At this point in the game, most of us are familiar with e-cigarettes. They’re quite literally everywhere—this isn’t an exaggeration if you live in a big city. And thanks to a clever marketing push by prominent e-cig manufacturers, the magic behind “vaping” is super easy to figure out. For lack of a better term, the concept of “smoke and mirrors” just doesn’t apply here.
But what about e-hookahs? Where do they fit in all of this?
If you’re wondering how e-hookahs work—and since you’re here, I’m guessing you probably are—then you’ve come to right place. Let’s go ahead and unravel the mystery of e-hookahs and determine exactly how an electronic device can replicate the sensation of smoking a hookah.
All e-hookahs have three main components: a battery, an atomizer, and a chamber for e-liquid (also known as e-juice or vape juice).
The battery does exactly what you would expect a battery to do—it sends an electric charge to the other components of the e-hookah. For non-disposable models, this battery is usually charged via USB.
The atomizer is the bread and butter of any vaping device, and it’s powered by (you guessed it), the battery. This component heats up the e-liquid residing in the chamber, turning into vapor.
Some e-hookahs have a manual switch that’s placed above the battery housing. If the e-hookah has a button, users are required to press the button each time they inhale.
With that said, button-free e-hookahs are becoming more and more common. The atomizer in these particular e-hookahs is activated when you pull vapor from them.
Short answer: not a whole lot. E-hookahs and e-cigarettes work exactly the same way and use the exact same e-liquid (with varying mixtures that we'll get into later). Both types of devices have internal batteries, an atomizer, and an e-liquid tank
Much of the difference is aesthetic. Devices marketed as e-hookah tend to have more lavish designs that one would might call “pretty”—not unlike a traditional hookah pipe.
There is some history behind it, though. E-cigarettes were originally designed to give users a quick, strong blast of nicotine—kind of like a real cigarette. e-hookahs, on the other hand, were originally designed to emphasize flavor, and usually worked best without any nicotine at all. So e-hookah users would get big clouds and lots of flavor, but would have to do without the nicotine kick associated with traditional shisha tobacco.
But things have changed in recent years, and fewer people use the term “e-cigarette” these days. Instead, it all falls under the umbrella of “vaping,” and regardless of what you call it, an emphasis on flavor and big clouds has taken a strong step forward. For hookah smokers looking to switch, this is a good thing—it means more and more products are becoming available that mimic the sensation of smoking an actual hookah pipe.
In most cases the terms “e-hookah” and “e-cigarette” are pretty much interchangeable when it comes to most rechargeable vape devices these days. They have the same components and work the same way.
There are some philosophical differences to consider, though. Vaping products have a tendency to get very complicated very quickly, whereas hookahs are pretty straightforward. This is exactly why vape devices are still marketed as e-hookahs–they’re dead simple to use. Most don’t have any buttons to push or any power variables to adjust. You simply make sure they’re charged and full of e-liquid, and you’re good to go.
E-liquid—the stuff you end up vaping—has four ingredients: flavor, propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerin (VG), and nicotine (which is optional). You buy e-liquid based on the nicotine level and its PG to VG ratio.
I won’t get too deep into this topic—if you want to learn more about e-liquid, I wrote an article that covers e-liquid pretty extensively, so feel free to check it out when you're done reading this one—but here are some quick things to remember:
If you’re used to smoking hookah, you probably want the smoothest vape possible while also retaining most of the flavor. Everyone is a little different, but from one former hookah smoker to another, I personally recommend buying e-liquid with 3mg of nicotine or less, with a PG/VG ratio that leans a little higher on the VG and a little less on the PG—like 40 PG to 60 VG, or 30 PG to 70 VG. This will get you a smooth, flavorful, hookah-like vape.
Like I said, everyone is different, so feel free to experiment with this. If you want to test out different levels of nicotine and PG/VG ratios, online custom vape juice retailers that sell small bottles—like Vista Vapors—are probably your best bet.
Understanding how e-hookahs stack against their traditional counterparts is crucial, as you need to get your expectations in check before making the switch.
