It’s been great, mech mods, but it’s time to say goodbye

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It’s been great, mech mods, but it’s time to say goodbye

A couple of years ago you’d rarely see me without one of my FastTech Nemesis clones in my hand. Mech mods were basically all I used; none of the regulated devices on the market at the time could deliver the power I liked or handle the coils I was building. My first mech was a K-100, one of those odd little telescopic things that cost hardly anything but nevertheless worked surprisingly well. Then I bought my first Nemesis clone, and soon I had three of them. I thought they were great, and I would have been lost without them. So would many others; mech mods played an important role in the development of vaping, showing that it was possible to do a lot better than the wispy clouds that emerged from the early cigalikes.

But now it’s time for them to fade into the sunset. There is no place for mech mods any more, and I’d be much happier if they all disappeared from the shelves tomorrow.

If you read my blogs regularly you’ll know that I am not, in general, a fan of restricting consumer choices. In an ideal world I’d much rather leave people to make their own decisions instead of being coerced into making the officially approved one – you know, what public health usually refer to as “supporting healthier choices” when they really mean punishing choices they don’t like. I don’t regret buying any of my mech mods and, although I haven’t used one since early 2015, I remember them fondly. Sadly, because this is not an ideal world, they’ve now become a massive liability.

Safety is relative

Mech mods are not, in the big scheme of things, dangerous. You’re far less likely to be injured by your mech mod than you are by your car, bread knife or Galaxy Note 7. Unfortunately the media don’t care about traffic accidents, kitchen utensils or phones. They do care about e-cigarettes. And that means every time a mech mod goes badly wrong it’s going to get global press coverage. Even more unfortunately, while mechs are safer than many objects we cheerfully surround ourselves with on a daily basis they’re a lot less safe than any other variety of e-cig – and those with hybrid connectors are the least safe of all.

In expert hands a mech is pretty safe. If you understand battery safety, follow sensible precautions when building coils and keep in mind that Ohm’s Law is a law not a guideline, the chances of a battery explosion are minimal. The problem is that if you don’t know what you’re doing it becomes a lot easier to screw up, overload your battery and send it into thermal runaway – and, while I know some of you are going to hate me for saying this, if you’re running sub-0.1Ω builds on a mech you don’t know what you’re doing. That sort of setup is just tiny fractions of an ohm away from a hard short and, no matter how careful you think you’re being, it’s going to put immense stress on your battery. The problem is that, if you push the battery past its limits, the average mech mod is a uniquely unfortunate shape. It’s basically a metal tube with screw-in end caps, and with a battery venting inside it something – probably the bottom end cap – is almost certainly going to fail. When that happens a very large volume of hot gas will rush out of the opening, Ohm’s Law is replaced by Newton’s, and the tube becomes a rocket. That sucks for the user, because more likely than not it’s a rocket that’s pointing right at his face.

No responsible vaper is going to deny that using a mech mod with an ultra-low resistance build carries a degree of risk. What benefits does the vaper get in return for this risk? Zero. Absolutely nothing. A mech can do nothing that a modern regulated mod can’t. Mech mods became popular because their lack of circuits let them bypass the serious power limits that held back early electronic cigarettes; at a time when a top of the line variable power mod wouldn’t fire below 1Ω and had a maximum power output of 12W, mechs were the only game in town for serious vapers. But now they’re simply outclassed. Vape shops are full of affordable mods that will fire at 0.05Ω and put out 100W – and they’ll do that all day with basically zero chance of blowing up. They have an extensive range of built-in safety features that intercept any danger before the battery starts cooking, and they also deliver a more consistent vape.

A dangerous fashion

Unfortunately, mechs remain fashionable among a small minority of vapers. Vaping was invented as an alternative to smoking and that’s still how most of us see it; almost all the vapers I know fall into that category and I can’t think of a single one who still regularly uses a mech. We’ve all enthusiastically adopted the new generation of powerful regulated mods, because as well as being infinitely safer they’re also just better in every conceivable way. Mainstream vapers are not at risk of blowing themselves up, unless they do stupid stuff like carry loose batteries in their pocket – and if anyone insists on doing that then I, for one, am happy to let Darwin claim another slightly charred victim.

