It’s the not-burning question: When is an e-cigarette not a vape – and vice-versa?

What is an e-cigarette? You would think that by now that would be an easy question to answer – and indeed it is not one we would expect any ECigIntelligence reader to be troubled by. Yet there is a deal of confusion still out there, as might be apparent to anyone who studies, as we do, the enormous range of attempts to regulate the vaping industry.

One need look no further than the US, and the byzantine network of subnational jurisdictions, from state to county to city to municipality, all eager to stamp their own particular brand of regulation on a beleaguered industry, to see the difficulty some people have in defining the humble e-cig.

You can hardly get away from lawmakers, would-be lawmakers and media referring to e-cigs as “tobacco products”, which they aren’t (though US federal rules say they are); “electronic smoking devices”, which they aren’t; or “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)” – which most, but not all, are.

Of these the last, favoured by the World Health Organization (WHO) among others, must by definition also include heated tobacco systems such as Iqos, which are not vapour products and therefore – by most people’s reckoning, including ours – not e-cigarettes.


‘It resembles a fountain pen’


Among all this legislative wavering (and there are a great many much more tangled definitions among the miles of legal small print), hats off to the Texas lawmaker who wrote or borrowed the succinct definition: “‘E-cigarette’ means an electronic cigarette or any other device that simulates smoking by using a mechanical heating element, battery, or electronic circuit to deliver nicotine or other substances to the individual inhaling from the device”.

Their definition, taken from a recently filed bill on taxation, goes on, but that should do to settle the question we started with. Simple really.

Yet there are still more than enough folk out there spreading misinformation and confusion, whether wilfully or through the kind of ignorance that doesn’t know it doesn’t know.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join in to hear about news, events, and podcasts in the sector

    See more

    On the very same day as that Texas filing, the US-based retailers’ magazine CStoreDecisions set out to enlighten its puzzled readers by answering the headline question, “What’s the difference between e-cigs and vape?”

    Oh dear. If those readers weren’t baffled before they started, they certainly were by the time they’d read an article that claimed “an e-cigarette is…the traditional cigarette lookalike – often called ‘cigalikes’ – that resembles a fountain pen more than a cigarette”.


    The HnB delusion


    The writer goes on to differentiate these narrowly defined e-cigarettes from the “vape”, by which he means what you or I would call an open system.

    This distinction between the two kinds of “‘smoking’ products” might be vaguely useful if it was generally accepted – and indeed some of those multifarious regulators do try to distinguish between “e-cigarettes” and “vapes”, although it’s a moot point whether they are all trying to make the same distinction.

    But then our man throws his central point away, by saying: “Some e-cigs are known as heat-not-burn devices. Instead of using a gel, they warm a tobacco product…”

    Any C-store owners befuddled – or just downright misled – by this nonsense could do a lot worse than refer to the Texan definition above. Or for a fuller, and remarkably clear, explanation they (and their befuddled reporter) could see what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has to say on the subject.

    Photo: Horst Winkler

    Author default picture

    Aidan Semmens