The nicotine used in e-liquids is a form of purified nicotine. It is also called nicotine base. This nicotine has undergone several treatments: chemical treatment to be extracted from tobacco plants and then purified. “Soda (a base) is allowed to act on tobacco leaves to obtain nicotine base,” explains Jacques le Houezec, a scientist and tobaccoologist specializing in nicotine. “This nicotine that is used for nicotine eliquids and substitutes has a PH around 8,” he says.
Nicotine salts are the closest form of nicotine to natural nicotine. “We use a base, nicotine base (the one described above) to which we add an acid, to remove the nicotine salts” informs J. le Houezec. This transforms the base back into a more acidic solution. Nicotine salts have a PH of 5-6, comparable to that of nicotine found in blond cigarette smoke.
Various acids are used to create a chemical reaction with nicotine base, including benzoic acid. “Nicotine salt e-liquids are a trend initiated by Pax Labs, manufacturers of the electronic cigarette JUUL; their formulation combines nicotine with benzoic acid,” says Ghyslain Armand of the online magazine Vaping Post.
At present, some manufacturers are starting to produce e-liquids with nicotine salts in the United States, while only two or three of them are still producing them in France.
Nicotine salts versus nicotine: what changes for vaporizers
Whether for electronic cigarettes or heated tobacco products, manufacturers are seeking to achieve the level of nicotine provided by combustible cigarettes, which remain the most efficient device for delivering nicotine.
A study showed that the heated tobacco product IQOS would deliver 30% less nicotine than a Marlboro cigarette(1). 2nd and 3rd generation electronic cigarettes deliver more nicotine than 1st generation electronic cigarettes but it is not delivered as quickly as with a traditional cigarette. In addition, it takes many more puffs of steam than smoking to get the same level of nicotine in the blood.
The problem with e-liquids containing purified nicotine or nicotine base is that it takes a lot of steam and high concentrations of nicotine in the e-liquids to get the level of nicotine in the blood that some smokers need to do without traditional cigarettes. The too powerful hit is then unpleasant. Too much steam in the back of the throat irritates the throat and makes it cough. For more information on e liquid, click on the link.
This can be a blocking factor for first-time sailors (those who are starting to sail) in particular. When they smoke traditional cigarettes, they do not smell like a hit because they contain menthol or other additives that reduce the bitter taste of the smoke and make it easier to inhale.
Beginner vaporizers may therefore be tempted to reduce the concentration of nicotine in e-liquids to reduce throat irritation, but they do not have the amount of nicotine they need in their blood.
Nicotine salts improve nicotine delivery with e-liquids with high nicotine dosage (20mg/maximum in Europe, about 50mg/ml in the United States) by reducing the hit. A nicotine with a lower PH (more acidic) is less irritating and therefore facilitates inhalation.
Studies by Pax Labs have shown that e-liquids with nicotine salts also allow a faster assimilation of nicotine (2). But no kinetic curve indicates that nicotine absorption is better. Jacques le Houezec is therefore waiting for independent pharmacokinetic data to comment on this fact.
For him, “these nicotine salts do not lead to a faster absorption of nicotine – no matter how acidic the nicotine reaches the lungs, there is a buffer substance on the lungs that causes nicotine to be put into a physiological PH – but allow easier inhalation with liquids that are more heavily dosed with nicotine”. “It’s an accelerator to get the right amount of nicotine faster,” says Sébastien Béziau, creator of the blog and the magazine VAPYOU and a vaporizer who tests nicotine salts.