I’ve never been much of a smoker. I am the kind of guy who usually just bums a treat every so often on a night out. To me, cigarettes are a lot like a beer. They aren’t good for you, but in moderation, they’ll harm you about as much as that McDonald’s cheeseburger. However, when our resident 21st century savant Andrew Couts started smoking e-cigarettes last winter, I was intrigued. Vaping, as it’s called, gives you most of the buzz of a real cigarette without the horrible downsides like inhaling smoke, smelling up a room, or having to taste your cigarette for the next few hours. When I discovered that electronic cigars and pipes exist, I decided to investigate this phenomenon myself.
In the sections below, I’ll describe my experiences and adventures with a rechargeable e-cigar, a rechargeable e-pipe, and some disposable e-cigars and e-cigarettes. Becoming a strange smoker from the future has been a fun journey indeed.
The next step in e-smoking
Before we go any further, lets hash out the basics. E-cigarettes and all of the other products we’re about to talk about, are made to look like tobacco smoking products, but are actually anything but. They contain no tobacco, no tar, and no flame. They do contain small amounts of nicotine (same amount, or less, than a cigarette) for the buzz, but are powered by small lithium ion batteries — the same kind of battery that powers all modern cell phones, cameras, tablets, laptops, and electric cars (yep). The battery powers a heating element in what is called an atomized cartridge. The atomized cartridge is basically a metal tube filled with cotton and what the industry calls e-liquid (water and propylene glycol, the same substances inside asthma inhalers and deodorant). The battery heats up and boils a small amount of the liquid, which produces a vapor that resembles smoke. The vapor doesn’t smell and will mostly dissipate in your mouth if you hold your breath for a few seconds.
There haven’t been any studies I can find on the long term health repercussions of vaping, but they appear to be minimal when compared to actual smoking. However, if you live a fearful sort of life, it might be best to steer clear. Nothing is for certain.
Getting Holmesy with the e-pipe
The first stop on my expedition into the deeper realms of vaping was the perhaps the most hardcore product in the vaping world: the electronic pipe. For this experiment, the folks at ePuffer were kind enough to let me try out their ePuffer Electronic Pipe 605 starter kit ($150). The kit came with the pipe, three atomized cartridges with differing levels of nicotine (zero – heavy), an extra mouthpiece, and a USB charger. After giving the pipe a good initial charge (essential for all electronic devices), I screwed in an atomized cartridge, pushed the mouthpiece on, and began my adventure.
EPuffer’s e-Pipe is made of plastic, but could pass for a real pipe to a passerby. To use it, you have to hold down a small black button on the pipe as you inhale. As you draw, the bowl of the pipe lights up red, imitating a burning pipe, though the effect is more comedic than clever.
Traditional pipe smokers, you needn’t worry about your favorite pastime being replaced by electronic pipes anytime soon. Though the e-pipe worked well, it doesn’t offer the same enjoyment one gets from the act of lighting, relighting, and puffing on a good tobacco pipe. EPuffer has gone to lengths to try to mimic the flavor and intensity of a real pipe, but it wasn’t quite there. To get a good hit, I had to use the most powerful of the three cartridges that came with the kit. With the weaker cartridges, I had to inhale a lot, which somewhat defeats the point of a pipe.
However, what the e-pipe lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in oddness. When I took the e-pipe on a bachelor party trip to Montreal, it was the hit of the weekend. Passersby tended to double take or flat out ask what it was. And like the village bicycle, everyone wanted to give it a go. Most seemed quite amused and a few were genuinely interested in how the whole setup worked.
The battery on the e-pipe is the best of all the products I tested as well. Though I can’t say I used it multiple times a day, it lasted for weeks between chargings. Cartridges seemed to last for quite a long time as well — somewhere around 5-10 times as long as an e-cigarette, though I wasn’t counting my puffs. Replacement cartridges are cheap too. You can buy a pack of 5 for $16 or buy e-liquid and refill cartridges yourself.
Overall, the only real problem of the e-pipe is that I couldn’t get over how silly I felt lugging around a giant pipe in my pocket and how hipster-ey I felt ‘smoking’ it. Though you get a better hit than an e-cigarette, it feels more like you’re smoking a light-up Sherlock Holmes toy than an actual pipe. Like Halloween, once the fun of dressing up with my fancy gadget pipe wore off, I didn’t end up using it much. Sherlock Holmes may be a master of disguise, but the ePuffer is not.
Next up: The e-cigar
E-cigars to the rescue
After my Montreal mayhem with the e-pipe, the folks at ZeroCig sent me their ZC Aristo E-Cigar starter kit ($60), which comes with two atomized cartridges, a USB charter, and the cigar itself. I had to give the Aristo a charge and insert a cartridge, but after that, it’s smooth sailing. Like the ePuffer e-pipe, this rechargeable e-cigar has a distinct, almost comedic, red glow to its end and a noticeable plastic sheen to it when it’s not lit. Unlike the e-pipe, however, the rest of my experience with the Aristo has been extremely positive.
Though I have gotten occasional double takes and stares from New Yorkers as I casually vape around the town, it’s easier to walk around unnoticed with an e-cigar and the Aristo is small enough to fit in your pocket alongside your phone or wallet.
