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Everything you ever wanted to know about eLiquid

but were afraid to ask….

Updated November 7, 2014 – We all use it, every day, several times a day in fact… and we think it’s safe, we hope it’s safe… and we trust the companies that make it, sometimes wisely, and sometimes not. It’s called eJuice, or e-Juice, or e-Liquid, or eLiquid, or Storm Juice, or Vapor Juice, or… you get the idea… but what is it? What is it really?

This eLiquid, which comes in many different flavors and tastes, with several different nicotine strengths, is more than just the four or five base ingredients… it’s a synergy, and it’s basic chemistry, and sometimes it’s simply magical…

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“E-Liquid is the stuff that causes e-cigarettes to create vapor, along with the energy produced by the battery that heats up the atomizer that comes into contact with the eJuice.” –Anonymous

It isn’t e-Liquid until certain ingredients come together and “become” e-Liquid. It is a not-so-simple combination of a nicotine solution (usually) and flavoring, along with Propylene Glycol and/or Vegetable Glycerin, maybe some distilled water, a little alcohol, or a smidgen of this or a smidgen of that.

Yet that doesn’t really tell you much about “e-Liquid” either, does it?

Realistically speaking, e-Liquid is more than the sum of its parts, in the same way that when you lay out all the ingredients to your favorite kind of cake that’s really is nothing more than flour, eggs, milk, etc.… it’s only when it is combined and cooked just right does it become that to thing you want a piece of…. Cake.

The vapor in you inhale and exhale is that which mimics tobacco smoke… a smoke that has almost become taboo in most first world countries. The explosion of the e-Cigarette market in American, European, and Asian societies is the direct result of finding a better (read = safer) way to absorb nicotine into your body. The “fluid”, or rather e-Liquids, for the electronic cigarette is the most important part. If that is so, and I believe it is, then if it weren’t for the e-Liquid “flavorists” designing and producing great tasting e-Liquid there would be no electronic cigarette industry. In my opinion it is much easier to make a battery and atomizer then it is to make an e-Liquid worth vaporizing.

The Essentials

Let’s break it down to its essentials then. It’s not a complicated mixture, but in order to mix it into something worth paying for, you must understand the very nature of each ingredient. A real e-Liquid artist, or what we call ‘Flavorists’ is someone that not only understands how these chemicals interact, but can manipulate them into something marvelous.

Ingredients – One At A Time

Nicotine

Nicotine is a toxic colorless or yellowish oily liquid, C10H14N2, that is the chief active constituent of tobacco…. and e-Liquid. Nicotine is definitely toxic in liquid form, and if you drink a bottle of e-Liquid containing nicotine, well, it won’t be pretty and you’ll wind up dead… or worse.

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Certainly not ALL e-Liquids contain nicotine. There is a part of the market that consists of Vapers (people that use electronic cigarettes) who choose to use nicotine-free eJuice and rather than using e-Cigarettes to absorb nicotine these Vapers simply use e-Cigarettes to enjoy the warm, delicious flavors that good e-Liquid can provide.

The e-Cigarette is also substitute for tobacco cigarettes… a substitute that is about infinitely safer than tobacco cigarettes. Most Vapers use e-Liquid that contains nicotine, and do so to avoid the health effects and early death that is so prevalent with tobacco users.

Addiction

There are some people, such as myself, that believe nicotine is not as addicting as opium, or opioid medications like Oxycontin and Morphine, but many people believe it is. People withdrawing from nicotine may consider it to be just a mere inconvenience, an annoyance and nothing more, and for many others nicotine has a lock on their very soul and they will do anything to keep it coming. For those people, whose bodily makeup consists of ‘something’ that processes the chemical makeup of nicotine in a way that bonds to them forever, nicotine can be the drug that gloms on and becomes a part of their natural chemistry.

Some of the strongest people I know cannot separate themselves from nicotine. It isn’t willpower or lack of trying; it’s the bonding through chemistry. I have also known a few ‘weasels’ that are able to drop a 2-pack a day habit without so much as blinking an eye. Such is the science of addiction.

My point about all this is simple; nicotine is a complicated chemical structure that has been used for hundreds of years by humans. It does not cause cancer, heart disease or much of anything else and it has many beneficial characteristics, but it is habit forming to some. Then again, so is caffeine, and Diet Coke. Personally, I enjoy the added focus, sharpness, and alertness that come’s with a bit of nicotine in the bloodstream. Not everyone feels the same way.

What about the different strengths of nicotine in eJuice?

Nearly all e-Liquid companies produce their e-Liquids in 3, 4 or 5 different strengths of nicotine. The reason is that some people need more nicotine in order to maintain the blood levels they were used to when they smoked cigarettes, while some need less, or decide to move down to less nicotine as they vape. In 2014 we’ve noticed a marked reduction in nicotine, both by companies selling eliquid and vapers who seem to be moving down the nicotine ladder with mainstream vaping, or because they ‘drip’ more. Dripping absorbs nicotine much more efficiently, allowing vapers that vape 18mg with mainstream vape gear to get away with 3mg or 6mg via dripping.

