You may well love the guilty pleasure despite society’s collective moral judgement, but the downsides of tobacco smoking are legion. The associated health risks are the most obvious, but others are, socially at least, almost as persuasive: smoky clothes and hair, ever-increasing expense, foul breath, inconvenience and the general acceptance of something close to pariah status. An outwardly mysterious technical innovation, however, is helping loads of people in the battle to ditch tobacco and all those downsides.

The e-cig is now as prolific an accoutrement in towns and cities across the land as are its vaping aficionados, but how does it work? What manner of technical wizardry can allow you to inhale a small of amount of visible ‘smoke’ and not actually have to buy a regular packet of cigarettes?

The magic lies in the clever combination of just a few simple components: a lithium-ion battery, rechargeable at the mains or via a laptop USB port, heats a small ceramic or metal element within the e-cig, which in turn heats a wick covered in a natural, nicotine-infused liquid. When that wick reaches about 65°C, it causes the e-liquid, supplied to it from an internal reservoir or cartridge, to turn to vapour. It’s this that affords the user the pretence of smoking while delivering that much craved nicotine ‘hit’ to the back of the throat.

Models differ widely in design and usability: some incorporate a sensor at the tip to detect a user inhaling, which in turn automatically triggers the heating element; others have a button which you depress to set the whole process in motion.

Much research has gone in to how effectively these innovations ‘draw’ as compared to a cigarette, with design updates typically focusing on the size and positioning of holes in the mouthpiece inlet to deliver a consistently satisfying experience. This is essentially how Quadflo works: It delivers the optimum vapour into the mouthpiece, which remains in vapour form during and immediately after exhaling. Then the vapour disappears, returning to harmless and odourless microscopic particles of water as it dissipates into the air around you.

‘But isn’t nicotine itself dangerous?’ many people ask. Nicotine can be addictive, much like caffeine, but the tiny amounts found in e-cigs help to make them a smarter alternative to smoking. Some manufacturers even produce nicotine-free e-liquids as well as a wide array of flavours, from cappuccino to toffee popcorn.

And what of those innocents around you as you indulge your vaping hobby? Well, socially, e-cigs are creating a revolution: vaping communities are normalising it as a trendy hobby and, crucially, such communities are helping to promote arguably the single most viable mechanism for reducing tobacco consumption since Sir Walter Raleigh first popularised it in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Image by planetc1 , used under Creative Commons licence