The Basics of Vaping: The Smokers’ Guide to Vaping Technique

How to Vape - Advice for Smokers


The core appeal of vaping is that it’s very, very similar to smoking. If you want to switch to the safer alternative, pretty much all you have to do is vape when you would have smoked and try to resist any cravings. However, it’s really a little more complicated than that. While the basic advice is pretty much true, the process of vaping is slightly different to that of smoking, and if you vape “like a smoker” you probably won’t find vaping as satisfying as if you vaped like a longer-term vaper. There are some differences with “mouth-to-lung” hits vs. “direct to lung” hits – which we’ll address here – but the biggest difference is in how sharply and quickly you inhale, as well as how long you should keep vaping for.


So here’s a brief guide for smokers new to vaping who are looking to get the most they can out of it.


Key Takeaways


  • Choose your airflow setting, tank and e-liquid to suit your inhalation style. Mouth-to-lung inhalation (the way smokers inhale) is more suited to a tight airflow, tanks with higher-ohm, narrower-diameter atomizer heads and higher-PG, higher-nicotine liquids.
  • Take longer, slower and more gentle puffs when you vape, compared to when you smoke. Inhaling sharply on a cigarette gets you more smoke; doing so on an e-cig accomplishes nothing.
  • Spend longer vaping than you would have done smoking. It can take about half an hour to get the same amount of nicotine by vaping as you would from 5 minutes of smoking, so don’t expect to feel satisfied after just 5 minutes of vaping.


How Do You Inhale? Mouth-To-Lung or Direct-to-Lung?


Mouth to Lung


Vaping Technique - Mouth to Lung Inhales


When you smoke a cigarette, you “mouth-to-lung” inhale. This means you draw the smoke into your mouth and then inhale down into your lungs. It’s a two-step process: into your mouth, then into your lungs. When you start vaping you’ll probably want to continue in the same way. For the most part, you can mouth-to-lung vape with very few issues, particularly with the sort of equipment you’ll probably have as a beginner.


There are some factors you should take into account if you want to get the best mouth-to-lung vape, though:


  • Airflow setting: If you have a device that allows you to adjust the airflow to your coil, making the draw tighter is the best advice for mouth-to-lung vaping. Wide-open airflow settings can make you cough if you’re vaping mouth-to-lung.


  • Resistance and power setting: Generally speaking, mouth-to-lung friendly devices use higher-ohm atomizers and don’t need particularly high wattages applied. This largely comes down to the type of tank or atomizer you’re using, but mouth-to-lung devices tend to have resistances over 1 ohm and only require around 10 – 20 W of power to get a satisfying mouth-to-lung vape.


  • The “bore” of the atomizer head and chimney: As well as generally large airflow, low resistance coils and the need for high power settings, sub ohm tanks generally have a larger-diameter (wider-bore) atomizer heads and central chimneys. Having a larger bore coil and chimney section means that the airflow is more open, which isn’t ideal for mouth-to-lung vaping. This is why devices like the Aspire Plato, the Aspire Nautilus, the Innokin Endura T18 or 22 and the Joyetech Cubis tank are generally recommended for mouth-to-lung vapers. (Alex from Vaping360 is a mouth-to-lung vaper, and has a useful post with recommendations, if you’re interested).


  • Best e-juices for mouth-to-lung: Again, this depends on your atomizer, but in general it’s better to use higher-PG and higher-nicotine juices on mouth-to-lung devices. Neither of these are absolutely necessary, but higher-PG juices (anything over 50/50) will generally perform better on mouth-to-lung devices. A higher nicotine level may be needed because mouth-to-lung devices don’t tend to produce as much vapor, and this means you get less nicotine with each puff. Whereas direct-to-lung vapers generally use 6 mg/ml or lower, 12 mg/ml or higher is ideal for mouth-to-lung vaping, depending on your preferences.


Direct-to-Lung Vaping


Vaping Technique - Direct to Lung


In contrast to mouth-to-lung vaping, direct-to-lung vaping involves taking the vapor directly down into your lungs as you puff. This is more like the way you’d inhale from a hookah pipe, or like taking a deep breath. It’s a one-step process: you draw vapor in and directly down into your lungs before exhaling. This is something you’ll see long-term vapers doing more than recent switchers, especially the “cloud-chasers” looking to maximize vapor production.


The things you have to take into consideration for direct-to-lung inhaling are pretty much the same as for mouth-to-lung, but the ideal setup is completely different:


  • Airflow setting: For direct to lung inhales, larger airflow settings are better.


  • Resistance and power setting: Lower-resistance coils and higher powers are generally used for direct to lung vaping. A sub ohm coil (with a resistance lower than 1 ohm) and power settings of 25 W and higher (sometimes much higher) are generally used for direct-to-lung vaping.