If you’re a casual hookah smoker, than using an e-hookah is a no-brainer. They retain almost everything that makes traditional hookah experiences great–especially if you opt for an e-hookah bowl (more on these in a moment)–with far less hassle.
Things are a little different if you’re a seasoned (and frequent) hookah-holic, though. Being completely honest here–the e-liquid found in electronic hookahs isn’t quite as good as smoking real shisha. Since there isn’t any tobacco (the main ingredient in all traditional hookah settings), you lose some of that natural “earthy” flavor.
It’s still pretty darn close, though. And after a while, you probably won’t be able to tell a difference. At the end of the day, the benefits of switching from hookah to vaping outweigh most negative points.
Though the term “e-hookah” seems to reference a single product, there are actually several different types of e-hookahs. Internally, they all function in a similar fashion, but the differing form factors allow for contrasting philosophies on how they are used.
Check out the infographic below for a quick visual guide, and read on for a little more detail breaking down each device type.
The most common e-hookah comes in the form of a disposable hookah pen. These neat little devices are virtually indistinguishable from e-cigarettes, and there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to tell the two apart from one another. You can fit these things in your pocket and carry them everywhere you go, which makes them super convenient.
Disposable hookah pens are almost always nicotine free, and come in a variety of different flavors. You can’t refill them or recharge them–hence the “disposable” part–so once they’re done, they’re done.
Rechargeable hookah pens feature, well, a rechargeable battery. They are also refillable, and can be used with whichever flavor/mixture/brand of e-liquid that you want. In most cases, the atomizers are replaceable. In some cases, both the atomizer and the e-liquid tank are sold as a single unit, and you get to replace both of them.
It's important to note that devices marketed as rechargeable hookah pens are pretty much the exact same thing as basic vape devices. This means you don't have to necessarily exclude products that aren't specifically called "e-hookah pens" to get the exact same results. This opens up a lot of options for you.
Next up we have what I like to call “hookah impostors,” but a more common term would be E-Hookah Hoses. Unlike hookah pens, these e-hookahs tend to be shaped like traditional hookah hose. They are usually quite a bit bigger than hookah pens, and as a result aren’t quite as covert. With that said, they still aren’t terribly big, and e-hookah hoses are still relatively portable.
They are almost always refillable and rechargeable. Because of their size, they are much easier to share with friends.
The design choice isn't simple for looks, either. E-hookah hoses are bigger devices with longer tips, which means that the vapor has more time to pass through the device before it hits your lungs. The end result is a cooler vape than what you'd get from hookah pens (and other standard vape devices), which means they're every-so-slightly more like smoking the real thing.
And now, e-hookah heads (also known as e-hookah bowls), the latest and greatest in vaping technology. These wonderful creations take the place of a traditional hookah bowl, and are placed on top of actual hookahs. Since they require an actual hookah to work, e-hookah bowls are the closest thing you can get to a traditional hookah setting. It goes without saying that e-hookah bowls are the least portable electronic vaping solution (unless you have a really tiny hookah pipe).
Being a former traditional-hookah fanatic, this is my favorite way to vape. Since the vapor has to pass through a greater distance–and through water–the end result is a vape that’s much cooler than what you get from any portable devices. It’s the closest thing you’re going to get to traditional shisha smoke without tobacco and coals.
This is totally subjective, but like I said earlier, using an e-hookah bowl is the closest thing you’ll get to an actual hookah experience. Because of this, I’m going to suggest that e-hookah head/bowls are the best electronic hookah variation.
If you’re more enticed by portable solutions but still want to retain some of that classic-hookah vibe, then an e-hookah hose may be the best choice for you.
If you favor absolute portability and don't care about retaining the aesthetic appeal of a traditional hookah, then rechargeable hookah pens (or simply standard vape devices) are the way to go.
If you’re simply testing the waters, then I guess disposable hookah pens are a decent way to go. Again, totally subjective here, but I have yet to find a hookah pen that I like. On the bright side, hookah pens are cheap. So if you buy one and decide that they aren’t for you, then you didn’t really risk losing a lot of money.