A cigarette lighter consists of a reservoir for fuel, an ignition source and a method of dispensing the fuel to the source. In a disposable lighter, the fuel reservoir is slightly pressurized, causing the fuel to vaporize and escape when the lever is pressed, and a friction wheel provides the spark. In a reusable lighter, such as a Zippo, a wick carries the fuel from the non-pressurized reservoir.
In addition to standard friction-spark mechanisms, some lighters use piezoelectric ignition systems. These consist of a special type of crystal that produces sparks when struck. Lighters designed for starting barbecues or fireplaces frequently use these ignition methods.
Flameless lighters are designed for situations when an open flame might be too dangerous. These lighters have a heating element, much like that on an electric stove, which becomes hot when activated. This element burns hot enough to ignite tobacco but is less likely to burn other combustible materials or ignite gases. Some flameless lighters merely use a gas mixture tuned to produce an invisible flame.
Automobile cigarette lighters use similar technology to flameless lighters. When pressed into the console, the lighter completes an electric current that causes a wire coil inside the device to heat up. Once it reaches the appropriate temperature, it pops out, allowing the user to remove it and light a cigarette.