take the vapour into your mouth, holding it there for a second. Then, you inhale again to bring the vapour down into your lungs. So you press the fire button and inhale into your mouth, release the fire button, inhale again to take the vapour down into your lungs, and then finally exhale.
Why would you do it?
The MTL inhale is ideal for smokers just switching over to vaping, or for longer-term vapers who still like to inhale in the same way as they did as smokers. If you’re looking for a more smoking-like vaping experience, MTL inhaling with higher-resistance coils and higher-nicotine liquids is the best way to do it.
- More like smoking
- Works with simpler vaping equipment
- Doesn’t use as much power
- Consumes less e-liquid
- Better throat hit
- Better flavour
- Coils last longer
- Less vapour production – doesn’t work for “cloud chasing”
- Needs higher-nicotine liquids
Pod vapes: Pod devices like the Smok Novo X are perfect for MTL vaping. These are also really easy to use and ideal for beginners.
Mods or vape pens with specific tanks: Tanks like the Innokin Go Z and the Endura T1811 are specifically designed for MTL vaping. Any tank with restricted airflow works well for MTL vaping, though, including the Prism T18II or simpler, vape-pen-friendly clearomizers like the Aspire K2.
The Caliburn A3 provides a good introduction to MTL vaping. Some of the tanks above are older (but still popular). The Whirl S is new - which means it comes with several of the advantages of modern kits.
For example, the magnetic connection makes it easier to attach the tank, while a top fill cap makes it quick to fill. It also comes with a choice of button or auto-inhale, so you can try both to see which suits you best.
Uwell Caliburn A3
- Perfect starter kit
- Convenient fixed-coil pods
- Rapid 15-minute charging
- Enhanced flavour with Pro-FOCs tech
- Manual & inhale firing options
Higher nicotine liquids: These are ideal for MTL vaping. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but because you get less vapour with each puff, higher nicotine levels help keep vaping satisfying with MTL devices. Try a 12 mg/ml or even 18 mg/ml e-liquid unless you’re only an occasional smoker or you’ve already reduced your nicotine consumption.
Higher PG e-liquids: PG makes e-liquid thinner, while VG makes it thicker. Although high-VG (e.g. 70% VG) e-liquids work with some MTL tanks, most of them perform better with a bit more PG. Try a 50/50 VG:PGblend for the best performance.
Direct-Lung (DL or DTL) vaping is a different practice entirely. Instead of a two-stage, mouth-then-lungs process, you inhale in a single step right down into your lungs. This is a lot less like smoking, but it helps you get the best performance out of many of the tanks on the market today.
How to DL vape
DL inhales are easy to perform, but many vapers end up coughing when they first try it. You simply take a big inhale from your device and pull it straight down into your lungs with the same breath. I generally continue my draw a second after releasing the button to ensure all of the vapour goes down into my lungs. This works better with a very open airflow and usually on higher power (wattage) settings.
Why would you do it?
DL vaping is better for producing big clouds and getting enough nicotine without vaping getting too harsh on your throat. It also works better with higher-VG e-liquids. Many premium e-liquids (like the Element Dripper series, for example) are best enjoyed with a DL device for this reason.
- Bigger clouds
- Works well with modern vape tanks
- Smoother throat hit
- Works with a wider range of e-liquids
- Still good for flavour
- Uses more power, so your batteries drain quicker
- Doesn’t work with more basic equipment
- Uses a lot more e-liquid
- Coils don't last as long
Sub-ohm tanks and mods
Sub-ohm tanks like the Horizon Falcon II and the Geekvape Zeus are all perfectly set up for DL vaping. These have more airflow (and usually adjustable airflow) so you can vape DL without coughing. You’ll need a mod to be able to use these, though, because the resistances of the coils are low and they need higher wattage settings to work well.
- Tough IP68 water, shock & dustproof design
- 200W adjustable power
- 6 vaping modes including Smart Mode
- Large colour touchscreen display
Although this isn’t strictly necessary, the greater vapour production with DL devices means that lower nicotine e-liquids are better suited for vaping this way. Generally speaking, 6 mg/ml is the highest nicotine strength people recommend for use with sub-ohm tanks and DL vaping.
You can still vape 50:50 or higher-PG e-liquids on a sub-ohm tank with DTL inhales, but overall 70% VG or higher e-liquids are ideal for this inhale style. They’re generally less harsh and produce much more vapour.
MTL and DL vaping are the two most common inhale styles by a long way. However, these aren’t the only ways you can inhale. As we pointed out previously, there isn’t always a clear distinction between a MTL and a DL inhale, and you might naturally do something that’s more like a mixture of the two.
However, there is a whole different approach to inhaling that’s worth considering. We’ll call this the “cigar inhale,” because, as on a cigar, you can inhale the vapour into your mouth without pulling it into your lungs. This isn’t done by many vapers, but as pointed out by the studies such as this, most of the nicotine is likely to be absorbed through the upper throat rather than the lungs. This means that theoretically, you could avoid fully inhaling the vapour and still get a satisfying hit of nicotine.
