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eCigarettes and Vaporizers – What’s the Difference?

If you’re torn between buying an electronic cigarette and a vaporizer because you are confused about the difference, you are not alone. 

Since battery-powered devices that produce a nicotine vapor started appearing alongside old-fashioned cigarettes more than a decade ago, many have wondered how they work. At first, many e-cigarettes tried to mimic the look of traditional cigarettes and win over those who had grown tired of inhaling toxic smoke from burning tobacco – or trying to find a place to smoke among so many non-smoking areas. 

As time went on, e-cigarettes soon came in many different colors and flavors. Some were disposable, while others allowed you to replace expired cartridges with fresh, pre-filled ones.

Then a few years ago, vaporizers joined the popular crowd. These often strayed from the traditional cigarette look, opting instead for shiny hues of metal and designs that were more in line with a fancy pen some highly paid executive might use than the simplicity of tobacco rolled in paper.

Nowadays, if you visit a smoke shop in person or shop online, you can find an array of e-cigarettes and vaporizers for purchase. So what are the real differences between the two?

Electronic cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigs, typically are designed to look like traditional cigarettes. They are battery-powered and allow for users to choose among different tobacco strengths and flavors. E-cigs work thanks to an internal heating element.

In the past, many e-cigs required users to push – and often hold for a few seconds – a button to activate the atomizer. Now, most e-cigs automatically activate when the user takes a puff and inhales. Upon inhalation, the heating coil inside will activate. Then the tip of the e-cig will glow (usually orange to simulate the look of a regular cigarette) and the user immediately will receive a burst of odorless vapor instead of tobacco smoke. The vapor, when exhaled, looks like smoke.

E-cigs usually have three main parts. The battery, the cartomizer and a mouthpiece. The cartomizer holds the pre-filled cartridge of e-liquid (which in turn holds the liquid nicotine, flavorings, etc.) and in most cases is disposable when empty.

Facts About E-cigs

- They are designed to look like traditional cigarettes and operate in the same way. 
- They use pre-filled cartridges that fit into the mouthpiece area, preventing the need to pour e-liquid into the device.
- E-cigs are generally smaller and more compact than vaporizers.
- They have a shorter battery life due to having a smaller battery.
- Some are rechargeable, while others are disposable.
- Due to differences in design, cartridges tend to not be compatible across brands.
- Due to the fact that they look like real cigarettes, e-cigs can raise the ire of others, who think the user is producing dangerous tobacco smoke.


Vaporizers, also known as vapes, typically don’t look anything like traditional cigarettes. And that’s by design. Some tend to look like large fountain pens, but many new models come in various shapes and sizes. They have an atomizer where the e-liquid is stored and then heated into a vapor when the device is activated. Instead of replacing a cartridge once the vaporizer is empty, users can pour fresh e-liquid into the device. 

Vaporizers also create a cloud of vapor when used. Upon exhale, the odorless and quickly dissipating vapor looks similar to tobacco smoke.

Vaporizers, because they are larger and have a larger battery, tend to not need to be recharged as frequently as e-cigs. They often also hold more e-liquid than an e-cig.

Facts about Vaporizers

- They do not look like traditional cigarettes.
- They need to be refilled with liquid nicotine and/or flavorings.
- Vaporizers tend to have a longer battery life than e-cigs and typically are rechargeable.
- More flavor choices tend to be available for vaporizers than e-cigs. 
- Vaporizers are larger than e-cigs.
- They typically require more start-up costs to use.
- Some marijuana users also use vaporizers. This might cause others to think those vaping nicotine are using marijuana.

For all the differences between e-cigs and vaporizers, they also have much in common. Both are easy to use. Both deliver an odorless vapor that can contain nicotine alone, a mix of nicotine and flavoring, or flavoring alone. Both heat e-liquid – whether it is in a pre-filled cartridge or not – in the same way. 

Additionally, the e-liquids used are often composed of the same base oils and substances. E-liquid is typically propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, with liquid nicotine and/or flavors added. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin are both non-toxic. 

While there are differences between e-cigarettes and vaporizers, the biggest might be the designs available. Of course, the quality and durability of the devices can range widely by brand. Also – as with most products – personal preference plays a big role. Thanks to all the options out there, you should be able to find the perfect match for your needs.