You've heard of nicotine salts, maybe you've even tried them. But how much do you really understand about the nicotine salt phenomena? In order to help inform our readers, we spent weeks researching every aspect of this vaping innovation.
We'll delve into the intriguing history behind nicotine salts, break down the scientific studies supporting their efficacy, investigate the possible health implications of nic salt use and guide you through a handy quiz to see if nic salts might be right for you. We'll also look at the various advantages and disadvantages of nicotine salts to allow you to make a truly informed decision.
You'll come away with a rich understanding of what this vape juice product is really all about--the good, the bad and the curiously captivating.
What Are Nicotine Salts?
Nicotine salts is simply a different form of nicotine from what was being used by the vaping industry up until 2015. That original form of nicotine is known as “freebase” nicotine.
Freebase nicotine is the purest form of nicotine available so e-cigarette makers naturally turned to freebase nicotine back in 2007 when it came time to invent vape juice to go in their newly invented devices. However, as we'll see, nicotine salts offer some distinct advantages over freebase nicotine making it a welcome innovation in the market.
As it turns out, however, the salt form of nicotine isn’t all that new after all. In fact, that’s the form of nicotine that’s found in tobacco leaves making it the original, natural form of nicotine as created by the tobacco plant. So where did freebase nicotine come from?
The Secret Soul of Marlboro
Freebase nicotine was the golden goose that made Marlboro cigarettes one of the most popular brands of smokes in the world. And it was discovered by accident.
Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Marlboro was fooling around with ammonia, investigating it’s ability to create a cigarette with a “milder, more aromatic, sweeter, less harsh” taste. Marlboro had also, rather shiftily, been experimenting with using ammonia to create “puffed” tobacco. That is, they found that ammonia had the ability to increase what Marlboro called tobacco’s “filling power,” or, in other words, to enable them to make a cigarette look full while actually using less tobacco. Think of a bag of puffed rice cereal versus regular, uncooked rice and you'll get the idea. Not only did this save them tobacco, it also created the need for customers to smoke more of these puffed tobacco smokes in order to reach their desired levels of “satisfaction,” the industry’s term for getting enough nicotine.
In the course of their experimentation, chemists in the Marlboro lab discovered another surprising ability of ammonia. It could also be used to turbo charge the nicotine in tobacco by altering the form of nicotine naturally found in tobacco leaves, the salt form, and turning it into the freebase form of nicotine. This new, freebase form of nicotine was much more bioavailable and thus more readily absorbed by the user, giving a larger nicotine hit.
As the tobacco companies themselves put it:
“As the pH increases, the nicotine changes its chemical form so that it is more rapidly absorbed by the body and more quickly gives a ‘kick’ to the smoker.”
J. L. McKenzie, Product Characterization Definitions and Implications, 1976, 21 September (Minnesota Trial Exhibit 12,270)
This pH increase was achieved using ammonia. The FDA didn't catch wind of the ammonia shenanigans until the early 1990's. Needless to say, the FDA was not amused.
"It is our understanding that an experimental cigarette made of reconstituted tobacco treated with ammonia has almost double the nicotine transfer efficiency," Dr. David A. Kessler, previous head of the FDA, told a Congressional hearing in 1994.
This freebase nicotine gave Marlboro an incredible competitive edge in the marketplace. So great was the advantage that freebase nicotine came to be called the "secret" or "soul" of Marlboro.
While Philip Morris has refused to admit that they were deliberately monkeying around with nicotine absorption rates in order to increase nicotine transfer and thus addiction, the outcome was the same. They were able to create cigarettes that delivered nicotine in a form that transferred to the body via the lungs both faster and more easily and also crossed the blood-brain barrier more readily, thus giving a greater nicotine hit. And the altered tobacco produced a smoother hit to boot.
All the other cigarette companies exploded in a frenzy of corporate espionage and reverse engineering trying to discover Marlboro’s “secret.” The secret was freebase nicotine.
The Salt Form of Nicotine
Now that we know what freebase nicotine is, what are nicotine salts? Without getting too technical, nicotine salts are freebase nicotine infused with specific acids. They’re called salts because in chemistry, combining an acid with a base produces a salt.
