Vaping 101; What are nic salts?
If you keep tabs on the vaping industry, you’ve been reading for the past couple of years that nicotine salt e-liquid is the industry’s next big trend.
People have been using nicotine salts with pod vaping systems and with standard e-liquid vape pens, and they’re reporting great results. People are saying that nicotine salts help to deliver a smoother and more satisfying vaping experience in higher-nicotine vaping scenarios – but is nicotine salt vape juice right for you? That’s the question we’re going to answer in this article.
We’ll start with a word of advice for the new vapers out there. If you’re ready to begin the transition from smoking to vaping, you should strongly consider buying nicotine salt e-liquid because it delivers a cigarette-like nicotine absorption profile that may make it easier for you to stop smoking.
So, what are nicotine salts, and should nicotine salt e-liquid matter to you if you already vape? Let’s explore the e-liquid trend that’s going to continue shaping the vaping industry in 2020. Before we explain nicotine salts, though, let’s discuss the type of nicotine you’re probably using now: freebase nicotine.
What is Freebase Nicotine?
Before you can understand nicotine salts, you need to understand freebase nicotine because that’s where nicotine salt e-liquid comes from. The story of freebase nicotine begins in the mid-20th century, when Philip Morris and other tobacco companies used ammonia extensively during tobacco processing. It was discovered, for instance, that ammonia made processed tobacco fluffier, making it possible to use less tobacco to fill a cigarette tube. Processing tobacco with ammonia also made it possible to adjust the tobacco’s nicotine content. Ammonia lends a chocolate-like flavour to tobacco, improving the taste of reconstituted tobacco sheets.
Perhaps the most important discovery ever made by a tobacco company, however, was the fact that adding ammonia to tobacco changes the molecular structure of the nicotine. A salt in its natural form, nicotine becomes a free base when ammonia is added. Freebasing the nicotine makes it more volatile and more likely to become a gas when smoked. Philip Morris was a pioneer in freebase nicotine. Adding ammonia to tobacco made it possible for him to create cigarettes that were more satisfying than competing brands – because more nicotine was absorbed during smoking – even though those cigarettes contained the same amount of nicotine and tar. As a result, freebase nicotine helped to make Marlboro the world’s most successful cigarette.
Virtually all pharma-grade liquid nicotine is freebase nicotine. As such, all standard e-liquid contains freebase nicotine. That’s because ammonia – which accepts a proton from the positively charged nicotine molecule, freeing it from the salt that binds it within the tobacco leaf – is a perfect solvent for the extraction of nicotine. Liquid freebase nicotine is the base product with which manufacturers make nicotine replacement products and e-liquid.
What is Nicotine Salt E-Liquid?
Creating nicotine salt e-liquid is much simpler than you might realise; all that’s necessary is to add an acid to an existing freebase nicotine solution. The most popular acid for that purpose is benzoic acid, a common food preservative. Other common acids in nicotine salt e-liquids include malic acid, salicylic acid and lactic acid.
Adding an acid to freebase nicotine triggers a chemical reaction in which the nicotine binds to the acid, creating a salt. The use of benzoic acid as an e-liquid additive was pioneered in the United States by PAX Labs and was eventually patented around the world.
One of the things that companies in the vaping industry will often claim about nicotine salt is that it’s superior to freebase nicotine because it’s more similar molecularly to the nicotine that’s in tobacco leaves. While that similarity does exist, it’s not the reason why nicotine salts have set the vaping world on fire. To understand why that has happened, we need to look a little deeper.
What Are the Benefits of Nicotine Salts?
As soon as nicotine salt e-liquid hit the market, vaping retailers and bloggers began to promote it as a new and more satisfying form of vape juice. Some people even suggested that nicotine salt e-liquid was more satisfying than freebase nicotine e-liquid because of the fact that it bore a chemical resemblance to the nicotine in tobacco leaves.
That, however, is not the real reason why nicotine salt e-liquid has become so popular.
