Science Explains How Smoke Rings Happen and Why You Can't Do One 

Don't exhale. Less tongue. Your mouth is now a vortex cannon.

Julien Magic

Face it: All your coolest friends are really good at vape tricks, and you can’t even manage a single ring. You’re sitting there blowing smoke out both ends wondering how the heck this stuff even happens. Is it the way you curl your tongue? The way your purse your lips? How did Bilbo make it look so easy in Fellowship of the Ring?

Explanations regarding the science of smoke rings might confuse you with complicated talk of “vortices” and “fluid dynamics,” but the more simple explanation has everything to do with smoke itself, which is a collection of tiny solid, liquid, and gas particles.

When someone propels smoke out of their mouth in that oh so special way, they’re creating a central point of pressure that moves forward, pushing the denser visible parts of the smoke outward to form the circle. Momentum continues to pull everything forward until other air interrupts the flow or the temperature of the smoke moves close enough to room temperature that the ring itself dissolves.

Check out that smoke flow.

Wizards of Vape

If you examine the rotation of a vape ring, you’ll see that the momentum pushing through the ring continuously pulls the inside edges of the ring itself along with it. The visible smoke rotates forward, around the outside, and backward around the outside of the ring again and again. The momentum creates this rotating movement.

Now check it out in motion, and in slow motion:

According to Science Hobbyist, on average no air is actually moving as the smoke ring appears to move through the air. Anything that moves through the air has to push air out of the way, including other air or smoke. In frictionless air, a smoke ring might never lose it shape, but vaping in such conditions is pretty much impossible.

Because air does have friction, the outer service moves backward while the inner stream moves forward.

Science Hobbyist utilizes the following visualization to make sense of what’s happening with a smoke ring, which is why we see it twist backward in all the vape videos out there:

Science Hobbyist

Hookah or e-liquid vapes tend to work best because those kinds of smoke have more viscosity, which is to say that they’re thicker. Because cigarette and marijuana smoke is always hotter and usually thinner, the smoke doesn’t get a chance to condense enough to form a visible ring. These smokes quickly dissipate due to the temperature difference upon exhale. You want your smoke to be as thick as possible and as close to room temperature, otherwise, it will disappear, literally, into thin air. Similarly, any indoor draft or wind will quickly kill your chances, which is why you rarely see sick outdoor vape tricks.

So How Do You Actually Blow a Smoke Ring?

You can make your mouth into the roundest O possible and exhale in short bursts, but it probably won’t do you any good. Much like swimming, it’s really hard to teach someone how to blow smoke rings until all at once, intuition kicks in and everything just clicks.

The ring should come from your throat and not your lungs. Think of it more like a cough rather than a full exhale, because you need an independent burst of air rather than a continuous stream. That’s why you might see some vape tricksters use their hands to push vape rings forward, which helps provide the momentum for the ring to keep its form.

GQ once broke down the Vape God’s own method like this: “an opaque, well-formed O requires a sharp, percussive cough that emanates from deep within your diaphragm, like a kick pedal hitting a drum.” Part of the trick is to pull your tongue back and keep the tip down, to cradle the blast of air that you’ll shoot out.

When all else fails, just imagine that your mouth is one of these canons, and make it happen.

If you liked this article, check out this video about how to smoke an old-fashioned.