Will the Nicotine Salt Fad Last?

Although 2018 isn’t even half over yet, we already know what the hottest e-liquid trend of the year is going to be – it’s going to be nicotine salts. If your favorite online or offline vape shop doesn’t stock nicotine salt e-liquids yet, they will soon. For e-liquid makers, nicotine salt e-liquids have proven to be the perfect solution for declining profit margins. While sub-ohm vaping has led buyers of standard e-liquids to demand lower prices, pod vaping systems consume e-liquid much more slowly. E-liquid makers can charge more for nicotine salt e-liquids, and consumers have shown that they are willing to pay the higher prices. Before long, it’s likely that most of your favorite e-liquids will be available with nicotine salts.

It’s clear that nicotine salt is the fastest growing category in the e-liquid industry today, but one question remains unanswered. Are nicotine salt e-liquids actually better, or is nicotine salt just a passing fad?

That’s what we’re going to investigate in this piece.

Standard E-Liquids Contain Freebase Nicotine

Laboratories generally create liquid nicotine by extracting it from tobacco leaves using ammonia as a solvent. As with any plant extract, using a solvent allows for a more complete extraction of the plant material. Using ammonia also has another effect: It converts the nicotine in the tobacco leaves – a salt in its natural state – to freebase nicotine. What’s the significance of that? As it turns out, tobacco maker Philip Morris learned more than 50 years ago that adding ammonia to cigarette tobacco created freebase nicotine and gave Marlboro cigarettes a more satisfying “kick.” The ammonia also had the pleasant side effects of making Marlboro cigarettes smoother, tastier and less harsh than the competition. Philip Morris didn’t reveal the presence of the additive, of course. People knew that they preferred Marlboro cigarettes, but they didn’t understand the science behind their preference.

Keep those facts in mind. Philip Morris’s research showed that freebase nicotine made cigarettes:

  • More satisfying
  • Less harsh
  • Tastier

Marlboro, of course, quickly became the world’s most popular cigarette brand, and the standard e-liquids of today use a similar type of nicotine. Since ammonia is the solvent used in the extraction process, standard e-liquids use freebase nicotine.

Why Did Nicotine Salts Become Popular?

In 2013, the company Pax Labs filed a patent application for a nicotine salt formulation for use in electronic cigarettes. The formulation used an acid to lower the pH of the nicotine in an e-liquid and convert the nicotine from a free base to a salt. You can read more about the claimed benefits of nicotine salts in our article about pod vaping systems. In short, though, the standard claims about nicotine salts include the following:

  • Compared to an e-liquid with freebase nicotine, an e-liquid with nicotine salts produces a higher concentration of nicotine in the blood. Vaping nicotine salt e-liquid is therefore more like smoking a cigarette.
  • Nicotine salt e-liquid is smoother than freebase nicotine e-liquid due to the lower alkalinity. The increased smoothness makes it possible to use e-liquids with higher nicotine strengths without throat and lung irritation.

Nicotine Salts Have Changed the Vaping Industry

If you live in the United States, you already know what became of the Pax Labs patent. It became the basis of the Juul vaping system. Juul has since become the most popular e-cigarette brand in the United States. Although Juul isn’t available outside the U.S. at the time of writing, it has spawned a host of imitators. If you’re interested in a pod vaping system, you can buy one with or without pre-filled pods – and bottled nicotine salt e-liquids are available in many online and offline vape shops. Until the release of the Juul e-cigarette, the overall trend among e-cigarette users was to continually migrate from smaller e-cigarettes to larger and more powerful vaping devices. Pod vaping systems reversed that trend for the first time, convincing users of larger vaping devices to “downgrade” to smaller, less powerful vaping systems.

The Big Question About Nicotine Salts

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed something interesting. The reasons why Philip Morris and other tobacco companies convert nicotine salts to freebase nicotine in cigarettes – and the reasons why vaping companies convert freebase nicotine to nicotine salts in e-liquids – are essentially the same. How is it possible that freebase nicotine and nicotine salts could both be smoother, tastier and more satisfying? Is it because one type of nicotine is better for smoking, and the other type is better for vaping – or is it possible that nicotine salt e-liquids are “more satisfying” simply because they contain more nicotine than standard e-liquids? If the latter is the case, then nicotine salt e-liquid is truly a marketing triumph. Either way, nicotine salts are everywhere – and they’re not going away any time soon.