No, the problem is the people who vape so they can blow clouds or do tricks. If somebody just wants to see how much liquid they can waste, or suck vapour into their own ears, that’s fine; I’m a libertarian and have no interest in stopping them. I only wish they didn’t tend to be such immature dicks – and I especially wish that an obsession with mech mods wasn’t a major part of their dickishness. For example I’ve just watched a video by a certain well-known vaper who demonstrated his 0.09Ω build on a mech, and this cretin has admirers. There are people out there who watch all his videos and take his advice. Do not take his advice. He is a clown, and no matter how expert he sounds, the builds he is demonstrating are not safe.

I have no idea why these vapers still like mechs so much. There seems to be a myth that they deliver “raw power”, but power is not steak. It doesn’t come in well done, medium rare and raw. It’s just power, and a mech can’t deliver anywhere close to as much as a modern regulated mod can. The YouTube idiot’s 0.09Ω build, pushing a top of the line battery right to its safe discharge limit, would result in around 75 watts of power at the coil. My Wismec RX200 will punch out over three times that in perfect safety, and you can pick one up from FastTech for $40.

If idiots want to blow themselves up I don’t particularly care. The world is not short of idiots, so the occasional self-immolation of one is no great loss. What I do care about is that their immaturity and dangerous antics are threatening to bring down even harsher regulations on the rest of us. There was a news story two days ago about an Andrew Hall of Pocatello, Idaho, who managed to blow out nine of his own teeth with – you guessed it – a mech mod. Images of its blackened wreckage show that it was a hybrid, and there are unconfirmed reports that he was running a 0.06Ω build on it. There is no 18650 battery on the market that can safely handle the sort of stress a build like that imposes, so if you build this low an explosion is basically just a matter of time. Maybe you think your extreme build is an exception because you know what you’re doing. Trust me; no you don’t. I’m sure the luckless Mr Hall will insist that he knew what he was doing, but clearly he didn’t because he blew his fucking teeth out.

Obviously we can say that this is not a problem with e-cigs; it’s a problem with people who mess with things they don’t understand. Unfortunately that’s irrelevant. The media don’t know that this is only an issue with obsolete technology; I watched a news report about Andrew Hall that used an image of an eVic VTC – a regulated, safe mod – as the backdrop. The audience don’t know it either. And our loyal friends and allies in public health either don’t know it, or they know it but they don’t care. To them it’s just another excuse to demonise e-cigarettes and the people who use them.

Tough decisions

At this point so many idiots have blown themselves up, and generated so much bad publicity in the process, that if governments around the world decided to ban mech mods I wouldn’t raise more than a token protest. But that’s not going to happen. What might happen is that they ban all mods, because they can’t or won’t make a distinction between the safe modern ones and the potentially dangerous old junk. And that – the risk of known hazards with obsolete devices being used as an excuse for another crackdown – is why I now wish that mech mods would just quietly disappear.

So what’s to be done? What I’d like to be done is for manufacturers to realise that mech mods are a solution to a problem that just doesn’t exist any more, and to stop making them. I’d like vendors to realise that the small margin they make on some overpriced tube isn’t worth said tube’s potential to blow up a toddler and get the whole industry shut down. But, right now, I don’t think that’s very realistic. So instead I’m going to ask brick and mortar vendors to be very, very careful about who they sell mechs to. If someone comes in looking for their first e-cig and wants to buy a mech, don’t sell them one. Explain to them that regulated mods are a superior, and safer, alternative. If they insist, don’t give in; better to lose one sale than your business. In fact, any time somebody asks for a mech ask them why they want it. If the answer is “To chuck some sick cloudz,” tell them no. A regulated mod is better for that, too.

If they can convince you that a mech might be right for them – and I can’t honestly think of any reason why it might be, but never mind – quiz them on their electrical knowledge to make sure they can use it safely. If they say, “What’s Ohm’s Law?” don’t sell them the mod. If they don’t buy an appropriate battery along with it, or physically show you a suitable one they already own, don’t sell them the mod. I know this is hard advice for a small business to follow; I make my living by selling things too, and it’s painful to turn a customer away, but it is unconscionable to put a mech mod in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it.

As for online vendors, please just stop selling the damn things. You can’t vet the buyers and it simply isn’t worth the risk. Despite the growing scientific consensus that vaping really is a safer alternative to smoking, the regulatory threats against us just keep growing. Handing our opponents the ammunition to shoot us down with is bad enough; every time you sell a mech mod, you’re potentially handing them a grenade.