Without a doubt, nicotine salt was the hottest and fastest growing category in the e-liquid industry in 2018. You’ve seen nicotine salt e-liquids on the shelves at your favorite vape shops, and online retailers are selling the bottles just as fast as they can stock them. Because nicotine salt is so popular – and it appears to have no drawbacks – we can actually see it replacing standard nicotine in all e-liquids before long. For now, though, most nicotine salt e-liquid is available only in very specific nicotine strengths – and that means it isn’t for everyone.
If you aren’t using nicotine salt e-liquid now, there’s a good chance that you will be in the future. It’s worthwhile, then, to understand what nicotine salt e-liquids are and how they can potentially benefit your vaping experience.
Reading this article, you’re going to learn:
- What nicotine salt e-liquids are
- What nicotine salt’s potential benefits are
- Why some companies market nicotine salt using language that isn’t exactly true
- Whether nicotine salt e-liquids are right for you
What Are Nicotine Salt E-Liquids?
Nicotine salt e-liquid is e-liquid with an added acid – usually benzoic acid – that changes the chemical structure of the nicotine within the vape juice. Before the addition of the acid, the nicotine in the e-liquid is a free base. After the addition of the acid, the nicotine is a salt.
One of the first things marketers will tell you about nicotine salt e-liquid is that nicotine is naturally a salt when it’s still in the tobacco leaf. It’s the extraction process – which uses ammonia as a solvent – that changes the nicotine from a salt to a free base. Since nicotine salt e-liquid gives you something closer to what’s in natural tobacco leaves, they say, it must be better than standard e-liquid. That sounds good, but it’s actually just marketing rhetoric. Nicotine salt e-liquid doesn’t come from a more natural extraction process; it comes from triggering a chemical reaction in the nicotine after the extraction has already taken place.
Nicotine salt e-liquid does have potential benefits – but being “more natural” isn’t one of them.
Are Nicotine Salt E-Liquids More Satisfying?
The claim that nicotine salt e-liquids are more satisfying might come from the original marketing surrounding the JUUL e-cigarette. The JUUL debuted in 2015 with a patent showing that when volunteers used the JUUL’s nicotine salt e-liquid, their blood-nicotine concentrations were close to those of smokers. People using standard e-liquids, on the other hand, didn’t absorb anywhere near the nicotine they would get from smoking.
The implication, of course, is that JUUL’s nicotine salt formulation is more satisfying than a standard e-liquid. Marketers took that idea and ran with it, and many companies continue to make that claim about nicotine salt e-liquids today. The fact, though, is that the JUUL is “more satisfying” because it has a nicotine strength greater than 50 mg/ml. You won’t find any freebase nicotine e-liquids anywhere near that strength, so you’re obviously going to absorb more nicotine if you’re a JUUL user. There’s nothing about nicotine salt itself that makes it inherently more satisfying than freebase nicotine. Freebase nicotine is actually the more satisfying and more readily absorbed type of nicotine. Philip Morris proved that with when they added ammonia to the Marlboro cigarette in the 1960s.
So, what’s the deal? If freebase nicotine is actually more satisfying, why aren’t people using freebase nicotine e-liquid with a strength of 50 mg rather than nicotine salt e-liquid?
Lower pH Is the Secret of Nicotine Salt E-Liquid’s Success
As we mentioned above, ammonia is used as a solvent in the extraction of nicotine. When you add ammonia to nicotine, you get freebase nicotine. Here’s the thing about ammonia, though: It has a pH of 11.6. That’s caustic. Direct contact with pure liquid ammonia results in burns to the skin. Nicotine extracted with ammonia obviously doesn’t have a pH that high, but it’s still more basic than nicotine in its natural state.
So, what are e-liquid makers doing when they create nicotine salt e-liquids? They’re adding acid. The acid changes the molecular structure of the nicotine – which you already know – but it also cancels the effect of the ammonia and brings the pH of the nicotine closer to neutral.
You’ve seen us discuss throat hit on eCig One before. If you haven’t tried a nicotine salt e-liquid yet, what’s the highest-strength e-liquid you’ve ever vaped – perhaps 16-18 mg? With anything higher than that, the throat hit becomes unbearably irritating for most people. The irritation stems from the alkalinity of the nicotine. If you lower the pH, the irritation lessens. Nicotine salt is what makes it possible to use an e-liquid with a nicotine strength of 50 mg without experiencing an overwhelming harshness that ruins your experience. So, that’s the direct benefit of nicotine salt: It makes high-nicotine e-liquids easier to inhale.
What Vaping Devices Work Best With Nicotine Salt E-Liquids?
Because of the high strength of most nicotine salt e-liquids, those e-liquids work best with vaping devices that operate at low temperatures and don’t produce a lot of vapor. Your best bet is to use a nicotine salt e-liquid with a small pod vaping system or a low-wattage vape pen. In general, a device optimized for mouth-to-lung inhaling will give you a good experience with nicotine salt e-liquid. If you use a high-strength nicotine salt e-liquid with a device optimized for direct-to-lung inhaling, you’ll absorb much more nicotine than you want.
