Several months ago, after quitting and un-quitting, I decided to try the latest thing… Personal Vaporizers, otherwise known as E-Cigarettes. To start, I decided to go with the starter kit from Blu (http://www.blucigs.com/) The kit included two batteries, two atomizers, and 25 flavor cartridges. I was hooked almost immediately. They taste and smell better, as well as offer the ‘hit’ in the throat delivered by normal cigarettes. Now the way these things work is you have a lithium ion battery shaped like a cigarette with a microphone in the tip that detects when the smoker is taking a drag. When this is triggered, the battery sends a charge to the atomizer. The atomizer was nothing more than a small heating coil hidden below a metal prong. At the other end of the atomizer is a small cartridge full of ‘smoke juice’ and wool. When the cartridge is placed on the atomizer, it breaks a foil seal, the juice drips down onto the atomizer. Take a drag heats up the coil, vaporizing the combination of propylene glycol, water, and flavoring, and funnels it out through a small hole in the end of the cartridge.
Now the problem with Blu’s original design was mainly the atomizer, its design lacked a wick to draw the smoke juice into it, so beyond the initial flood of smoke juice escaping from the cartridge – it never really used all of the fluid. That and due to the design, I’d have to constantly fiddle with the cartridges to get vapor, and the drags were rarely if ever consistent. Worse yet, when I finally convinced my wife to try it out, they changed the atomizer design and actually made it smaller, so less of it reached into the flavor cartridge, resulting in even less consistent vapor production and even more fiddling. I communicated this with Blu, and their solution was to send the atomizers back. Instead I just gave my less crappy atomizers to my wife.
At one point, I needed a smoke and the batteries were dead, so I bummed one, and started up again. A pack a day. At $10 a pack, we’re talking some serious cash over the course of a month. After finally realizing how much I was spending, I decided to give Blu another try. To their credit, they must have realized how much the atomizers sucked and changed designs. The new atomizers were called ‘cartomizers’ and were both an atomizer and flavor cartridge all in one. I went to order a pack and saw that instead of selling 25 packs of cartridges, they sold 5 packs of cartomizers with the bold claim that these new cartomizers lasted as long as a pack of smokers per unit, if not as much as a previous 25 pack. I ordered up some flavors and gave it a try.
First impression? Consistent vapor every single time. Personal favorites? Classic tobacco and wild cherry. Menthol was OK, but didn’t do much for me, and the coffee cartridges always ended up tasting burnt after several drags. The new cartomizer design basically had a pair of small conducting metal prongs, joined by a piece of graphite (pencil lead) which was wrapped with a small piece of wire. Surrounding that was a rolled up patch of fabric with a fabric mesh tube in the center as well as a wick, which allowed the smoke juice to be drawn across the atomizer. Really nice design, worked very well, and allowed me to refill them with a smoke juice of my choice for a short time.
Still, once I began to regularly smoke these (I went through 2 20 cartomizer refill packs), not only did it seem that tossing out perfectly good atomizers was a waste – the life of the batteries was very short – going from lasting a few hours to under an hour. That required me to constantly swap and charge them. Not a big deal, new batteries were $12 a piece from Blu, but as I had begun refilling the cartomizers with the contents of my old flavor cartridges, I wondered ‘can I do better?’ I was already dropping about $50 every 3 weeks on refills for the Blu, but there was a HUGE world out there full of alternatives.
I started doing some research, and eventually took a ride over to a local computer store – PAC Computers in West Milford, NJ. The owner has a large selection of vaporizers, supplies, and a few different smoke juice varieties. For $35 I got a 510 starter kit which included 2 280maH manual batteries (the blu’s were 150’s, so these effectively last twice as long), two atomizers, a USB charger, and 5 flavor cartridges. I didn’t bother with the cartridges that came with, I tried one – and the flavor was absolute crap. It tasted like chemicals. I installed one of my Blu cartomizers – perfection. Now one thing to note – if you use Blu and realize that the 510 accessories match up, don’t try to charge a standard 510 battery with a blu charger, and visa versa – the polarity is reversed and you will fry the battery.
Next step was to find a new source for smoke juice. Sure, I could keep paying $50 every 3 weeks to Blu for their cartomizers which work very well with my 510, but why not join the party and fill it myself? I visited Johnson Creek Flavorings and ordered a 10 flavor sample pack for $20. Initially, I simply squirted 10 or so drops into the used Blu cartomizers which didn’t taste like burning fabric (thats what happns if you take to many dry drags from them) – and this worked. Of course, I had these 2 new atomizers which weren’t used. These atomizers looked a lot like the originals that Blu had, only they were inset in a small metal cylinder and also had a visible wick.
Not exactly knowing what I was doing, I added smoke juice to some filling in the cartridge, tried to smoke it, and… BLECH. Tasted like crap. Turns out I had to put about 8 drops into the atomizer to prime it first, which essentially is what I’m doing now, since so far every filling I’ve used for the cartridges hasn’t worked as well as I would like. Perfection. Great vapor, great flavor, every time. The flavor kit included JC Original (tobacco with a hint of caramel/vanilla), Tennessee Cured (tobacco), French Vanilla, Black Cherry, Arctic Menthol, Mint Chocolate, Chocolate Truffle, Simply Strawberry, Summer Peach, and Espresso. Initially I liked the peach/strawberry flavors but I got tired of them quick, especially when I went to using the 510 atomizers… they were just obnoxiously strong and sweet. My favorites so far are the JC Original (same as Blu’s Classic Tobacco), French Vanilla (same as Blu’s Vivid Vanilla – which is no longer offered!!!), Chocolate Truffle, and Espresso. Mint Chocolate is also good, but again I’m not thrilled with the Menthol, Black Cherry got old quick, and the Tennessee Cured is ok – but I don’t like it as much as the JC Original.
My next purchases will be flavor refills and a few more atomizers… Now if you’re considering getting into vaping as an alternative to smoking, I would definitely recommend trying Blu when you first start out. If it catches on and you enjoy it as much as I have, upgrade to a 510 – or one of the other ‘standard’ types provided by retailers such as RagingVapor.com. You will have fun, you’ll stop stinking, you will breathe easier, and you’ll save a crap ton of money all the while denying the government and Philip Morris from taking any more of your hard earned cash.