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Are you a JUUL® e-cigarette user? If you are, nicotine salt e-liquid is an important part of your life because you use it every day. If the JUUL® is the only vaping device you’ve ever used, though, it may not be completely clear to you what the significance of nicotine salt e-liquid is or how you benefit from using it.

So, what is nicotine salt e-liquid, and what are its benefits? As you’re about to learn, the history of nicotine salt e-liquid is closely tied to the history of JUUL® itself. You’ll also learn that there is probably no e-liquid in the entire vaping industry that delivers nicotine as efficiently as nicotine salt e-liquid. If you used the JUUL® or another vaping device like it as a tool to help you quit smoking, in fact, you can probably thank nicotine salt e-liquid for your success – but not for the reason you think. Let’s learn more!


Nicotine salt e-liquid is vape juice that’s been altered by the addition of an acid such as benzoic acid. Standard e-liquid is alkaline, and adding acid brings the pH closer to neutral. It also alters the chemical structure of the nicotine in the e-liquid, changing it from a free base to a salt. The addition of acid is the only factor that makes nicotine salt e-liquids different from other e-liquids.

One of the major selling points of nicotine salt e-liquid is the fact that the nicotine in tobacco leaves is a salt before it’s extracted for use in e-liquids and nicotine replacement products. It’s the solvent-based extraction process – which typically uses ammonia – that changes the nicotine to a free base. Compared to freebase nicotine, nicotine salt has a chemical structure more closely resembling the nicotine in tobacco.

Some vaping companies use the chemical structure of nicotine salt as a selling point – “it’s more like real tobacco!” – but that really has nothing to do with its true benefit. In fact, freebase nicotine is actually the more bioavailable version. You’ve heard of “freebasing,” right? Freebase nicotine isn’t so different.


Freebase nicotine comes from tobacco processed with ammonia. During the 1930s and 1940s, the tobacco company Philip Morris developed a way of making sheets of reconstituted tobacco paper by treating tobacco stems and ribs – parts of the plant that would normally be discarded – with ammonia to make them release their pectin. After processing, the reconstituted tobacco sheets could be shredded and used just like tobacco leaves. The ammonia also gave the reconstituted tobacco a pleasant chocolate-like flavour.

As it turned out, though, ammonia also had a second benefit: It freebased the nicotine in the tobacco. With it reacts with nicotine salt, ammonia accepts a proton and unbinds the nicotine from the salt. Now a free base, the nicotine travels much more readily in a gas phase. When you inhale the smoke from ammoniated tobacco, in other words, more nicotine will reach your lungs. Processing with ammonia made it possible to make low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes that were more satisfying than the competition because the nicotine in those cigarettes was more bioavailable. Ammonia helped to make Marlboro the most popular cigarette brand in the world.

Since ammonia releases nicotine from tobacco leaves, it’s also used in the production of nicotine extracts for nicotine replacement products and for e-liquids. When you use a standard e-liquid, you’re using freebase nicotine extracted with ammonia.


Now that you know the body can process freebase nicotine more easily, you’re probably wondering why nicotine salt e-liquid exists. Why would anyone want to use e-liquid with a less bioavailable form of nicotine? The answer lies in some research conducted by PAX Labs, the original maker of the JUUL e-cigarette. PAX obtained a patent for a nicotine salt formulation created by adding an acid to an e-liquid.

What was the purpose of creating a nicotine salt e-liquid? For one, having a patent means that you can earn royalties when other companies want to create products like yours. According to the research, though, PAX’s nicotine salt formulation made it possible for people to absorb almost as much nicotine from vaping as they would get from smoking a cigarette.

The JUUL® e-cigarette brand was born. Within just a few years, JUUL® was the world’s most popular e-cigarette brand. In 2018, tobacco company Altria – the maker of Marlboro, coincidentally – purchased a 35-percent stake in JUUL® for $12.8 billion. By 2019, JUUL® had a valuation of $38 billion. It seems quite fitting – but it’s not the whole story.


Although freebase nicotine is more bioavailable than nicotine salt, the fact is that research exists to prove nicotine salt e-liquid delivers nicotine almost as effectively as tobacco cigarettes. How is that possible? The secret isn’t the nicotine salt itself; the secret is the e-liquid’s very high nicotine strength. In 2014, Scientific Reports published a study suggesting that an e-cigarette would need to have a nicotine strength of about 50 mg to deliver nicotine as efficiently as a tobacco cigarette. If you use the JUUL® e-cigarette, that’s exactly what you’re getting.

So, why didn’t vaping companies start making e-liquids at the 50 mg nicotine strength years ago? The answer is that no one would have wanted it. At higher nicotine strengths, freebase nicotine e-liquid is too difficult to inhale. Few people can tolerate freebase nicotine e-liquid at strengths above about 22 mg. The high alkalinity of the e-liquid causes it to irritate the throat and lungs.

The magic of nicotine salt e-liquid is that the acid added to the e-liquid also lowers the e-liquid’s pH, bringing it closer to neutral. That little change makes the vapour much smoother – so smooth, in fact, that you can inhale those 50 mg e-liquids without any hint of harshness.


Before the advent of nicotine salt e-liquids, using a small e-cigarette was just about the worst thing you could do if you wanted to stop smoking and start vaping. At the nicotine strengths people can tolerate inhaling, a small e-cigarette with freebase nicotine e-liquid simply doesn’t deliver enough nicotine to satisfy a smoker. With the advent of nicotine salt e-liquid, though, it has finally become possible for a small, user-friendly e-cigarette to replace tobacco cigarettes. That’s why nicotine salt is important to the vaping industry, and that’s why you’re a JUUL® user.

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