If you have looked around the vaping market over the past five or six years, the biggest difference besides the surging popularity of e-cigarettes is that a lot more products opt to use nicotine salts rather than conventional freebase vape juices.
In the 2020s, in particular, as many manufacturers switch to disposable and pod mod products, nic salts have become more widespread and as a result of this the cost difference between them and other vape juices has largely disappeared.
This leads neatly to a common question asked by people buying their first product to experienced vapers; which is better out of the two main types of e-liquid?
The answer still largely depends on what you want out of your vaping experience, but for a growing number of people transitioning from smoking to vaping, the answer is increasingly clear.
What Is The Difference Between Nic Salts And Conventional Vape Juice?
From 2003 up until around 2012, the only type of e-liquid available was a solution made with freebase nicotine, in part because it was commonly used in cigarettes and some other tobacco products.
Nicotine is naturally found in salt form but to make it easier for the human body to absorb, it is soaked in an ammonia solution that makes it far more potent when burned and inhaled via smoking and increases its bioavailability.
This, in practice, made a cigarette’s taste smoother and provided that kick of nicotine that many smokers will experience.
It was widely available at the time and so was mixed into the typical vape juice mix of propylene glycol, glycerine and whatever flavourings were being used.
The problem is that whilst it does work, the delivery mechanics for freebase nicotine in a vape compared to a cigarette was completely different, taking more puffs and a longer stretch of time for the effects of nicotine to be noticeable.
Some smokers have compared this slow effect to the effects of a cigar, which often contains a lot of tobacco, little of which makes it to the bloodstream.
As well as this, freebase tobacco by design is a strong alkaline, which leads to it irritating the throat when used in high enough concentrations, often characterised as throat burn.
Higher levels of nicotine also need a higher wattage device to function properly and can dilute any flavours used as part of the mix.
Experienced vapers can get used to this, and the experience is far less noticeable at lower levels of nicotine, but people who used to smoke a lot expect a higher level of nicotine, leading to more puffs per session and a greater chance of irritation.
The solution to this was to use an acid to convert the freebase tobacco back into a nicotine salt, which leads to a smoother and faster delivery of nicotine.
This means that less nicotine salt solution is needed to deliver the same level of nicotine, all of which without the irritating feeling in the back of the throat.
Which Is Best?
Ultimately, it depends on what you need from your vaping experience, and whilst there is a lot of publicity surrounding nicotine salts, there are plenty of benefits to freebase nicotine juices.
For people who have either transitioned to low/no nicotine vape juices, are cloud chasers or otherwise do not vape as an active form of nicotine replacement therapy, vape juices can be a better solution, as the harsh nicotine throat feel is far less of a factor.
The big vape clouds often associated with vaping are only really possible with low-nicotine e-liquids, as nicotine salt vape juices cannot produce particularly huge clouds of vapour.
There are a huge number of flavours widely available at both lower and higher nicotine strengths, and a lot of help to ensure ex-smokers get the right equipment to ensure they stop smoking and stay stopped forever.
Box mods and more powerful vapes tend to only work effectively with freebase e-liquids, so people who like using powerful hardware tend to stick with e-liquids.
As well as this, whilst the strong throat hit may not appeal to everyone, there are definitely people for whom that particular sensation is not so much a bug of freebasing nicotine but a feature.
Finally, there are some cases where people want a slow, relatively consistent delivery of nicotine, but patches and gum are either not strong enough or do not deliver nicotine at the right times for them.
On the other hand, nicotine salts have become exceptionally popular for some very good reasons, and the benefits become increasingly hard to ignore.
The first, and by far the biggest, is that they act far more like a cigarette in terms of nicotine delivery, which is a vital part of the design of vapes in the first place.
Patches and gum are an effective form of nicotine replacement therapy, but for many people, including the inventor of the modern e-cigarette Dr Hon Lik, part of the addiction comes from the feel and sensation of smoking and the particular way a nicotine hit feels.
Nic salts are a far closer analogue to this with significantly less of the damage it can do to the body compared to cigarettes.
It has a much smoother hit, which both gets the best out of a vape flavour and also delivers nicotine faster as a result. Many manufacturers make nic salt and freebase versions of their flavours, but the difference can be pronounced at high nicotine concentrations.
It also delivers more nicotine per hit, which means that vapers use less liquid per puff, and allows for more versatile vapes to be made with unusual form factors. This is part of the reason why pod vapes can look particularly small.
It requires far less powerful vapes to deliver a strong hit, as well, which leads to a much milder feeling despite the stronger ingredients involved.
Finally, whilst it used to be the case that salts were only available in high nicotine concentrations, vape juices as low as 3 mg can be found as well for people transitioning to less nicotine in their lives.
Ultimately, for most people trying to quit, nicotine salts will be the best solution to try first.