Despite the name, there’s no sodium taste to nic salt based e-liquids and vaping them won’t add sodium to your daily intake. The moniker is strictly a chemistry term. Just as “freebase” was used to differentiate the new, more bioavailable form of nicotine Marlboro invented, salt is so named simply because it’s created by combining an acid and a base.
Freebase nicotine has a high pH, meaning it is very alkaline. That’s why it burns your throat when you vape freebase nicotine at levels above 24 mg/mL. It's not from the acidity but from the alkalinity. In fact, attempting to mask this harsh sensation is one of the reasons why cigarette companies came out with menthol cigarettes.
Nicotine salts, on the other hand, have a much lower pH meaning they are more acidic. The lower pH solves the problem of excessive throat hit caused by too much alkalinity. By adding an acid to freebase nicotine, usually in the form of benzoic acid, the alkalinity is effectively neutralized. The pH has been adjusted to more closely match the pH of your body and the harmony produces a smoother, less irritating throat hit.
Why Were Nic Salts Needed?
Initially, the vaping industry only had small, cig-a-like type devices. These early models were tiny, about the size of a cigarette, and had a number of disadvantages. The batteries didn't last long before needing to be recharged and the diminutive size made it so these vape pens weren't very efficient at vaporizing e-liquid. The result was vapor that was relatively weak as far as nicotine content.
An Early Model Cig-A-Like
Over the years, electronic cigarette manufacturers improved their designs. They made batteries that lasted longer, the coils were redesigned for improved performance and the power or efficiency of the new models when it came to vaporizing e-liquid was drastically increased. These improvements meant that the average nicotine level vapers needed from their vape juice in order to satisfy their cravings and keep them from going back to cigarettes also went down.
When we started Kai's Virgin Vapor in 2010, 12 mg was our most popular e-liquid nicotine level. By 2018, it was 3 mg. Vapers were getting more or less the same nicotine but were able to achieve it through the efficiency in their hardware so higher nicotine levels in e-juice were no longer needed.
However, even with these innovations, e-cigarettes were still falling short when compared to combustible cigarettes. A 2014 study entitled "Nicotine absorption from electronic cigarette use: comparison between first and new-generation devices" looked at how much nicotine vapers were actually getting in their bloodstream when they vaped. The study used a relatively high nicotine level e-liquid for the clinical trial, an 18 mg.
As you can see, the new generation devices (red line) outperformed the early models (blue line), delivering a faster, stronger nicotine hit. But how does that compare to actually smoking a cigarette?
In this table produced by the authors of the study, you can see that when you smoke a combustible cigarette nicotine makes its way into the blood stream much more rapidly (light green line). Within five minutes, blood plasma nicotine levels hit about 18 ng/mL. The "ng" in ng/mL refers to nanograms, a unit of measure often used in laboratory test results. A nanogram is equal to one billionth of a gram. Yeah, it's pretty tiny! But that billionth of a gram means a lot when it comes to nicotine in your bloodstream; it doesn't take much.
In contrast, it takes nearly 35 minutes for nicotine that is introduced into the body through vaping to reach the same levels--and that's using the newer, second generation e-cig models (red line). As the study's authors state, "It took about 35 minutes of vaping with the new-generation device at high wattage in order to obtain plasma levels similar to smoking one cigarette in 5 minutes."
The first generation cig-alikes fared even worse (blue line). They never hit the same level and took 35 minutes to reach a bit more than half the blood plasma nicotine levels achieved by smoking a cigarette. Even after 65 minutes of vaping at will, the study's participants never got enough nicotine in their bloodstreams to equal smoking just a single cigarette.
This study shows why nicotine salts were needed. For some cigarette smokers who were used to a sudden, powerful surge in nicotine levels, vaping was falling short. This group of smokers found that they kept returning to smoking cigarettes even when they did their best to make the switch to vaping. In the vape juice race, nic salt was the hare and freebase was the turtle. It got you there but it did it more slowly.
In order to make up for this, vapers of freebase nicotine tend to puff more frequently and thus usage patterns are different. Smokers who are used to taking a two minute break to get hit over the head with a nicotine stick weren't puffing frequently enough to keep their nicotine levels high enough and so they kept falling off the wagon. For these reasons, this group of smokers struggled to make the switch from vaping to smoking.
