What are “Nic Salts”, and do they have a place in Vaping?
In the past year there’s been a lot of buzz around “Nic Salts”. There are companies with salt in their names, there are other manufacturers using nicotine salts without telling consumers, and it seems every major brand of e-liquid are offering some kind “Salted” juice. In the vaping industry we are used to new, and different, and radical changes to commonly held beliefs; in fact doesn’t that effectively describe how vaping started? So a change to the status quo of e-liquid shouldn’t be anything to ruffle our feathers, but what exactly is this change? What’s the difference?
Let me make this clear before we begin, I AM NOT A SCIENTIST! I am not a chemist, a botanist, biochemical engineer, or anyone else that should have an educated opinion on this subject. I am however very passionate about vaping, have a vested interest in the vaping industry, a pretty solid Google-Fu record, and I ask a lot of questions. So I’ve increased my own personal knowledge through research, and this is my attempt at sharing information.
A molecular “Salt” is a compound containing ionic bonds between atoms of opposite charge, forming a crystalline structure. So think of a grain of regular ordinary table salt, that IS a “salt”. So a nicotine salt (nic salt) is a molecule of nicotine ionically bonded to at least one other compound. Up until recently, nicotine used in vaping is considered “Freebase” or nicotine all alone not bonded to any other compound. Freebase is considered more volatile than a salt molecule and therefor lends its self well to vaporizing. So this is where things start getting confusing and I’m going to break this down as best I can. By pairing a freebase nicotine molecule with an appropriate compound(s) found in tobacco to form a salt, we have found out how to lower the pH of e-liquid resulting in a “smoother hit” at higher nicotine milligram saturation. The one or two studies that have been done also seem to support the conclusion that nicotine salt is more bioavailable to the human body, resulting in faster absorption and a more intense satisfying feeling. Most commonly, benzoic acid is being used to form the salt crystals, but other compounds might already be in use purposefully, or as a consequence of “backyard chemistry” extracting compounds from traditional tobacco. And here’s where this all comes together; essentially a 6mg freebase nicotine e-liquid is going to have the same’ish sensation (going down) as a 60mg nicotine salt e-liquid. Most vapers are familiar with “throat hit”, some coughing, dry throat etc. and those conditions become increasingly worse the higher the nicotine strength. Not anymore when using nic salts!
So now that we have a better understanding of what nicotine salts are, how they work, and what the intended purpose of them is; we have to dig deeper into this and what impacts it might be having, or will have, to the vape industry. I’ve already mentioned that a 60mg nic salt liquid can be just as easy to inhale as a 6mg freebase; and in fact you’ll probably get a much more intense “cigarette like” sensation from the 60mg then you will with a 6mg. What they’re failing to point out (even though it’s incredibly obvious) is the fact that YOU ARE CONSUMING 60MG OF NICOTINE VS 6MG! So all of the consequences of nicotine, good / bad / neutral, are going to be compounded exponentially. One of the most notable consequences of nicotine is addiction, so if you regularly consume 60mg vs 6mg is your addiction to nicotine 10x stronger? Simply put, YES. The argument is this; by using a higher nicotine concentration that has been chemically enhanced to be more bioavailable we can use drastically less volume of e-liquid at drastically lower power requirements. Batteries will last longer, smaller devices, less money spent on e-liquid…..these are the positive ramifications of nicotine salt e-liquid, or so companies want us to believe.
A company, or corporation, ADDING more chemicals to an already admitted “sin” product with the intent of satisfying your immediate desires better, faster, and increasing the addictive nature of their product eventually requiring a more passionate customer base. Sound familiar?? Sound like Big Tobacco circa 1965?? The pioneers of nicotine salts started with the paradigm of, “Why do cigarettes still satisfy better and quicker than vaping?” Then they found by adding chemicals or compounds back into e-liquid makes it more like smoking analog cigarettes. Is this the direction we want vaping to go? Do we want capitalism forging ahead (once again) with products that increase our addiction(s)?
These are questions very subjective in nature, and it will take time to see what happens. Could vaping become just as hazardous as analog cigarettes? Certainly. If the market demands or allows manufacturers to continue adding chemicals with the intent of making products more addictive or more reactive. I started vaping as a way to take control of my body and what I was putting into it. I did not trust that those companies had my wellbeing as a priority in their business models. I wanted to strip out as much “bad for me” that I could. I wanted to feel like I was treating myself, my body, with ethics, and in a better, more kind of way then using traditional tobacco. It is definitely not clear that nicotine salts are heading us in that direction, or that the intent of the manufacturers is ethical. But these are all decisions that human beings SHOULD be making for themselves and my opinion may or may not matter to you. At the end of the day, harm reduction was/is the goal of vaping for most consumers and now you have a little more information to make those choices more informed. But for the time being, the juice I make, sell, and vape myself will only contain Freebase Nicotine!