  • The bore of your coil: The sub ohm tanks usually used for direct to lung vaping have larger-bore coils, this increasing the airflow further. Most modern tanks are well set up for direct-to-lung vaping, such as the Aspire Cleito, the Kanger Subtank and many others.


  • Best juices for direct-to-lung: High PG juices will be too harsh to vape direct-to-lung, especially if coupled with a higher power, low-resistance setup. The same goes for the nicotine level. It’s better to use higher-VG (60 % VG or higher) and lower-nicotine 6 mg/ml or lower) juices for direct-to-lung vaping.


Which is Better, Mouth to Lung or Direct to Lung?


This really comes down to personal preference. You may be looking for a vaping experience as much like smoking as possible, and in this case mouth-to-lung is undoubtedly the best approach. If you’re looking for clouds, then direct-to-lung vaping is the way to go. However, many vapers have some personal preferences, whether for the characteristics of the draw or other factors. The key thing is that there is no “wrong” way to vape. If you’re first switching from smoking, we’d recommend a mouth-to-lung setup, but explore the options and find whatever works for you.


Do You Puff Like a Smoker, or a Vaper?


Although the direct-to-lung or mouth-to-lung decision has a big part to play in how you vape, there are other differences between how you should vape and how you should smoke that you should consider.


Research has shown that experienced vapers manage to get more nicotine than just-switching smokers, even when they’re using the same device. This might seem a little strange – why would the same setup have different effects for different users? – but the reason appears to be fairly simple: the vapers took longer, slower puffs than the smokers.


When you smoke, your inhalation has a direct effect on how much smoke is produced: as you puff, the ember at the end of your cigarette glows more fiercely and produces more smoke. A sharper, stronger puff produces more smoke. Vaping works completely differently. When the power to the coil is activated (usually when you press the “fire” button), a fixed amount of electricity goes to the coil for as long as it’s active. This means inhaling more sharply accomplishes nothing; what matters is how long the coil is active for. So to get more vapor, you don’t need to inhale more sharply, you need to keep the button pressed down for longer and take slower puffs.


This is what the researchers in the study found: more experienced vapers puffed more gently and for longer, and got more nicotine in their blood as a result. In contrast, the more inexperienced smokers took sharper, shorter puffs and got less nicotine in their blood.


The lesson from this is simple: you’ll find vaping more satisfying if you use the vaper’s approach – long, slow and gentle puffs – than if you use the smoker’s approach.


How Long Do You Vape For?


Mods vs. Cigalikes - Nicotine Delivery
From Farsalinos et. al. (2014). “First generation device” is a cigalike, and “new generation device” is a mod.


Another piece of research from the same group hit on another key point for smokers first making the switch to vaping. Smokers were instructed to smoke a cigarette in five minutes, taking a puff every 30 seconds. People using two different types of e-cig (a cigarette-like device and a “mod” – check out our post on types of e-cigarette if you’re not sure what these are) were instructed to first vape for 5 minutes in the same way as the smokers, and then were left to vape however they wanted for an hour. The researchers then compared how much nicotine the users of each type of device got in their blood.


For the vapers using the cigarette-like devices, they didn’t even get the same amount of nicotine as a smoker after the full 65 minutes. For vapers using the bigger, better device, it took 35 minutes in total to reach the same amount of blood-nicotine.


This tells us two things. Firstly, cigarette-size devices are less satisfying, on the whole, than bigger devices. Secondly, even the better devices are not as effective at getting you nicotine as cigarettes are. This is important because if you’re trying to switch to vaping, you might think you can vape for 5 or 10 minutes and get the nicotine you need. In fact, you’ll probably need to vape for quite a bit longer than you’d have needed to smoke to feel satisfied.


Trying to take a 35 minute vaping break at work might get you into a bit of trouble at work, though, so you’ll probably just need to keep this in mind when you’re trying to make the switch. If at all possible, if you can vape while you’re working this will be a big help to you. But if you’re stuck with vaping at set times, the best advice is to “chain-vape” as much as you can in your allotted time until you’re satisfied. This is also a good reason to stick to as a high a nicotine level as you can tolerate when you’re first making the switch (see our post on this for more advice).


More modern devices (for example, sub ohm tanks and high-powered mods) will probably reduce the time it takes to get enough nicotine. This study was conducted in 2014, and the technology has advanced since then. Regardless, the key thing to remember is you’ll still probably need to vape for longer than you’d have needed to smoke to get the nicotine you’re looking for. You might feel like you’re vaping too much, but the best advice is to just keep going until you feel satisfied.


Conclusion – Vaping is Like Smoking (But Different)


For the most part, the similarities between vaping and smoking make the transition you have to make a fairly smooth one. But if you’re just getting started, remembering these few key points – vape for longer than you’d have smoked, take slower, gentler puffs and tailor your setup to your inhalation style – can make all of the difference.