At Kai's Virgin Vapor we saw this first hand. We've had lots of success bringing the wonderful world of vaping to our friends and family who smoke but we've run into a few cases where it just didn't seem to work. We tried everything, offering free electronic cigarettes and mountains of e-liquid in every flavor imaginable, all without success. The trouble seemed to be that vaping just wasn't quite mimicking the effect of smoking closely enough for these individuals.
As the authors of the 2014 study concluded, "Based on the results of this study, showing very low levels of nicotine absorption from using ECs [electronic cigarettes] in a similar way to smoking one tobacco cigarette, it seems that nicotine levels in EC liquids should be close to 50 mg/ml in order to approximate nicotine delivery from smoking."
And that's where nicotine salts come in. Before nicotine salts were introduced to the market, 50 mg/mL e-liquid wasn't possible because, with it's excessive alkalinity, it was just too harsh to vape. Nicotine salts solved this problem.
JUUL Introduces Nicotine Salts to the Market
Nicotine salts also solved another problem, this one for the giant vape manufacturer, JUUL Labs. In 2015, JUUL wanted to introduce a small, more portable electronic cigarette, a move that was in direct opposition to vaping trends at the time which were moving toward larger, more powerful devices designed for sub ohm vaping (those second generation devices referred to in the study). With a smaller battery, a smaller device wouldn’t have as much power...so how to deliver enough nicotine? Freebase nicotine was too harsh on the throat to be tolerable above about 24 milligrams per milliliter. JUUL needed to find a way to pack more nicotine in so that a low power device could still deliver while also keeping the throat hit from singing the lining off your tonsils. They also wanted a vape juice that could more closely match the smoking experience. The answer was nicotine salts.
The patent referenced what JUUL called an "unexpected discovery," that "certain nicotine salt formulations provide satisfaction in an individual superior to that of free base nicotine, and more comparable to the satisfaction in an individual smoking a traditional cigarette."
JUUL experimented with different acids to tailor their nicotine salts for maximum nicotine uptake while avoiding the drawbacks presented by some acids such as bitter or unpleasant taste, corrosive properties or human toxicity. Sulfuric acid is given as an example of all three of these downsides in an acid by the writers of the JUUL patent, individuals who come across as dry, humorless and vaguely creepy people who dose test subjects with nicotine and then measure the jump in their heart rates while trying to figure out how to increase what they euphemistically refer to as nicotine "satisfaction."
When they tested the new nicotine salts, JUUL found they were able to produce nicotine absorption rates in their human subjects that closely matched the rate found in their control subject, a lone individual who presumably sat in the corner puffing on a Pall Mall cigarette.
"To develop the nicotine salt e-liquid technology, the PAX Labs research team extensively explored the differences in chemical composition between cigarettes and e-cigarettes, demonstrating that the use of nicotine salts instead of free-base nicotine made an unequivocal difference in nicotine blood absorption profiles," the subsequent JUUL press release crowed.
Not only did nicotine salts enable much higher nicotine levels by lowering the pH to make it palatable but, in vapor products, it also increased absorption rates.
Astute readers will notice that we have come full circle. Essentially, JUUL reverse engineered Marlboro’s famous freebase “secret,” this time going from freebase nicotine back to nicotine salts. As JUUL discovered, in vapor products it turns out it is the salt form of nicotine that gives that one-two punch: a smoother hit combined with more rapid nicotine delivery. This innovation, the "secret" of JUUL, is what propelled it to the status of a multi billion dollar company in a few short years. It should come as no surprise that Altria, the rebranded parent company of Philip Morris, owner of the Marlboro cigarette, is the proud owner of a 35% stake in JUUL.
Safety of Nicotine Salts
Putting aside the question of much higher nicotine levels for now, the only difference between the freebase and the salt forms of nicotine is the addition of an acid, usually benzoic acid. Unless you react to benzoic acid, nicotine salts aren’t any more safe or harmful than their freebase counterpart.
