Updated: February 2024
Since we first wrote this beginner’s guide nearly a decade ago, vaping has changed significantly. There is a wider variety of vape devices, devices are easier to use and there are more e-liquid choices.
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 the NHS and 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.
- The TLDR Version
- What is vaping?
- How do vapes work?
- Why is vaping better than smoking?
- Vape devices/e-cigarettes
- Types of vape devices
- Which vape device should new vapers buy?
- How to use a vape device
- Vape juice/e-liquid
- Types of vape juice
- What vape juice should new vapers buy?
- Rounding up
- Additional resources
There’s a lot of information here - but remember vaping’s not rocket science!
At the end of the day, to get started vaping all you need to do is:
- Start with a low-powered starter kit or pod device, choosing between the convenience of a prefilled pod kit or the versatility and cost-efficiency of a refillable kit.
- Select e-liquid with a balanced VG:PG ratio of 50:50. Opt for nicotine salts for a smoother experience if you're concerned about throat hit.
- Avoid going too low with nicotine strength. Remember, vaping delivers less nicotine compared to cigarettes; choosing too low a strength might make transitioning from smoking more challenging.
- After filling your pod or tank, give it five minutes, then start inhaling gently, pressing the button if your device has one.
- Remember, inhale more slowly than you would with a cigarette to get the best experience, and ensure your mouth is tightly closed around the mouthpiece - breathing in extra air can make you cough.
However, to get the most out of your vaping experience, it’s worth learning a little bit more. Let's start at the very beginning...
When you vape, you use an electronic vape device to heat a liquid into vapour before inhaling it. The liquid usually (but not always) contains nicotine.
Vaping replicates the action, sensation and nicotine delivery of smoking, but without the tobacco smoke that causes smoking-related diseases.
Vape devices consist of 4 parts:
- A battery.
- A container known as the tank, pod or cartridge which holds the e-liquid.
- A coil which absorbs, heats up and vaporises the e-liquid.
- A mouthpiece.
The wick inside the coil absorbs e-liquid when the tank or pod is filled. When activated, the battery supplies power to the metal wire in the coil and heats it up. This causes the e-liquid in the wicking material to evaporate, creating the vapour.
People smoke cigarettes for the nicotine (as well as other addictive elements in tobacco smoke) but die from the smoke.
Vapour from vape devices usually 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.
Is vaping safe?
After multiple, annual reviews of the evidence, including longer-term studies, organisations like Public Health England have concluded that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking 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 this video by Yorkshire Cancer Research:
What is the difference between a vape and an e-cigarette?
Electronic cigarette (or e-cigarette) was the first term used for the device used for vaping. Over time, the term ‘vape’ or ‘vape device’ came to be used. Nowadays, these terms are used interchangeably.
|Resemble cigarettes, beginner-friendly, compact.
|Beginners seeking a familiar experience
|Ready-to-use, convenient, single use.
|On-the-go users or those exploring vaping for the first time
|Portable, versatile, easy to use.
|Vapers who value portability and user-friendly options
|Slim, lightweight design, simple operation.
|Individuals who prefer a sleek and straightforward vaping experience
|Powerful, customisable, advanced features.
|Experienced vapers looking for customization and advanced options, with the exception of some simpler mod devices
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.
Below you’ll find a description of the main types of vape devices and their pros and cons. See Which Vape Kit Should You Buy? for a more in-depth explanation.
Cigalikes look and feel like tobacco cigarettes. They are inhale activated, come with a rechargeable battery and use disposable cartridges.
- Very easy to use
- Closely resembles a cigarette
- Compact, fits easily into a pocket
- Limited flavour choice
- More expensive in the long run than refillable devices
- Less vapour than other kinds of device
Disposable vapes have gained popularity in recent years. They come ready to use and contain a non-rechargeable battery, fixed coil and a set amount of vape juice in one device that is thrown away after use.
- A good introduction to vaping for those who haven’t tried it before
- Although initially cheap, at around £5.00 a day they can become very expensive over the long term.
- Disposing of a battery (which could have been recharged 300 times) after a single use is bad for the environment.
Pod systems come in two parts: a pod that contains the coil and vape juice and a device that contains the battery. The pod usually clips into the battery section.
Pod devices range from simple, buttonless systems with fixed coils to more powerful devices (or ‘pod mods’) with multiple modes capable of producing larger clouds of vapour.
Closed systems like the Lost Mary Tappo come with a fixed-coil, non-refillable pod - when the coil burns out or the vape juice runs out you replace the whole pod. Open systems, such as the Vaporesso Xros Series and Oxva Xlim Pro, come with refillable pods - meaning you can choose your own vape juice.
- Huge range of choice to suit different needs
- Easier to use & more compact than most mod devices
- Open systems can be used with a wide range of vape juices
- Usually have a lower power range than most mod devices
Vape pens, like the Aspire Pockex, consist of a device that holds the battery and a pod or tank. They are usually long and thin and resemble a pen (hence the name). Like pod devices, vape pens also come in both open and closed system options.
