The first thing you'll notice about E-Lites' E200 line of electronic cigarettes is how much the packaging looks like a certain brand usually associated with a certain man in a cowboy hat. In addition to having a comfortingly familiar look and offering a handy place to store your various e-cig components, the red-and-white box doubles as the charger. Hidden at the bottom is a short USB cord that's just slightly annoying to pop out (if your oral fixation extends to nail biting -- good luck). The pack itself, which is about a quarter-inch taller than your standard box of butts, holds five E-Tips cartridges and one of the company's new G9 battery units which together make up the E200 kit.
The battery is just that: a long, tubular lithium-ion unit with a green LED at the tip that lights up with each pull. The light serves dual purposes -- one, to let you know when it needs to be charged and, two, to avoid anyone mistaking the device for an actual cigarette. You can also pick up a red LED-tipped battery if you wish to further tempt fate while puffing on one of these indoors.
All of the active electronics are housed in the E-Tips. These cartridges hold both the atomizer and a sponge-like material soaked in propylene glycol (found in most asthma inhalers), nicotine, and tobacco extract for flavor. The atomizer itself is just a thin filament that heats up, vaporizing the solution so it can be inhaled.
The battery easily lasts through an entire day on a single charge, and was able to keep my half-a-pack a day habit quenched for two to three days. Each E-Tip is supposed to provide over 400 1.5-second pulls, or the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes -- which roughly matches the rated life of the G9. The one complaint I have about the battery is that it takes much longer to charge than you'd expect. An indicator light on the box is supposed to go out when the unit is filled with juice but, even after being connected to a USB port for 45 minutes, it was still glowing red despite still having some power left when I plugged it in.
As a nicotine delivery system the E200s are, at least subjectively, a success. Our labs are better equipped for breaking things than measuring the chemical levels in vapor, and we were unable to figure out how to convert E-Lite's percentage per-ml measurements into a form we could directly compare to the between one and three mg of the alkaloid found in various brands of traditional cigarettes. That said, I suffered none of the common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, such as anxiety or irritability (at least not beyond my normal levels), when relying entirely on the E-Lites.
At least superficially, pulling on an E-Lite is like puffing on an actual cigarette -- you put it in your mouth and pull a warm, smoke-like cloud into your mouth, suck down into your lungs, and exhale. But make no mistake -- this is not a cigarette. It's primarily a number of small things that are just a little bit off which, while I hesitate to say ruin the experience, serve as a constant reminder that you're not taking a drag of dried tobacco wrapped in paper. First off, the electronic cigarette is heavy. Not that it's difficult to lift but, at around 0.62 ounces, a battery and E-Tip together weigh as much as 17 king-size filters. It also doesn't help that the weight is entirely front loaded thanks to the sizable battery, which requires you to hold an E-Lite either farther up or much firmer than you would an actual cigarette.
Then there's the size. At 0.37-inches wide and 4.2-inches long they're significantly larger than their cancer-causing forbearers, which measure 0.3 x 3.25-inches. Even 100s come in under 4-inches in length. Another frustrating design quirk is the location of the air intake. The tiny vent that pulls air into the atomizer chamber is on the seal between the "filter" and the "tobacco" portions of the E-Lite, right where most smokers grip a cigarette. I frequently found myself getting a mouth full of nothing as I plugged up the hole with my digits.
The draw on the E200 is lighter than your average full-flavor cigarette -- after all, vapor doesn't have the same weight as smoldering plant matter. But it's not unpleasant either. In fact, compared to other electronic "tobacco alternatives," it's got a enjoyable heft and satisfying mouth feel. Many cheaper, disposable options feel more like you're taking a deep breath on a foggy day and have a distinctly misty taste, but E-Lites are reasonably faithful to the experience of inhaling cigarette smoke. At the same time, unlike those burning leaves, the vapor produced is pleasantly odorless.
Unfortunately, they fall flat in the flavor department. Non-smokers often don't realize that we actually enjoy the taste of cigarettes (they're kinda delicious). However, E-Lites taste like tobacco in the same way grape soda tastes like grapes -- it's a an obviously artificial facsimile. That's not to say the flavor can't be enjoyed, and at least some of the disparity can be attributed to regional differences since our London-based pal Sharif Sakr found the taste to be reasonably accurate. A few other US testers found the full-flavor to be overly harsh and extremely synthetic tasting and every one was able to agree that the menthol E-Tips were syrupy and tasted more like spearmint than menthol. Ultimately the gold or light tips provided the most pleasurable experience.
Legally, E-Lites and other electronic cigarettes cannot be marketed as smoking cessation tools. Instead they're billed as "alternatives" to smoking that can be enjoyed anywhere -- even where lighting up the real thing would get you tackled or fined. In this regard, E-Lites are actually quite successful. The dose of nicotine is enough to help take the edge off when a mild craving hits, and it's also much more satisfying than slapping on a patch or chewing a piece of gum. While the experience of puffing on an E-Lite falls short of an actual cigarette, it's similar enough that it adds a sense of familiarity and some of the ritual missing from other smoking replacement therapies. And, as any smoker can tell you -- more important than the physical addiction it the mental one. Thanks to the small amount of exhaled vapor and odorless "smoke," I was even able to take a few pulls during a four-hour Amtrak ride without other passengers trying to crucify me. The E-Lites also compare quite favorably with other electronic cigarette brands found at your corner store or pharmacy in terms of their ability to recreate the sensation of smoking.
Ultimately though, for all its successes, e-cigarettes in general just fall short of being a safe and satisfying replacement for cigarettes. As a method for quitting smoking it has certain advantages over medications, gums, and patches (and it's much more pleasant than going cold-turkey), but once again I failed to ditch my disgusting habit. E-Lites helped me cut back, but I'm still making regular trips to the store for a pack of butts. Which is a shame, not just for my health, but also for my wallet. While a box of Camel Filters costs me $12 here in New York, a package of five E-Tips can be had for £19.99. That's about $32 for 10 packs worth of pulls -- and perhaps E-Lites' strongest selling point.