However, let's take a closer look at benzoic acid. Any time you add an acid to a vapor product that is meant to be inhaled, you run the risk of also adding respiratory irritation as the product becomes more acidic. That's the problem we found when we researched sour vape juice, commonly formulated by adding malic acid.
Benzoic acid has been fairly well studied for toxicity in humans. There are dozens of human exposure studies which show benzoic acid, while not without risks, is fairly well tolerated at levels much higher than a vaper is ever going to be exposed to. It is not classified as a carcinogen and generally does not produce toxic symptoms when ingested. One study exposed the skin of 5,202 people, 537 of which had a history of intolerance, allergy or irritation to cosmetics, and found that only 34, a rate of 0.7%, showed a reaction.
However, various studies did note reactions to benzoic acid ranging from wheals, erythema (a "redness of the skin or mucous membranes" observed in several studies), pruritus (itchy skin), nausea, indigestion, gastric irritation, headache, weakness, burning and irritation of the esophagus and something described as "red and mildly swollen caruncles." A caruncle is defined as "a small fleshy eminence." These reactions were generally seen in high oral doses.
Another study found benzoic acid might even offer moderate help for people suffering from acne, although the gain did come at a cost of "dryness, itching, and flakiness."
"Administration of 0.5 to 1.0 g/day (approximately 14 mg/kg BW) for 44 consecutive days or for 3 months produced no evident signs of toxicity in humans. ... Irritation, discomfort, weakness, and malaise were observed in individuals given oral bolus doses of less than or equal to 1.75 g/day (approximately, 25 mg/kg BW) over a 20 day period," noted one study.
In other words, if a 150 pound person ate 1.7 grams of benzoic acid a day, they might feel a bit ill and get cranky. For context, a JUUL pod contains 59 mg/mL or nicotine in a total pod volume of 0.7 mL. That means you'll get a maximum of 41.3 mg of nicotine if you vape an entire pod. The benzoic acid content is a fraction of that so, at most, you're looking at a few milligrams (the exact amount is not disclosed). If it takes 1.7 grams of benzoic acid to produce symptoms in an average sized person, there's not much to worry about (remember, there are 1,000 milligrams in a gram).
The medical literature also outlined the story of a man who suffered from an extreme allergy to benzoic acid. By some cruel, cosmic joke, he was stuck in the profession of a trained chemical worker. This caused him to suffer "allergic reactions of increasing intensity while being constantly exposed to benzoic acid during work." His allergy became so severe that he suffered from anaphylactic shock and had to follow a strict diet after the episode, avoiding all benzoic acid containing foods (benzoic acid is widely used as a preservative in processed foods). Fortunately, such an allergic reaction is quite rare but certainly, if you suffer from benzoic acid sensitivities akin to this individual, you would want to avoid nicotine salts.
All these studies were generally looking at benzoic acid when ingested or applied to the skin but what about when benzoic acid is inhaled?
One study noted, "Cases of urticaria, asthma, rhinitis, or anaphylactic shock have been reported following oral, dermal, or inhalation exposure to benzoic acid and sodium benzoate. The symptoms appear shortly after exposure and disappear within a few hours."
However, most studies found only mild irritation to the respiratory tract and mucus membranes following benzoic acid inhalation. An MSDS Sheet for benzoic acid (MSDS sheets are provided by companies as part of product safety protocols) notes, "Irritation to the nose, throat and lungs if inhaled, which may cause coughing, wheezing and/or shortness of breath."
Here's the bottom line. Some people have allergic reactions to benzoic acid and it is possible to have some negative effects at large doses, however, the National Institute of Health concludes that "significant toxicity is rare." In the very small amounts vapers will be inhaling it, there is little concern as far as toxicity unless you have a rare, extreme sensitivity to it.
However, it can be a mild irritant to the respiratory system and mucus membranes. This will vary from person to person and presents a relatively minor risk that you must evaluate when deciding if nicotine salts are right for you. Some vapers want to avoid all potential lung irritants in any amounts. Others want to experiment to find out what their bodies can tolerate before deciding. That's a personal choice that you'll need to make for yourself but at least knowing the facts enables you to make an informed decision.
