Stamping Out Jargon: Understanding E-Cigarettes, Vaping and More

Stamping Out Jargon: Understanding E-Cigarettes, Vaping and More

electronic nicotine delivery systems

E-cigs, cig-alike, vapes, PVs, MODS – if you’re scratching your head wondering what in the world those terms mean, you’re not alone. As the market for electronic cigarettes continues to swell, the terms used to describe and market such products are becoming increasingly confusing.

Across the state of Idaho, a startling 41 percent of high school students have tried e-cigarettes at least once and 14.3 percent used such products regularly, according to a 2017 survey from the Idaho Department of Education. However, if you were to ask these students if they use electronic cigarettes, you may not get a straight answer. The resistance to use the term “e-cigarette” is due in large part to the negative connotation with cigarette smoking. Hence the reason many brands are using names other than “e-cig” to market their product.


Let’s start from square one. What is an electronic cigarette anyway? Created to mimic the feeling of smoking a tobacco cigarette, an e-cigarette is a device that heats liquid to produce a vapor. The system is comprised of a battery, an atomizer (a cartridge that holds the liquid), a coil that absorbs the liquid and creates the smoke-like vapor, and a mouthpiece through which the vapor is inhaled. The smoke-like vapor that is inhaled and exhaled is where the term “vaping” derives and where the confusion around whether this action can be considered smoking begins.

What’s in the liquid?

Good question. The answer is, it depends. Generally, the liquid is made from propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerin (VG), water, flavoring and nicotine. Some have all of these ingredients while others have only some, and there is no common measurement standard for these ingredients.

Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain other potentially harmful ingredients as well, including diacetyl in flavorants (a chemical that has been linked to the lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans), volatile organic compounds and even heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead. This liquid substance is most commonly known as “juice” but is also referred to as “e-juice” or “e-liquid.” There are over 8,000 flavors of e-juice on the market today.

So, why are there so many seemingly different names, products and accessories out there? What are the differences? The main distinctions lie within the aesthetic and delivery systems of a product.


Traditional or first generation e-cigarettes, are commonly known as a “cigalike.” These come fully assembled, have a simple design with no buttons or dials and can be recharged or disposable. They come in black, blue or white and are often designed to mimic a cigarette with a solid colored body and filter, but are heavier and more rigid than a real cigarette.

e-cigarettes and vape pen design

(Photo: FDA)

Vape Pens or Ego Cigarettes

Sleek, portable and rechargeable, vape pens are a step up from cigalikes. Design varies, but most pens are similar in size and shape to a fountain pen and have a button that the user pushes to heat the coils. Some of these devices have refillable cartridges or atomizer tanks, which are referred to as “tanks.” Such devices are called “vape pens,” “egos,” “APVs” (advanced personal vaporizers) or “second generation e-cigs.”


Essentially a vape pen on steroids, “mods” are simply modified e-cigarette. They most commonly look like a big, thick pen (called a “tube mod”) or a box (called a “box mod”). Users will modify e-cigs for a bigger battery or larger tank to create more vapor. Mods are seen as more advanced in the vaping scene.

E-hookahs and Shisha Pens

These devices have the same makeup as a vape pen, the difference is in the e-juice. Not uncommon to a traditional hookah, e-hookahs do not have any nicotine and are focused on the flavor. These are called “hookah pens,” “e-hookahs,” “shisha pens” or “shisha sticks.”

While there are many slang terms used within the vaping community, having a general understanding of the most common terms will help clear up confusion around e-cigarette smoking for non-smokers.

Why is it important to understand all the forms of e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are not completely harmless. Whether or not they help people quit smoking traditional cigarettes is still up for debate as conflicting research continues. What we do know is e-cigarettes pose a health risk for young people given most options contain nicotine, a very addictive substance which can harm the brain no matter how it’s delivered, especially in young, developing brains into the mid-twenties. Even the Office of the Surgeon General has declared e-cigarettes as harmful and unsafe for young people.

A recent study discovered that teenagers who use e-cigarettes are more than twice as likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes and expose themselves to greater potential health risks.

Tobacco 21 Idaho is working to prevent the easy access of tobacco and nicotine products like e-cigarettes to high school students and other young people who risk becoming addicted and experimenting with other tobacco and nicotine products. To stay informed of news and updates happening with Tobacco 21 Idaho and to learn how you can take action in the near future, join our newsletter.