Nicotine Strengths in detail

Here’s a breakdown of the more common levels of nicotine in e-Liquids, along with a brief description of why someone would choose that nicotine level.

Zero – 2MG-6mg -
Extra Light – At zero to 2MG, or up to 0.2%, the level of nicotine is barely noticeable (certainly not noticeable at the zero level, but you know what I mean). If you’ve been smoking, or vaping, 4MG or less than it is usually considered that you are not absorbing enough nicotine to be “addicted”, physically anyway. Even at zero nicotine some people become emotionally “connected” to their e-cigarette and that it feels like an addiction. An emotional, or mental addiction can be just as strong as a physical addiction in some people. Again, people that drip can sustain a nicotine blood level with much less nicotine in their eliquid.

8mg (.8%)
Light – If you were a light smoker, say no more than half a pack a day and your “brand” contained less nicotine than the average cigarette, this is the level of nicotine in your eJuice that would maintain your nicotine blood levels fairly consistently.

Anyone that can maintain a cigarette habit of a half a pack a day is more mentally/emotionally addicted to cigarettes than is addicted to nicotine. Having said that, any “light” or “Ultra Light” tobacco cigarette is no less dangerous than a full-blown Pall Mall non-filter cigarette. It’s NOT the nicotine in tobacco that’s dangerous; it’s the other 4000 chemicals.

At any rate, an 8mg nicotine level in your eJuice is considered light. Instead of using an 8mg e-liquid to satisfy a nicotine addiction, some people vape 8mg levels for a slight “pick me up” like a cup of coffee.

  12mg (1.2%) Regular – If you smoked a “regular” strength tobacco cigarette and consumed roughly one pack a day 12mg nicotine e-Liquid should be fine for you. However, there is one important caveat to keep in mind:

Tobacco cigarettes carry nicotine into your body much faster than e-Juice does. For that reason if you stop smoking and switch to vaping you will either want to vape a lot more than you smoked, or you’ll carry on the same daily schedule of smoking and you will feel frustrated, like you are withdrawing from nicotine addiction. It’s because you are.

We recommend that if a smoker comes off a pack a day habit of a regular cigarette, like Winston, Salem, Parliament, than you should consider 18mg to 24mg for the first 10 days to two weeks of vaping. Starting at 24mg allows your body to maintain the same blood levels of nicotine and you won’t have to “pacify” vape in order to maintain your blood levels. Then, after a week or so, they can step down to 18mg and then a week or so after that they can back down to 12mg.

A Vaper may decide to stay at 12mg indefinitely, and why not, vaping isn’t nearly as dangerous as the anti-vaping crowd want you to believe. Then again, vapers may want to step down until they’re vaping zero nicotine and then off of vaping altogether. I’ve met a few people who have either used e-cigarettes to get away from smoking and then stop vaping as well, but most of the people I’ve met vape because they like it. Instead of it being a tool to get away from tobacco it becomes a hobby instead.

18mg (1.8%) Extra High – Consider this level the average amount of nicotine for someone that smoked a pack to a pack and a half a day of regular cigarettes. Look above to the 12mg level and apply the same here. Going from a pack a day to a pack and a half is sometimes nothing more than opportunity. Maybe they have more time to smoke, or maybe there is added stress in their life. The difference between the two is ten cigarettes…nothing more.

24mg (2.4%) Wicked High – Two packs a day and higher might work at this level from the very beginning, but some people need to start even higher. Some brands offer 33mg, 36mg and a stupid-crazy 56mg (5.6%) for very heavy smokers. I can never recommend going past 33mg for any reason, but then if you do vape at 33mg I urge you to get down to a more sensible 24mg just as soon as you can, and perhaps work your way down the ladder to 12mg or 18mg e-Liquid.

A two-pack a day smoker is a heavy smoker. 40 cigarettes in, what, 16 hours of being awake is a lot of cigarettes. This is a serious nicotine addiction. If a two pack a day smoker tried to quit tobacco by vaping with e-Liquid with just 12mg of nicotine there isn’t enough minutes in the day to vape enough to keep the nicotine level in bloodstream to where it needs to be to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Pacify Vaping – Let’s go off-road for a minute

A Pacify Vaper is someone who vapes continuously. All day long, all night long, they are always drawing off the end of an e-Cigarette. The vast majority of Vapers that pacify vape do so because they know that vaping is infinitely safer than smoking, and it’s so damned pleasurable than why the heck not?

A few of us on the staff are pacifier Vapers. And because of that we have lowered our nicotine strengths by one or two levels in order to be able to vape continually without having to worry about getting nauseous or otherwise over consuming nicotine.

Some people that pacify vape are doing so because they are not getting enough nicotine into their bloodstream, or because they are under so much stress it’s the only thing that helps. Like chain smoking, pacify vaping can get expensive, but luckily that’s about it, as far as we know now. Chain-smoking, on the other hand, will kill you faster than you realize. (With the exception of a minority of people who are genetically immune to the effects of smoking, people like Kurt Vonnegut who smoked Pall Malls all his life, constantly, and lived to his 80’s, or my own grandfather who rolled his own cigarettes, smoked all the time, and lived to be 97.)