A Quick Quiz to Help You Decide If Nicotine Salts Are Right For You
If you want a quick answer as to whether nicotine salts might be for you, take our quiz. We're going to delve into the advantages and disadvantages of nicotine salts in more detail below, but this quiz will give you a quick and dirty answer that may help guide you as we look into these factors in more detail.
|I smoke at least a pack of cigarettes a day.||
I smoke less than a pack a day or I'm an occasional smoker.
|I have already tried switching to vaping and was unsuccessful.||I've never tried to switch to vaping.|
I'm mechanically challenged. When I get a new iPhone, I am baffled by it until someone shows me how to use it.
I love tinkering with things and like to have control over my gadgets.
|My house is a kid free zone. Any kids in the house are at least 5 years of age.||In my house, kids are constantly underfoot.|
|I can't stand those big e-cigs, I want something I can hide from my mother-in-law.||I don't care about the size of my e-cig as long as it works for me.|
|For now, I just want to switch from smoking cigarettes to vaping.||My goal is to gradually wean myself off nicotine entirely.|
|I'm on a tight budget and need to save every penny even if it means altering my vaping style to fit my budget.||Quitting smoking is worth every penny and I'm willing to spend a bit more if a particular style is a better fit for me.|
|I don't care about big plumes of vapor, I just want my nicotine.||I'm a cloud chaser!|
|I don't care what my e-cig looks like.||I fully intend for my e-cig to express my personal style!|
|When I've tried vaping, it makes me cough.||I like a bit of throat hit as it makes me feel like I'm smoking a cigarette.|
If you answered yes to more of the questions on the left, nicotine salts might be a good fit for you. If you answered yes to more of the questions on the right, you will probably be better off trying non-nicotine salt vaping, at least for the time being.
Now, let's delve into the reasoning behind these questions in more depth.
What Are the Advantages of Nicotine Salts?
Nicotine salts score plenty of gold stars, facilitating an outpouring of innovation and evolution in the vaping market. With advantages like lower cost and smoother throat hit, it’s easy to see why nic salts have taken off the way they have.• Smoother throat hit: As mentioned above, the primary advantage of nicotine salts is the smoother throat hit. By moderating the excessive alkalinity of freebase nicotine with an acid, the resulting form of nicotine is closer to the pH of your body resulting in less irritation, burning, coughing and discomfort.
• Higher nicotine levels: Because there’s less throat hit, it’s possible to vape much higher nicotine levels than previously would have been tolerable. While this is an advantage to smokers who have struggled to switch to vaping because they need more nicotine, this also has disadvantages which we’ll cover below.
• Lower vaping frequency: Because there’s generally more nicotine in nic salt vape juice and it is fast acting, it may decrease the frequency vapers need to vape in order to get their nicotine. Although studies have shown that vaping is perhaps 95% safer than smoking, there’s no question that the best thing to breathe into your lungs is clean, fresh air. If you’re vaping less frequently, that’s probably better.
• Lower e-juice consumption: Smaller, pod-type electronic cigarettes use less e-liquid than larger, more powerful sub-ohm devices, conserving e-juice. You’ll go through fewer bottles of e-juice keeping your pod’s tank topped up than you would refilling a powerful sub-ohm vape device.
• Greater portability of vape juice: Because there are more milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of vape juice, a smaller bottle of e-liquid can potentially last longer. This has the advantage of making e-juice more portable. A single tank full of e-liquid is now more than enough for a night on the town and there’s no need to bring a back up bottle of e-liquid to refill your tank.
• Cost savings: Lower power, smaller pod-type devices are generally less expensive than larger, more powerful, sub-ohm electronic cigarettes. They also use less e-liquid, again likely saving you money.
• Longer shelf life: Nicotine in salt form is less likely to oxidize, potentially extending shelf life. While this is an advantage to e-liquid manufacturers, vape juice in general already has a pretty long self life. Nicotine will tend to break down over time, producing an e-juice with a slightly lower nicotine level after it has sat for a while but this hasn’t been shown to be significant enough to matter that much and e-liquid in general already has a shelf life of about two years or so (longer if you keep it refrigerated). So this isn’t a huge benefit to vapers.
