You may not have noticed, but the e-liquid industry changed forever in 2015. That’s the year in which PAX Labs released the Juul e-cigarette. If you were already a full-time vaper in 2015, the release of the Juul might have been completely irrelevant to you. If you use a sub-ohm vaping device and buy your e-liquid in a nicotine strength of 3 mg, after all, what use could you possibly have for an e-cigarette with a nicotine strength of 50 mg? People who use sub-ohm devices simply aren’t the target market for the Juul. In the beginner segment of the market, though, the Juul proved truly revolutionary. People who had found it impossible to switch fully to vaping using other mainstream brands like Blu and Vuse had finally found the answer with the Juul. Juul became America’s most popular mass-market e-cigarette, and that’s when everything changed.
Nicotine Salt Is the Secret of Juul’s Success
As you’ll learn from reading my review at the link above, Juul made a big splash largely because its pods contained e-liquid with a new form of nicotine: nicotine salt. Pax Labs obtained a patent for its e-liquid formulation and produced a study showing that the Juul closely mimics the spike in blood-nicotine levels that you’d get when smoking. The fact that the Juul had a unique and stylish design didn’t hurt, but it was the new e-liquid that really captured the public’s imagination.
What Is Nicotine Salt E-Liquid?
To understand nicotine salt e-liquid, you must understand where the nicotine for standard e-liquid comes from. Although synthetic nicotine does exist, most nicotine for e-liquid comes from tobacco leaves. Laboratories extract the nicotine using a solvent — typically ammonia — that maximizes the yield of the extraction and simultaneously changes the molecular composition of the nicotine. Ammonia increases the pH of the nicotine and converts it — a salt in its original state — to a free base. Freebase nicotine is what standard e-liquids contain.
A nicotine salt e-liquid is simply a standard e-liquid with an added acid — usually benzoic acid. The acid converts the nicotine back to a salt while also lowering its pH. When the acid reacts with it, the nicotine returns to a state more like its original state within the tobacco leaf.
In short, then, nicotine salt e-liquid is e-liquid that contains the salt form of nicotine rather than freebase nicotine. A nicotine salt e-liquid also has a slightly lower pH than a standard e-liquid.
How Did Nicotine Salt E-Liquid Change the Vaping Industry?
The release of the Juul e-cigarette marked the beginning of a gradual change in the vaping industry. The change began with a flood of Juul clones. At first, manufacturers attempted to capitalize on the profitability of the Juul’s closed-system design by releasing vaping systems that used non-refillable pods. Not all who vape are willing to buy closed-system devices, though; since open-system devices allow you to buy bottled e-liquids and fill your own pods, they cost less to use than closed-system devices. More importantly, open-system devices give you access to a much greater variety of e-liquid flavors. It wasn’t long before open-system pod vaping devices began to appear on the market. Even those, however, weren’t right for many people who already vaped. In a pod vaping system, the pod functions like the tank in more traditional e-cigarettes. With a tank system, though, you only have to buy the tank once. The only replaceable part is the atomizer coil. If you use a pod vaping system, you have to replace the entire pod every several days. It can become expensive.
New vaping devices like the Aspire Breeze 2 represent the culmination of the changes that began with the release of the Juul e-cigarette three years ago. The latest small vaping devices are perfect for those who want to experiment with nicotine salt e-liquids. They’re just as small as the devices with disposable pods, but their replaceable atomizer coils make them much less expensive to operate.
Nicotine Salts and Sub-Ohm Vaping
If you’re an owner of a sub-ohm vaping device, you might be wondering at this point why you can’t try nicotine salt e-liquids with the vaping device that you already have. If you’d like to experiment with nicotine salt e-liquids, you need to use a smaller vaping device because most nicotine salt e-liquids come in strengths of 25 or 50 mg. With sub-ohm devices, on the other hand, most people prefer e-liquids with nicotine strengths of 3 or 6 mg. Even if you use the lower nicotine strength of 25 mg, you’ll make yourself sick if you use a nicotine salt e-liquid with a sub-ohm vaping device. A few nicotine salt e-liquids with sub-ohm strengths exist, but they aren’t common.