Why Would Anyone Want to Use High-Nicotine E-Liquids?
Although there are exceptions, the two most common strengths for nicotine salt e-liquids at the time of writing are 25 mg for existing vapers and 50 mg for current smokers. If you already vape, it’s unlikely that you’re currently using a nicotine strength higher than about 16 mg. In fact, your preferred nicotine strength may be as low as 3 mg. You may wonder, therefore, why anyone would want to use such high-strength e-liquid. Although the primary market for nicotine salt e-liquid is people who are new to vaping, there are actually plenty of existing vapers who have switched to nicotine salt e-liquids as well. We’ll break down the benefits of nicotine salt e-liquid for you.
Easier to Switch to Vaping
Nicotine salt e-liquid holds the greatest potential benefit for people who currently smoke. As you’ve learned from reading this article, most people don’t absorb the same amount of nicotine from vaping that they do from smoking. If you’re already a full-time vaper, your body has already made the adjustment to lower blood-nicotine levels. As you can imagine, though, some people never get through that adjustment phase. They either continue smoking some of the time, or they try vaping once and never return to it.
Vaping isn’t smoking. When you switch to vaping, your body will still have to adjust to the absence of certain chemicals that cigarette smoke has and e-liquid vapor lacks. If your blood-nicotine levels remain constant, though, the switch is far easier. Nicotine salt e-liquid has enabled many people to start vaping who might not otherwise have made the switch successfully.
Nicotine Salts Make Vaping More Convenient
If you already vape, you know that traditional tank-based e-cigarettes require a fair amount of maintenance. In addition to charging your battery, you need to keep the tank full and replace your atomizer coil every few days. Some of your vaping gear needs periodic cleaning. You probably get e-liquid on your hands once in a while. With a pod vaping system, you won’t have most of those worries.
In vaping, nicotine absorption is a function of two factors: the strength of the e-liquid and the amount of vapor you inhale. If you increase the strength of your e-liquid and switch to a device that produces less vapor, you’ll get the same amount of nicotine overall that you’re getting right now. The fact that you’re trading in a large tank for a small pod won’t matter; with the high strength of nicotine salt e-liquids, a small pod provides plenty of nicotine for a day of vaping. When your pre-filled pod is empty – or your refillable pod no longer tastes good – you’ll throw it away.
Nicotine Salts Make Vaping Cheaper
Let’s suppose that you currently use a setup for sub-ohm vaping. Your preferred e-liquid nicotine strength is 3 mg, and we’ll say that you use 10 ml of e-liquid per day. That’s 30 mg of total nicotine. If you switch to an e-liquid with a strength of 25 mg, you can get the same amount of nicotine each day from 1.2 ml of e-liquid. That’s a huge cost reduction just from using less e-liquid, and that’s not all. You’ll also enjoy greatly increased coil life. We’ll explain why.
Nicotine Salts Reduce Coil Gunk
If you use sweetened e-liquids, coil gunk is a major problem for you. The sweetener sucralose – which actually burns rather than vaporizing cleanly – leaves a dark coating on your coils that causes a burned taste when you vape. The speed with which coil gunk forms depends on the sweetness of your e-liquid and the amount of e-liquid you consume. If you switch to nicotine salt e-liquid, you’ll consume far less e-liquid than you do now – so even if your e-liquid of choice is very sweet, the coils in your pods will last much longer than your current sub-ohm tank coils do.
Nicotine Salts Make Vaping More Discreet
People use sub-ohm vaping devices for two reasons. Some enjoy the huge clouds. Others, though, simply tolerate the huge clouds because that’s the only way to get enough nicotine without suffering extreme throat irritation. If you’d rather not blow room-filling clouds and don’t want to worry about whether your vaping bothers others, nicotine salt e-liquid is the perfect solution. You’ll still get the nicotine you need, but the smaller clouds will disappear quickly and discreetly.
Nicotine Salt E-Liquid Will Become Cheaper in 2019
In 2018, the popularity of nicotine salt e-liquid was a boon to vape juice makers because it enabled them to charge high prices for small bottles of e-liquid – just like they did when the vaping industry was new. As we’ve learned from the history of the vaping industry, though, some e-liquid company will eventually cut its nicotine salt prices and enjoy the extra business that comes with being the cheapest game in town. When that happens, other companies will follow suit. Nicotine salt e-liquid may cost more than freebase nicotine e-liquid right now, but that will change in 2019. When that happens, vaping with nicotine salt e-liquid will be even less expensive than it is now.
Are There Nicotine Salt E-Liquids for Sub-Ohm Vaping?
So far, this article has discussed the benefits of nicotine salt e-liquids for users of low-temperature vaping devices. Let’s suppose, though, that you use a high-temperature device and love cloud chasing. You want to try nicotine salt e-liquid, but you don’t want to give up the clouds you currently enjoy. There actually are a few companies that make low-strength nicotine salt e-liquids for sub-ohm vaping already, and we believe that you’ll see many more of those in 2019. Are you unhappy with the low-strength flavors that are currently available? Wait a little longer, because you’ll probably see low-strength nicotine salt versions of many of your favorite e-liquids next year.