What are Nicotine Salts? Beginner's Guide to Salt E-Liquid

Like almost any technology, trend, or hobby, vaping has very basic roots. We've come a long way since the days of cheap gas station cig-a-likes and vape pens that were feeding us crude, PG laden e-liquids.

However, bigger isn't always better. Sure, a lot of us love the feeling, flavor, and cloud production of a high VG e-juice in a sub-ohm tank. But for those, us that are only interested in nicotine consumption, using high VG-based e-liquids is kind of like owning a Ferrari—flashy for most, but not practical for all.

Virtually everyone that vapes started vaping as a means of quitting smoking. Graduating to the big leagues of 100-watt devices and 5mL tanks should be a choice, not a necessity. Sadly, this means that people who prefer a smaller, cheaper, and a more discreet vaporizer will have to settle for a vape pen that is unpleasant overall—or fork over tons of cash and navigate a tiny supercomputer.

Nicotine salts, however, seem to be a magic solution - the veritable penicillin to cure some of the ailing vapers out there. That said, let's have a look at this brand-new innovation and see where – and who – it fits in the vaping world.

Freebase Nicotine: The Current Standard

There's a fundamental difference between the conventional "freebase" nicotine we use in our e-liquids and the newer "salts" that have been quickly making headlines. It is this difference that, not only classifies it separately but also creates an entirely new experience.

To better understand what salts are, let's compare them to their big brother, freebase nicotine. Without getting too technical, freebase is the purest form of nicotine and is the default "go-to" for most manufacturers. This nicotine solution is simply added to a mixture of vegetable glycerin (VG) and propylene glycol (PG) which "carry" the nicotine with them when vaped. It's also what we use in nicotine replacement therapies—like gums, patches, sprays, and lozenges.

Furthermore, freebase has been the norm in cigarettes for decades, thanks to Phillip Morris of Marlboro back in the 1960s. He found that "freebasing" nicotine-paired with ammonia delivered a significantly larger amount of nicotine (which did wonders for keeping customers hooked). Since we're trying to offer an effective nicotine replacement in vape juices, it only makes sense that we use the best form available.

Nicotine Salts

So we've established that freebase-nicotine is nicotine at its purest. If that's the case, then why would vapers want something that's not as inherently effective? Like Philip Morris's little freebase trick, the answer can be found in chemistry.

What are Nicotine Salts?

At its core, nicotine salts are comprised of the same exact nicotine that's found in its natural state within the tobacco leaf. If this form of nicotine was added to the liquid that we vape, we'd need to vape it at extremely high temperatures for the nicotine solution to be effective, and it still wouldn't be as easily absorbed (bioavailable) as freebase nicotine. Similarly, like freebase, salts need some modification too. The key here is benzoic acid.