Nicotine salt e-liquid isn’t more satisfying because it’s more natural, because it’s more like real tobacco or because it’s more readily absorbed by the body. In fact, as you’ve learned from reading this article, freebase nicotine is actually more bioavailable than nicotine salt, and “real” tobacco – at least as far as cigarettes are concerned – is very often freebased with ammonia, just like freebase nicotine e-liquid.
The real reason why nicotine salts are so popular is simply because nicotine salt e-liquid is easier to inhale than freebase nicotine e-liquid. Ammonia has a fairly high pH of 11.6. Liquid nicotine extracted with ammonia is, therefore, somewhat alkaline. It has a pH of about 9. Adding acid to e-liquid lowers its pH, making it more neutral and thus less irritating to the throat.
Have you ever attempted to use a high-nicotine e-liquid and found it difficult to inhale? The pH of both propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine is close to 7, which is neutral. Adding freebase nicotine to an e-liquid increases its pH – and the more nicotine an e-liquid contains, the more alkaline it becomes. At a certain point, the alkalinity of the e-liquid becomes so high that it’s no longer possible to inhale it comfortably; the throat hit becomes too overpowering.
Adding acid adjusts an e-liquid’s pH, making it more neutral and reducing its throat hit. The e-liquid can therefore contain a higher concentration of nicotine while remaining enjoyable to use. That’s why nicotine salts are more satisfying. A nicotine salt e-liquid can contain more nicotine than a freebase nicotine e-liquid – and can be inhaled more deeply – without causing irritation.
Should I Switch to Nicotine Salt E-Liquid if I Already Vape?
In the United Kingdom, the maximum allowable nicotine strength for any e-liquid is 20 mg/ml – and most nicotine salt e-liquids are sold at or near that strength. If you are already a full-time vaper and have successfully stopped smoking, you are probably using an e-liquid with a lower strength than what you would buy if you switched to nicotine salts. There’s no compelling reason to increase your nicotine intake if you’re happy with the e-liquid you’re already using.
On the other hand, what if you’re not actually happy with your current vaping experience? If you identify with either of the below statements, nicotine salt e-liquid might be perfect for you:
- You vape, but you’re either still a part-time smoker or are constantly tempted to buy a pack of cigarettes because vaping never seems to satisfy your nicotine cravings fully. Since switching to a nicotine salt e-liquid can enable you to use stronger e-liquids without irritation, doing so may help you complete the transition to vaping.
- You currently use a low-nicotine e-liquid and a higher-power vaping device such as a box mod. You’re getting enough nicotine, but you aren’t completely happy with your vaping experience because you’re spending too much money on e-liquid or because you’re afraid that others find the enormous clouds obnoxious when you vape in public. Switching to nicotine salts can allow you get the same level of satisfaction with a much smaller and less powerful vaping device. You’ll be able to vape more discreetly, and you’ll use significantly less e-liquid.
What Vaping Devices Work Best with Nicotine Salts?
Introducing Synthetic Nicotine
If you’re interested in trying something new - synthetic nicotine is now available; an alternative to traditional nic salts. Its differences and the benefits are plentiful and well worth experimenting with too.
To start with the basics, synthetic nicotine is man-made in a laboratory. In 2020, it’s commonplace to no longer fear these sorts of innovations (think of aspirin. Aspirin was first extracted from trees or plants and its active ingredient, salicylic acid can be found in clover, jasmine, beans and peas!) and with the right research and funding, could actually be better for you. Which is the exact case in synthetic nicotine.
Traditional nicotine is extracted for the tobacco plant; amongst its compounds include benzoic acid. Whilst benzoic acid has been fairly well studied for toxicity in humans to positive results and is now widely used as a preservative in processed food, to be redacted from synthetic nicotine does make the latter purer and safer.
The best synthetic nicotine e-liquids (like the RipStick Pods by RipTide) are designed to contain less impurities and provide a smooth draw. This does mean there's a notice lack of throat hit compared to freebase nicotine - so you do need to consider the reasons you are vaping and what helps you tick those boxes to stop smoking.
For more information regarding our products, for advice on stopping smoking, or anything else, please see our Vaping 101 series of articles alternatively do not hesitate to contact us and our customer services team will be available to assist.