The trouble with cigarette lighters is that they usually stop working pretty rapidly. At my request, my father bought me an expensive lighter for my 21st birthday. It looked really cool. Except that it stopped working after a few weeks. And that was a very deep disappointment. The damn thing even had my name inscribed on it.
I had a similar experience a few years ago, when I bought another (fairly) expensive lighter. And that stopped working after a few months.
So now I always buy cheap £1 or 50p refillable gas lighters. They’ll usually last a few weeks, and then they’ll refuse to light up. Or, more frequently, they’ll get temperamental. Sometimes they’ll light up, and sometimes they won’t. And when they hardly ever light up at all, I throw them away.
So when I bought four e-lighters back in June, at about £1.50 each, I expected that they’d last about as long as cheap refillables. I expected the little electric heating element to burn out or break after a few days or weeks. And I also expected that they’d only light about 10 or 20 cigarettes before needing to be recharged.
In the event, 6 months after acquiring them, I still haven’t managed to wear out the first one that I started using. And I’ve only recharged it 3 or 4 times. But then, I haven’t been using it very frequently. I mostly only use it when sat in the kind of windy pub gardens in which regular gas lighter flames get blown out if not carefully shielded. Otherwise I prefer using gas lighters.
And the reason for this is that gas lighters – if they’re working – are easier to use. You put the cigarette in your mouth, click the lighter to light the flame, raise the flame to the tip of the cigarette, inhale briefly, and, lo, you have a lit cigarette to enjoy. It only takes a couple of seconds.
But with this little e-lighter, it’s not that simple. First you have to slide the heating element out of its casing, then you have to wait as the element heats up and starts glowing, and then you have to carefully guide the tip of the cigarette onto the element, and press it firmly and squarely against the hot element before it automatically shuts off after three seconds or so, and then inhale to draw embers into the cigarette to fully light it, and then finally you have to slide the element back into the casing. And that takes about 7 seconds Which is 3 or 4 times longer than with a regular gas lighter.
Also, it requires a bit of concentration. Particularly to aim the tip of the cigarette at the element, and land it accurately on it in the brief window of opportunity that is available. And that can be a bit like landing an F-15 on an aircraft carrier. It takes a lot of practice. I quite often need to have to steady the cigarette with the other hand.
Any number of things can go wrong. And when the cigarette has been lit, it’s often only one side of the most extreme end of it that is alight, and this needs to be nursed to full flame. With a gas lighter, the flame encompasses the entire tip of the cigarette, and the flame takes hold very rapidly.
Also, my roll-ups are about half the diameter of regular cigarettes, and it’s easy to miss the element, which doesn’t entirely fill the niche in which it’s mounted: the circular niche has a diameter of 1 cm, and the element inside it has a diameter of 0.5 cm. Worse still, most of my roll-ups don’t have tobacco right the way up to the tip, and so the element usually only lights the paper. I’ve found that I need to twist the paper into a knot that can be pressed firmly against the element. So add another 2 seconds doing that. It takes 5 times longer to light a roll-up with an e-lighter.
Which is why I mostly only use it when I have to. Usually I just reach for a gas lighter.
Apart from that, I’m surprised at how reliable it is. As the battery charge runs down, all that happens is that the element glows a duller and duller red. But it always glows, every time. It might be slow, but it’s pretty reliable. And, after 6 months, it’s still working. The element didn’t break or wear out. It sometimes gets clogged with ash, but that’s easy to brush off. And it’s easy to recharge: just stick it in a USB socket for an hour or two. No need to keep cans of gas. No need to peer through the plastic to see what the liquid level is.
Verdict: Robust but rather slow.
What’s needed, I think, is a quicker way to deploy the element. And a faster element warm-up time. And probably a redesign of the niche that houses the element, so that it helps guide the tip onto the element. Get all those things right, and it could outclass any regular gas lighter.