Nicotine Salts Explained
There's been a bit of buzz lately around nicotine sourcing and nicotine alternatives – we've seen everything from tobacco-free nicotine that's synthesized in a lab rather than extracted from a plant to herbal supplements that claim to alleviate the need for nicotine at all. Another development that's gained traction over the last few months may be something you're less familiar with: nicotine salts.
Wait, salt? Well, yes and no – there are many scientific definitions of salts, and they go beyond the white (or maybe pink or blue) stuff you associate with a "salty" flavor. Basically the root draw of this stuff deals with pH balance, which means we're going to have to go a little Bill Nye here and get into chemistry.
The nicotine found on the leaves of tobacco is more acidic than the kind found in the typical nicotine extract – think of cigarette tobacco having an acidity of about 5 on the 0-14 pH scale, while the typical nicotine in e-liquid is more alkaline, somewhere around 8 (check out the linked chart for an example of what that might mean).
Why does this matter? The more acidic nicotine can actually linger a bit longer in your lungs. Why should that matter? Basically, it means the nicotine salts are naturally smoother tasting and less likely to irritate. That irritation is what we know as "throat hit," particularly potent in high-nicotine liquids like 18 mg/ml or higher. By using the salts, liquid makers can craft a smoother-tasting high-nicotine juice.
This is particularly helpful for next-generation cigalike and pod mod manufacturers – JUUL pods contain a whopping 50 mg/ml of nicotine, making them more than 20 times as potent as the most popular 3 mg juices for tanks! Then again, each JUUL pod only contains 0.7 ml of liquid, and it's vaporized at a much lower power than most advanced mod users prefer, so to a degree it makes sense that they need to pack a bigger punch into a smaller, slower-draining package. As you might have guessed, the cigalikes are largely using nicotine salts to craft their liquids – even with a lower wattage and lower vapor output, there's no way to cram that much nicotine in without doing something to soften the blow.
But that doesn't mean salts don't have their place in normal juice for open-ended (read: refillable) systems too – we've come across plenty of heavy smokers who want to transition to vaping but just can't get around the throat hit and attendant coughing fits that juice potent enough to keep their smoke cravings at bay delivers. Or maybe you're a true flavor chaser who only uses a tiny bit of nicotine but still seeks an ever-smoother hit to allow delicate flavors to shine through – nicotine salts might be of use to you, too (though we found similar results with tobacco-free nicotine, as you'll see if you check our hands-on review above).
One thing to keep in mind – salt-based nicotine seems to darken the liquid it's mixed into. Don't confuse this with oxidation (spoiling of nicotine that only harshens the flavor further), it's natural and a commonly documented occurrence.
We haven't seen nicotine salts begin to break through into mainstream mixes in a meaningful way yet. Then again, the same could be said for tobacco-free nicotine and the herbal nicotine-replacement potions. But it's a development that shows some early signs of promise, and you can bet we'll be watching to see if they start making major inroads – if so, expect a hands-on review in the months to come.