I’ve tested this previously and it seems to work, although if you’re interested I would recommend moving up a nicotine level. With 12 mg/ml and regular vaping, I did feel satisfied. However, I’m only one person and I have been vaping for a while, so I’m probably not as dependent on nicotine as a smoker.
You may have noticed that one of the “pros” listed for MTL inhales is “improved flavour.” This might seem a little strange (why should the flavour of your vape juice be influenced by how you inhale it?) but there is an indirect link. When you vape MTL, you generally have less airflow than in DL vaping. With less air mixed with your vapour, the flavour from the juice isn’t “diluted” by the air. This is why vapour production is generally less with MTL vaping (because the air helps the cloud billow out), but also why flavour is usually more pronounced.
MTL vaping isn’t necessarily better for flavour in itself, but if you vape MTL, you probably have less airflow and that in turn gives you better flavour. However, the greater amount of e-liquid vaporised with each puff using DL vaping means that flavour tends to be pretty good in any case.
If you cough when you vape, there are many potential explanations, but one of these is your inhale style.
The basic theory is that if you inhale in the wrong way for your setup, it can make you cough. For example, trying to DL inhale from a device with restricted airflow will likely irritate your throat and cause coughing. Conversely, inhaling MTL with a big device that produces billowing clouds can make you cough from the sheer volume of vapour going down your throat at once. From experience, it seems to be the airy nature of the draw that makes me cough when I try to MTL vape on a DL device, and usually on the exhale.
We surveyed vapers for our coughing post, and one of the questions was about the impact of inhale style. While 40 percent of the respondents weren’t sure whether it made a difference, about half of the remaining vapers (30 percent of the total) felt that it did prevent them from coughing. Clearly, this isn’t a factor for everybody, but if you cough when you vape, it’s worth changing your inhale style and seeing whether this helps.
Inhaling is a big factor in the bizarrely-entertaining world of vape tricks. For most vape tricks, volume of vapour is key, because you need thick clouds to do cool stuff with your vapour. (OK, maybe “cool” is a bit of a stretch but you know what I mean). Most trick vapers tend to DL inhale on low-resistance, high-power setups for this reason.
Some tricks specifically revolve around your inhale style, though, particularly the French inhale and the ghost inhale. These are really both fancier ways to MTL inhale, so you can even perform these tricks with more basic hardware.
The French inhale is when you take a draw on your device, open your mouth and suck the vapour from it up into your nose. The effect looks like a waterfall in reverse, as the vapour is pulled from your mouth up into your nostrils. This is quite an easy one to perform, too: keep the vapour in your mouth when you inhale, and then open your lips and inhale slowly through your nose.
It might take a bit of practice, but it looks pretty awesome when you get it right. You can make it even better by widening your lips when you release the vapour and pushing your lower jaw out. This video from VapeChilla goes into more detail...
The ghost inhale is a little harder to perform, but basically it involves pushing out a “ball” of vapour and then quickly sucking it back into your mouth.
To do this, take some vapour into your mouth (not your lungs), form your lips into an “O” shape like you’re about to blow a ring, and then push (not blow) some vapour out of your mouth while relaxing your lip shape.
The best advice is to push it out with your tongue as you release your mouth position from the “O.” The aim is to get a thick ball of vapour to just come out of your mouth. When you’ve got this down, you inhale the ball of vapour again to complete the trick. This is explained in more detail in this YouTube video from vAustinL.
Could your inhaling technique have an effect on your health?
Scientists estimate that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking. That’s great, but it also suggests that the danger is not entirely eliminated.
So where does that danger come from? Those same scientists tell us the residual danger comes from flavours, and what happens to them when they are heated.
Fortunately, now reputable UK suppliers are testing the vapour produced by e-cigs, we’re getting better and better at eliminating any flavour compounds that could cause harm. But the possibility of harm can never be eliminated entirely. And the best way to minimise the harm from vaping is to inhale less vapour.
So, from that perspective, inhaling more via the DL technique could be worse for your health than inhaling via MTL. In short, it’s better to inhale less vapour with more nicotine to satisfy your cravings rather than more vapour with less nicotine.
The most intriguing possibility is using the cigar inhale introduced earlier. By completely removing your lungs from the equation, you could potentially make vaping much safer than any other inhale style. It’s worth stressing, though, that this is highly speculative: in theory you could still get nicotine that way, and it should drastically reduce any impact of vaping on the lungs, but this has not been confirmed.
Finally, remember that there is no “right” way to inhale.
MTL vaping in particular has been neglected by tank manufacturers in the past (although this has chanaged with newer dedicated MTL tanks), but this is how smokers inhale and how many vapers prefer to inhale too. If that’s what you enjoy, then that’s what you should do, and the same goes for DL or cigar-style inhales. The best thing about vaping is that you can make it work for you. Vape your way and forget about the trends.