- Easy to use - usually have just one or two buttons
- Usually light and compact
- Most come with a 510 connection - meaning they can be paired with different vape tanks & coils
- 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 have a larger battery capacity and the option of both fixed and replaceable batteries.
Mods range from simple devices designed for beginners to more advanced devices with multiple modes suited to more experienced users.
- Long-lasting batteries and choice of fixed/replaceable options
- Lots of options for advanced/techy vapers
- Best options for vapers who prefer clouds
- Most have a 510 connection, meaning they can be paired with different tanks
- Can have a steeper learning curve than other devices
- Bulkier and heavier than other kinds of devices
If you’re new to vaping, the key is to select a starter kit. This can be a cigalike, vape pen, a low-powered pod device or even a simple mod kit. These devices are easy to use and have less power (meaning 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.
Most new users will start off with a Mouth-to-Lung (MTL) vaping style (see below for more information). See our list of Best MTL Vape Kits for some great suggestions.
Fortunately, vaping with a starter kit is not rocket science! You’ll usually just need to switch it on, fill the pod or tank with vape juice (if it’s an open system) and start vaping!
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 vape juice. It’s important to prime the coil before you use it for the first time. For beginner devices, simply:
- Attach the coil
- Fill the tank
- Allow to stand for five minutes - this allows the coil to absorb the juice
- 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 a cigarette without allowing any air to enter.
For more information on inhaling, and different inhale styles, see How to inhale when you vape.
Types of vaping style
‘Vaping style’ refers to how you inhale the vapour produced by your device.
There are 2 main types of vaping style:
- Mouth-to-Lung (MTL): In Mouth-to-Lung vaping you inhale vapour and hold it in your mouth for a moment before taking it down into your lungs.
- Direct-Lung (DL): In Direct-Lung vaping you inhale in one continuous breath into your lungs.
See MTL vs DL Explained for a more in-depth explanation.
If you use an open-system vape device, you will need vape juice (also known as e-liquid or e-juice) 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 vape juice contains both VG and PG, which is expressed as a ratio. For example, a juice that is half VG and half PG would be expressed as VG:PG 50:50.
You can vary your experience by changing 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 or above. Most new vapers choose to use a vape juice with a VG:PG 50:50 ratio.
Nicotine (and how to choose the right strength)
Most (but not all) vape juice contains nicotine. Nicotine is one of, but not the only, addictive elements of cigarette smoking. However, it is not the cause of smoking-related diseases. In Europe, nicotine content in e-liquid is currently limited to 20mg (2%).
Using too low a strength is a key reason why some smokers fail to switch to vaping. It’s important to use a strong enough nicotine strength to curb 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 flavour.
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.
Research shows that when you start vaping with a non-tobacco flavour, you are more likely to be successful.
Freebase vape juices come in 10ml bottles, usually have a VG:PG 50:50 ratio and provide a stronger throat hit, making them a great way to replicate the experience of smoking.
Nicotine salts have a smoother throat hit than freebase vape juices. They are suitable for vapers who want higher levels of nicotine or simply prefer a smooth vape.
Learn more in our Guide to Nicotine Salts.
Also see: Best Nic Salt Ranges.
‘Bar salts’ are a type of nicotine salts with a higher flavour concentration that replicates the taste of disposable vapes. They are ideal for those who like a strong, flavourful vape and are especially suited to disposable users who are switching to refillable devices.
Also see: Best Bar Salts Ranges.
Shortfills are larger bottles of vape juice (usually 50 or 100ml). They come nicotine free, but nicotine can be added separately in the form of nicotine shots.
Shortfills usually have higher VG levels, making them suitable for more powerful and advanced devices and for vapers who prefer larger clouds of vapour.
New vapers should start with either freebase vape juice (if you prefer a stronger throat hit) or nicotine salts (if you prefer a smoother throat hit). Disposable users switching to refillable devices should also consider bar salts due to their stronger flavour.
It’s best to try a range of flavours to see which you prefer. Try different nicotine strengths - but don’t go too low, as vapes deliver nicotine more slowly than cigarettes. At E-Cigarette Direct the most popular brand we sell is Halo e-liquid, which is a great option for all-day vaping.
See our E-liquid Buying Guide for more information.
As we finish this guide to vaping, it's worth reiterating that starting your vaping journey doesn't have to be complicated. Yes, the world of vaping includes advanced mods for those seeking greater control, but it also offers incredibly user-friendly devices that require little more than a simple inhale to use.
Over the past 15 years, and even before today’s easy-to-use devices, I’ve witnessed thousands of people successfully make the switch to vaping. This includes people in their 80s and 90s, many of whom had smoked heavily for decades and never imagined quitting. If they can embrace vaping, you can too.
Good luck on your vaping journey! Remember, it’s about finding what works for you, at your own pace. If you have any questions or need further guidance, don't hesitate to reach out. We're here to support you every step of the way.