What Are the Potential Benefits of Nicotine Salt E-Liquid?
The biggest potential benefit of nicotine salt e-liquids is that they make smaller vaping devices far more satisfying to use. Throughout the first several years of the vaping industry, the biggest problem with the e-cigarettes marketed to beginners was that they weren’t satisfying enough for smokers to use. They didn’t generate enough vapor or contain enough nicotine. Nicotine salts have changed that; a lot of new vapers start with devices like the Juul and find the switch from smoking to vaping easy and painless. They’re happy with their vaping experience as it is and never bother upgrading to larger devices.
- If you currently smoke and do not vape, you should consider starting with a vaping system that uses nicotine salt e-liquids.
- If you vape but have not stopped smoking, it probably means that your current vaping system doesn’t satisfy you fully. Nicotine salts may also be a good fit for you.
Smoother Throat Hit
If nicotine strengths of 25 mg and higher are what people need to make the switch from smoking to vaping easy, you might ask yourself why it wasn’t possible to find an e-cigarette with a nicotine strength of 50 mg until the release of the Juul. The answer is that, with standard e-liquids, many people find the throat hit overly harsh at nicotine strengths above 18 mg or so. People report — perhaps because of the lower pH — that nicotine salt e-liquids are much smoother and easier to inhale without irritation. If you tried vaping in the past and couldn’t get enough nicotine into your system because you found the vapor too difficult to inhale, you are probably a good candidate for nicotine salt e-liquids.
Reduced E-Liquid Consumption
One of the most interesting aspects of the nicotine salt trend is that many long-term vapers are ditching their sub-ohm vaping devices and low-nicotine e-liquids in favor of pod systems and nicotine salts. Why would anyone want to do that? For one, it’s possible that some of those people never wanted to blow huge vapor clouds in the first place. Some may have started using sub-ohm devices because they weren’t able to derive full satisfaction from the small devices available when they started vaping.
Other people might decide to switch from low-nicotine e-liquids to nicotine salt e-liquids because they worry about the amount of e-liquid they’re consuming. Think about it; nicotine might be relatively benign on its own, but you go through an awful lot of e-liquid with a sub-ohm vaping setup. You’re inhaling several milliliters of vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavors and sweeteners every day. Some people ultimately decide that they aren’t really okay with that. Nicotine salt e-liquids appeal to those people because they make it possible to get the same level of satisfaction while consuming significantly less e-liquid — and probably spending a bit less money in the process.
Is Nicotine Salt E-Liquid Just a Fad?
At this point, you understand the elevator pitch for nicotine salt e-liquid — and you might have a question on your mind. Are any of the claims about nicotine salts actually true, or are nicotine salts just another vaping fad that’s going to pass when the next big thing comes along? I don’t have the answer to that question, and there are two things about nicotine salts that I find odd.
- Are nicotine salt e-liquids actually more satisfying because of the nicotine salts — or is it just because the nicotine strengths of those e-liquids are so high?
- Back in the ’60s, Marlboro maker Philip Morris began adding ammonia to cigarette tobacco to create freebase nicotine — the same type of nicotine in standard e-liquids — because they had conducted studies showing that people found ammoniated tobacco smoother and more satisfying. Now, we have e-liquid makers canceling the effect of the ammonia with acid because doing so is supposed to make the e-liquid — you guessed it — smoother and more satisfying. How could both statements be true?
Those two things being said, I don’t think that nicotine salt e-liquid is going away any time soon. I also think that some people have begun to wonder what the point of all the cloud chasing is. Does anyone really need to fill every room with clouds like they’re hotboxing? Do we really need to consume 10 ml, 20 ml — or more — of e-liquid every day? Reading the news, it seems like someone is putting out a fire in their home — or far worse — every few days because they don’t have the first idea about e-cigarette battery safety. For mainstream vapers, maybe cloud chasing has had its day. Maybe we actually need a product like nicotine salt e-liquid for those people who want to get back to the simpler experiences that drew them to vaping in the first place. If any of those statements ring true to you, you’re probably going to love nicotine salt e-liquid.