I am not a cigar connoisseur. But out of everything I’ve tested, the ZC Aristo offers the most pleasurable, authentic experience I’ve had with any e-smoking product. It’s still not exactly like puffing on a cigar, but the flavor of the Aristo does resemble an actual cigar and it provides a thick cloud of vapor as well — about as thick as the e-pipe I tested. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what the outside of the cigar is wrapped in, but it feels more like a real cigar than any other product I’ve tried, and it also leaves a cigar-like aftertaste in your mouth, which I didn’t think was possible, but enjoyed quite a bit. The downside to the Aristo is that it hasn’t held up well after months of pocketing. Mine has frayed a bit, resembling suede more than a cigar in a few discrete locations, and the label is beginning to peel. The mouthpiece can also get a little gross over time if you tend to slobber. Lesson: Take care of your rechargeable.
ZeroCig claims that the Aristo e-cigar will get about 1000 puffs per cartridge, which is the equivalent of about 10 full cigars. This is accurate, if not understated. I don’t think I’ve had to charge the Aristo more than a few times in the last month, and both of the cartridges lasted quite a while. With some help from Mr. Couts, I managed to refill a cartridge too, though I recommend buying replacement flavored cartridges if you can afford the $60 price tag for a pack of 6 (equivalent to about 60 cigars).
Overall, this e-cigar was the only one that I could reliably give to a curious friend or acquaintance and have them get a good hit and understand what vaping is like and why people might do it. The hit or miss flavors and reliability of other products seemed to leave a few of my friends wondering why anyone would bother vaping when they could smoke a real cigarette, cigar, or pipe.
Disposable e-cigarettes and e-cigars
Disposable e-cigs have been gaining popularity lately, and for good reason: they’ve become affordable and they offer a good bang for your buck. Though I had written off disposables, ZeroCig and ePuffer were kind enough to send a few my way.
Disposable e-cigars: I tried out ZeroCig’s NG Series ($23) and ePuffer’s Cohita ($28) disposable electronic cigars. Both require no charging (they cannot be charged) and claim to offer about 1500 puffs or 5 years of shelf life — whichever comes first. Neither model provided as well-rounded an experience as the Aristo rechargeable, but both were surprisingly more authentic looking by a wide margin. This is mostly because their labels appear more authentic at a glance and their ends look more like burning ash and light up with a more convincing orange glow than the Aristo or ePuffer e-Pipe.
The NG Series had a harsh flavor to it, which burned the back of your throat a bit, though I imagine some former smokers may like that. Meanwhile, the ePuffer Cohita has a weaker output, but has outlasted ZeroCig’s disposable in total puffs. Its still going. It’s weakness is its somewhat cookie-like flavor, which sticks around too long after puffs. Both, however, lasted long enough to warrant a $20 buy. Because they look so realistic, I have been asked for “a light” on a few different occasions while using these.
Disposable e-cigarettes: ZeroCig sent over a few of their mini disposable e-cigarettes (4 pack costs $30) and I’ve tried out a few others as well. These are about the size of slim cigarettes and look rather convincing with a nice burning orange end to them, like the disposable e-cigars. In a pinch, the e-cigs work fine, but offer only 150 puffs before disposal. I ran into a few occasions where one ran out of juice unexpectedly soon, which was disappointing. The vapor and flavor was also thin compared to rechargeable e-cigarettes I’ve used in the past and the menthol flavor, while most definitely ‘menthol-ey,’ left me feeling kind of sick for a moment due to a small chemical aftertaste. For $10 or less per cigarette, disposable e-cigarettes may offer more bang for your buck than a pack of actual cigarettes, but the disposable e-cigars are a better value.
Recharge or dispose?
Being someone who would opt for a rechargeable product over a one-time-use e-smoking product, I was puzzled why I keep seeing more and more disposables on the market. Kevin Woo from ZeroCig was kind enough to field my question, letting me know that I’m one of two types of customers he sees.
“Disposables are just as big of a market as rechargables for E-Cigs and E-Cigars but they are two different types of customers,” said Woo. “Almost all of our online sales come from consumers purchasing our rechargable E-Cigs and E-Cigars and almost all of our retail sales come from consumers purchasing our disposable E-Cigs and E-Cigars.”
“Our online customers do their homework and understand they will save more money going with a rechargeable,” he continued. ” They also tend to be more affluent so they can affored the higher price point. Main point is that the online customers are going to favor the rechargables. Our retail customers buy more on impulse. They see our display and want to try it out. The disposable price point is great for the entry level consumer. Main point here is that the retail customers are going to favor the disposables.”
“Both are disposables and rechargeable are growing as a rapid rate. Rechargables because of the general increased popularity, word of mouth, etc.. Disposables because more and more retail stores (e.g. drug stores, gas stations, etc.) are starting to carry them.”
Woo also explained that while e-cigarettes remain the most popular item, e-cigars are growing in popularity, as are e-pipes.
The future of smoking?
It’s fascinating to see how quickly the e-cigarette market is expanding since the first e-cigs hit shelves back in 2003. New types of products are coming out constantly and there are now dozens of e-cigarette stores online. While ZeroCig and ePuffer are currently two of only a handful of outlets that appear to sell e-cigars and e-pipes, they likely won’t be alone for long and disposable e-cigarettes are quickly becoming a staple of gas stations and places you might find actual cigarettes. As the tobacco industry slowly collapses, there are an army of new companies ready to swoop in.
Though I hesitate to encourage anyone to start a regiment of nicotine, for recreational use, I’m a big fan of ZeroCig’s Aristo rechargeable e-cigar. They offer the same experience as an e-cigarette, but offer a much better value. And if you really want to make a statement, nothing will do it faster than a big electronic pipe. It may end up being a collectible.