• Smaller e-cigs that are easier to operate: Nicotine salts have enabled pod-type vaping devices. Without nic salts, it wouldn’t be possible to have e-cigs that are that small without losing the ability to vaporize nicotine efficiently due to the low power levels. So nic salts have indirectly enabled the proliferation of this new style of e-cig. Along with their diminutive size, pods are also generally easier to operate with almost no learning curve benefiting people who might find sub ohm vaping too much of a technical challenge.
• More discreet vaping: Pod-style e-cigs are also more discreet. They won’t produce the big clouds of vapor when compared to sub-ohm devices and they are smaller and more easily concealed. While this is an advantage if you're trying to stealth vape out the window of your boss’s guest bathroom, it’s also proving to be a disadvantage to parents and teachers that is making it easier for high school students to sneak puffs between classes.
What Are the Disadvantages of Nicotine Salts?
While there’s lots to celebrate, like most things, not everything that has come of the emergence of nicotine salts is a good thing. There are definite disadvantages and some pretty serious caveats when considering their overall impact.
• You may need to buy a new e-cig: The sweet spot for sub-ohm devices tends to fall between 3 and 12 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter. Nicotine salts, which generally come in 25 mg, 35 mg and 50 mg levels are not going to work in your sub-ohm device because the nicotine hit would be too strong. In addition, many nic salts are formulated specifically to work in pod-style devices. Our nic salt line is significantly thinner than our standard line because our standard formulation would be too viscous in pod-style e-cigarettes. If you want to dip your toe in the nic salt pool, you may have to buy another device.
• Nic levels may be too high: Nic salts may also have too much nicotine for your average vaper. Many of us weaned ourselves off cigarettes using 12 mg or even 3 mg e-juice. If you’re a light, moderate or occasional smoker looking to switch to vaping, nic salts might be just too much nicotine for you. We recommend lighter smokers do not use nicotine salts, at least not without trying freebase nicotine vape juice first.
• Limited nicotine levels: Nic salts also don’t currently offer you the range of options when it comes to nicotine levels that standard, freebase nicotine does. With a standard range of 18 mg, 12 mg, 8 mg, 6 mg, 3 mg and even 1.5 mg of nicotine available, non-nic salt e-liquids allow you to slowly and gradually step down your nicotine intake in tiny increments, reducing the discomfort of nicotine withdrawal by making it a gentle, gradual process. Nic salts don’t currently offer that kind of a range and there’s a big step down from 25 mg/mL to zero. With innovation in the market, however, this could change and there are a few manufacturers who offer nic salt formulations in lower nicotine levels.
• May increase addiction: Nic salts also may increase nicotine addiction. If you switch to vaping from cigarettes and you happen to pick a nic salt level that is too high for you (which is much easier to do using nic salts), even if you don’t experience any unpleasant effects, you could well be increasing you dependence on nicotine which is the exact opposite of what most people are going for. If you’re first making the switch, you should always start with the lowest nicotine level that keeps you from going back to cigarettes. You can always keep an emergency bottle or two of higher nicotine vape juice on hand to use if your cravings start getting out of hand.
• Less control and customization of the vaping experience with pod-style e-cigs: Nic salts also don’t offer you the control and ability to customize that you get with standard nicotine and the wider variety of hardware that it works in. Pods are pretty simple devices, you just plug them in to recharge and then either push a button or just inhale and the device turns on for you. While this simplicity is an advantage in some ways, it also takes away a lot of the control that vapers used to have that enabled them to customize their vaping experience. With more robust vape pens, you can tailor the device to your preferences for flavor intensity, cloud production, throat hit and even fine tune the desired temperature of the vapor. You can’t do that with a pod. Tinkering with rebuildable coils and adding custom made drip tips that express your personal style is part of the fun of vaping for some of us. Again, not possible when it comes to pods.
• More plastic waste: Some nicotine salts comes in prepackaged pods which produce more waste. The pods are generally plastic and, as environmentalists like to say, plastic, like diamonds, is forever. Because of the high level of nicotine in nic salts which presents a greater danger of accidental ingestion, it’s not far fetched to think the FDA may someday soon mandate that all nic salts come in closed system pods, thus closing the door on e-liquid packaged in more environmentally friendly (and BPA-free) glass bottles. (UPDATE: Unfortunately, this door has now been closed, not by the FDA but by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Glass bottles are no longer an option in the United States under a new interpretation of existing regulations.)
