***** UPDATE 22ND NOV ’18 *****
Since writing this post, nicotine salts have become increasingly popular and we are now stocking them from trusted manufacturers. We have had in-depth conversations with suppliers and reviewed toxicology reports that have answered many of our questions regarding the health impact of salts, especially the benzoic acids. We are concluding that when compared to traditional smoking, it is still exponentially safer and will allow a new type of user to enjoy the benefits of vaping. We still always hold the view that you should research the products that you use and make your own decisions on what and what not to use, but generally speaking, nicotine salts are not potentially harmful. Stephen.
‘Nicotine Salt’ is the latest trend in E-liquid that is sweeping the market and you have probably seen them in many vape shops and online retailers. Like with most things, we aren’t always the first company to jump on the bandwagon.
We like to understand the big picture before making an educated decision on whether we feel that products are safe and reliable enough to sell responsibly. As a primarily ‘face-to-face’ retailer, customers look to us as a responsible vendor who they need to be able to trust.
So what are ‘Nicotine Salts’?
Nicotine is either in ‘salt’ form or ‘freebase’ form. Freebase is what most e-liquids use, where the nicotine compound has been isolated and then used in it’s purest chemical form. Freebase nicotine is stronger mg/mg against nicotine salts but it is slower to absorb and is also “harsher” to inhale at higher strengths.
Want to get a bit more technical?
Nic salts are derived from the natural nicotine salts found in tobacco plants, these salts are made up of positively charged ionized nicotine molecules bound to negatively charged organic conjugates. Freebase nicotine, as found in the ‘traditional’ eliquids we are used to, is a result of extracting these salts from tobacco plants and using ammonia to increase the pH level, returning the nicotine to a neutrally charged freebase state.
So what is the point of using nic salts?
The main idea of ‘salts’ is that you can use a very high concentration (20-60mg/ml) to take one or two puffs and relieve your craving instead of a having to vape much more of a lower strength (3-20mg/ml) to get the same effect.
In the US market, nicotine salts are used at between 20-60mg strength, you can see how a micro-dose of this much higher strength might be useful in certain situations where heavy vaping is neither possible or appropriate – the problem we have in the UK is that with a 20mg cap on nicotine strength under the TPD, this main USP of nic salts is made void.
The secondary USP of nic salts is that it has a reduced throat hit compared to traditional ‘freebase’ e-liquids – you can often read that nic salts have ‘no throat hit’ – This is not necessarily true from our experience – although the throat hit is reduced, the nicotine strength still hits you when it reaches the chest and is more compatible to smoking cigarettes, which is still a ‘harsh’ experience.
There is a small % of customers from our own experience for whom the adjustment from smoking cigarettes to vaping is too difficult because of the ‘throat hit’ of the higher strength e-liquid they need, and they stop trying for this reason. In this one circumstance we can see how nic salts could be useful, but the lack of throat hit comes with as much risk as benefit from our opinion.
What are the risks?
Without the throat hit that you get from freebase nicotine, it’s not as easy to tell that the liquid is of a high strength – for want of a better analogy, it’s a bit like fire that isn’t hot – you don’t get the warning that you might be taking on more than you need until it’s too late.
The risk of taking on too much nicotine (overdosing) is one of the main risks that are putting us off stocking nicotine salts – overdosing on nicotine is not a pleasant experience and should be avoided at all costs. Encouraging the use of higher nicotine strengths is the opposite to our approach to nicotine – we encourage using the lowest possible strength you can get along with – nicotine is after all an addictive substance and higher strength means increased dependancy, which is means that it will be harder to give up or go without in the long run.
The other factor that affects our opinion is the use of Benzoic acid to balance the PH level in nic salts, which reduces the throat hit.
Benzoic acid is untested in this market – it is generally regarded unsafe for ingestion by health bodies – pod system manufacturers are purposefully using atomisers which vape below 175*c so the Benzoic acids do not create toxic substances, but 95% of e-cigs on the market vape at temperatures way above this.
There is currently no medical research on reaction of benzoic acids in vaporisers, vs. 60 years of freebase nicotine combustion research. We trust freebase nicotine more than we do nic salts right now.
It is our current opinion that there is too much margin for user-error with nicotine salts and the risks of nicotine poisoning, increased dependancy and unknowns of combusting benzoic acid at high-temperatures mean that we don’t currently recommend it’s use over freebase nicotine.
This is not to say that we won’t ever change our minds with new evidence or user cases, but it’s where we are at the moment, we feel it’s only fair to share this information with you, rather than you be in the dark as to why we are not stocking them when so many companies are, but we suggest you do your own research and form your own opinions and let us know if we have got something wrong or if you find out information we might not yet be aware of.