Guide to Nicotine

Nicotine is one of those buzzwords that’s always floating about in the headlines, it’s also an important component to consider when you’re vaping. There’s a bit of confusion surrounding it, so we wanted to clear a few things up. You’ll want to consider a few things - different kinds of nicotine, strengths and what kind of kits you can use each in.

what is nicotine?

Nicotine is a chemical stimulant, which sounds scary but it’s actually not entirely different to caffeine. When you have nicotine in your system, it can elevate blood pressure, increase focus and stimulates the release of adrenaline. Sound familiar? It’s a similar effect your body experiences when you have a cup of coffee too.

why do we have nicotine in e-liquids?

Like coffee, nicotine is addictive to your body. It’s the part of cigarettes that your brain craves when you smoke which is why it’s also in e-liquids. E-liquids have a range of strengths meaning you can find a comparable dose to what you’d get in cigarettes. Over time, you can drop your dose and gradually wean yourself off vaping entirely.

There are a number of different strengths available, with the number in “mg” on the side indicating how many mg of nicotine there is per ml of e-liquid. They range from a super low dose of 3mg through to moderate strengths like 6mg and 12mg, all the way up to 18mg and 20mg (the maximum you can get in the UK and EU). If you want to vape without nicotine at all, there are also plenty of nicotine free liquids to choose from too.

Depending on how much you smoked you’ll potentially want to start off at a higher level. Heavy smokers can benefit from a higher dose while social smokers can start with a mild one. There are even different kinds of nicotine that will give you a slightly different experience.

wait - there are different kinds of nicotine?

Yep. Up until relatively recently, you could only get something called “freebase” nicotine. It’s considered the more traditional and most pure form of nicotine and has a slightly peppery flavour in higher strengths. E-liquids with higher concentrations of freebase nicotine also give a much harsher throat hit when you inhale. While this is fine for some people (who still want that feeling that’s a little like inhaling smoke) it can be a bit too much for other e-cig users.

This is why nicotine salts were created. They’re a more refined version of the original freebase nicotine and give a less scratchy throat hit. The chemistry behind this comes down to pH. Freebase nicotine is much more basic a pH while nic salts are more acidic. While that might seem counterintuitive, the more balanced pH of nic salts makes for a faster absorption rate and smoother inhale.

there are benefits and drawbacks to each

Both kinds of nicotine are extracted from the tobacco leaf, taking only the nicotine and leaving all the other bits behind. While you can find nicotine in a whole bunch of plants (even tomatoes and eggplants - who knew) the plant with the highest naturally occurring level of nicotine is still tobacco. Nic salts are what happen when you add an acid to freebase nicotine to get that more neutral pH.

freebase nicotine

  • Freebase is ideal for people looking for a low dose nic level as it peaks a little slower in your system as well as sticking around for a little longer. This means you’ll have a few more puffs before you really feel it, but it’ll also keep cravings away for longer too.
  • With Sub Ohm, direct to lung kits, you get a much stronger hit. As such, you’re best off sticking with freebase nicotine for more powerful kits (nicotine head rush isn’t a nice feeling).
  • The drawback of freebase is that it can taste and feel a lot harsher to vape because of its pH. If you’re using a strength more than a 6mg, you’ll start to really feel it in the back of your throat and it can also affect the flavour of your juice.

nicotine salts

  • Nic salts offer a much higher equivalent dose - they’re more quickly absorbed and peak more quickly than conventional freebase nicotine. This means they’re often the first choice for those looking for a quick, potent hit of nicotine (like smokers wanting to break a pack a day habit). Essentially, with TPD regulations the maximum strength you can get in the UK and EU is 20mg. With a 20mg nic salt, it’ll feel like a 36mg.
  • These are ideal for pod kits and more stealthy vapes. While Sub Ohm vapes would leave you on the floor if you vaped nic salts in them, pod kits and mouth to lung vapes are an ideal pairing. They have less vapour but give you just the right amount of nicotine and because smaller, more simple kits are usually the go-to for new vapers, they’re a match made in heaven.
  • They’re less harsh to vape. With their more balanced pH level, aside from getting a more instant hit, you can vape them without ruining the flavour of your e-liquid and without getting a super dry feeling in your throat.
  • The drawback of these is you can’t easily use them in more powerful kits. Most direct to lung vapers would use a 3mg strength but even that might be too much in a higher wattage tank. You’ll be best off sticking with freebase nicotine.
  • Nic salts get rid of cravings more quickly than freebase but they also leave your system more quickly too. The end result is you need less puffs but might want your vape slightly more frequently than with a freebase e-liquid.

choosing your strength

The all important part, choosing your strength. Bearing all of the above in mind, it’s fairly easy to choose between the two kinds of nicotine to start off with. If you’re using vaping to quit smoking and have a heavy habit (a pack a day or more) we’d recommend going for a nicotine salt e-liquid. You can get them in varying strengths - usually 20mg or 10mg. They’re perfect for low maintenance pod kits that are popular amongst new vapers too.

If you’re needing a lighter strength, you may want to experiment a bit more to find just the right one. If you’re a moderate smoker who used to get through 10 - 15 a day, you may want to consider nic salts too - but aim for a 10mg to start with and see how you feel. Or, if you want a stronger throat hit you could go for a 12mg freebase solution. Lighter and social smokers are best off trying a 3mg to 6mg strength. If you’re not sure, we’d recommend getting a 10ml bottle of each so you can try them both and see what works best for you.


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