• Greater risk of nicotine poisoning: Because nic salts are higher in nicotine, one of their greatest disadvantages is the increased possibility of causing nicotine poisoning. A bottle of 50 mg nic salt that accidentally gets into the hands of a small baby is much, much more dangerous than a 3 mg bottle of the more standard stuff. The same goes for nicotine absorbed by the skin. If you get e-liquid on your hands, your body can and will absorb the nicotine through your dermis and it’s always better and safer to be handling lower nicotine liquids. Please see our Guide to Avoiding Nicotine Poisoning for an in depth look at this topic.
• Generally must be used in low power devices: Nic salts with high nicotine levels are made to be vaped in a low wattage, high ohm pod-style or cigalike type device and they could be dangerous if vaped in a sub-ohm device. It seems easily possible for an inexperienced or ignorant user to refill a sub-ohm tank from a friend’s 50 mg nic salt bottle only to find they’ve ingested way too much nicotine. Using nicotine levels that high in a sub-ohm device is a potential nicotine overdose risk. While it is unlikely to kill you, it can produce some unpleasant side effects. As you might imagine, intrepid, excessively curious or just plain stupid vapers have done it and reported their experiences on vaping forums. They usually talk about headaches and stomach aches but one vaper recounted vaping a milliliter of 48 mg nic salt in a sub-ohm device which produced a “serious head rush.” We don’t want to see a vaper win a Darwin award so please, don't use nic salts in sub ohm devices!
• More scrutiny from the FDA: Nic salts seem to us like they’re more likely to bring the FDA knocking on vaping’s door. The high nicotine levels, the potential for greater addiction, the larger danger of overdose--these are all things that tend to attract governmental attention. Indeed, since the rise of JUUL, which was largely fueled by the introduction of nic salts, the FDA has been increasingly firing warning shots at the vaping industry, threatening to severely restrict where vaping products can be sold or to pull all flavored vape juice off the market. There’s a correlation between these two things in our minds and high nicotine nic salts could lead somewhere a lot of vapers won’t like.
What Hardware Is Needed to Vape Nic Salts?
There are two potential issues with using nic salts in an electronic cigarette that is not specifically made for nic salt vaping.
These two issues do not preclude you using nic salts in a standard electronic cigarette, however, you should be aware of them.
Nic salts are frequently formulated to create a thinner viscosity which may or may not work in a standard vaping device so check with your manufacturer if you're not sure. If the vape juice is too thin for your device it may cause it to spit e-juice into the mouth piece or to leak.
As a rule of thumb, do not use high nicotine level nic salts in sub ohm or high powered e-cigs. Doing so can cause you to ingest too much nicotine since these more powerful devices will more efficiently vaporize your e-juice.
Sub ohm refers to the rating of your coil. Anything below a "1" is considered sub ohm vaping. For example, a 0.2 or a 0.5 coil would both be sub ohm coils. Read about the experiential difference between ohms ratings for a more in depth explanation. The rule of thumb is: don't vape nic salts using a coil that is rated lower than 1.
Also be aware that nic salts vaped in a super powerful device may be another factor that can introduce too much nicotine into your system. Power here refers to the wattage of your battery. Just like a sub ohm coil, a high wattage battery will more efficiently vaporize nicotine in e-juice and can lead to ingesting nicotine at levels that are too high.
Keep in mind, this does not apply to nic salt formulations that have lower nicotine levels (18 mg or below). These nic levels are fine to use in a standard e-cig but lower nicotine level nic salts are not currently widely available.
There's no hard and fast rule so, to be safe, especially if you don't have a lot of experience with vaping, look for an e-cig that is made to vape nic salts such as the Rubi or the Zeltu X that we carry. These will be clearly labeled as pods or marked "for nic salt use." If you're new to vaping or inexperienced with using nic salts, stick to these devices and you shouldn't have any problems.
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