Can I die from a nicotine overdose through vaping?

The chance of overdosing to the point of death from nicotine absorption through vaping is about the same as being struck by lightening twice. Can it happen? Yes, sure it can. Has it happened? Not that I am aware of. Even so, I wouldn’t want to see what happens to someone that pacify vapes 56mg nicotine e-Liquid.

How Much eJuice Will I Use?

Like everything else in life, there is no easy answer. Some people might use 1ML a day and no more, while others can vape 3ml, or 6ml and even 9-12ML a day. A pacifier Vaper averages about 8-10ML a day.

It may also depend on how many tobacco cigarettes you consumed on a daily basis when you were a smoker. Smokers who smoked a pack and a half a day will probably use around 20-25ML a week, considering a daily rate of 3ML. But again, this will largely depend on the type of Vaper you become and what level of nicotine you need to vape in order to maintain the nicotine blood level you need or want.

If you’re vaping a low nicotine e-Liquid that doesn’t satisfy your nicotine cravings you will vape more often. It’s like chasing the dragon, and you never catch it. It is important to understand what nicotine level you need to satisfy your cravings. (See above)

Prefilled Cartomizers – e-Liquid in a can

No discussion on e-Liquid would be complete without at least some talk about prefilled cartomizers, although that is becoming less of a factor with many vapers. I call prefilled carts e-Liquid in a can because it fits. There are times when I want nothing more than to grab a prefilled cart  pop on a 510 cig-a-like battery and just mimic smoking as close as possible.  Sometimes you “want” to get close to that cigarette experience. Like e-Liquid in clearomizers and tanks, a prefilled cartomizer must be filled with a great tasting e-Liquid or it’s just not much fun.

If you currently smoke cigarettes at the rate of a pack a day you can expect to go through about 3 prefilled cartomizers a day. You’re probably thinking right now that the company that sold you the starter kit and cartomizers told you that a single cartomizer is equivalent to a pack or more of traditional cigarettes (some of them even say their prefilled carts are equal to 2+ packs of traditional smokes). So why would you use 3 cartomizers a day?

The answer? Because any brand that tells you that an average pack a day smoker can get away with one cartomizer a day is lying to you.

Some cartomizers holds .7ML of e-Liquid while others hold 1ML of e-Liquid. Before you buy you should find out. Regardless of whether or not its .7ML or 1ML you should still figure on tripling the amount of cartomizers the brand is saying you’ll need, unless that brand in honest enough tell you the truth. (Some actually do tell the truth, but it’s rare). And if you are paying more than $2.25 per prefilled cartomizer you’re being ripped off.

What is eJuice made from?

EJuice uses some base ingredients to create a nice, smooth, rich and satisfying flavor. Most e-Liquids contain of PG, VG or both in varying ratios.

PG (Propylene Glycol) and VG (Vegetable Glycerin) are combined with natural or artificial flavors to form an e-Liquid. The unlimited variations of these ratios are why you can vape a Pina Colada flavor from a dozen or more e-Liquid labels and each of them will taste different. We call that difference the e-Liquid brand’s “Flavor Profile” or flavor “characteristics”.

We’ve reviewed many, many e-Liquid brands and have never tasted the same thing from two or more companies. (Note* I am talking about real e-Liquid brands, not ‘branded’ starter kits from China that use the same eJuice for every brand. V2 and Green Smoke, or South Beach et al, they use the same three companies to fill their cartomizers, they just change the names of the flavors)

What is PG (Propylene Glycol)?

Here’s the official Wikipedia definition: “Propylene glycol, also called 1,2-propanediol or propane-1,2-diol, is an organic compound (a diol or double alcohol) with formula C3H8O2. It is a colorless, nearly odorless, clear, viscous liquid with a faintly sweet taste, hygroscopic and miscible with water, acetone, and chloroform.

The compound is sometimes called α-propylene glycol to distinguish it from the isomer propane-1,3-diol (β-propylene glycol).

With respect to e-Liquids Propylene Glycol is used as a flavoring carrier in many food products, as well as an ingredient in food coloring. It is even used as an additive in several medications.”

PG is less sweet than VG, but carries through more of the flavor from the flavoring concentrates. It is also one of the main ingredients that provide a “throat hit”, (the feeling in the back of your throat that reminds you of your first morning cigarette). Some people have light to moderate allergies with PG and in order to vape successfully they must vape an eLiquid made mostly with VG, which is smoother.

What is VG (Vegetable Glycerin)?

Here’s the Wikipedia definition: “Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is an organic compound of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen with the chemical formula C3H8O3. It is produced industrially, usually as a by-product of soap manufacture, from oils and fats. It can be made from animal fat or, in the case of vegetable glycerin, vegetable oil. The source of the raw material does not affect the chemistry of the final product, but since glycerin is widely used in foods and medications, this distinction is important for vegetarians. It is also used as a sweetener and as an ingredient in a number of cosmetic products.

With respect to e-Liquids, Vegetable Glycerin is a sweet, thick, vegetable-based solution. 100% VG base is very thick and hard to vape. Sometimes a 100% VG e-Liquid must include distilled water in order to obtain a viscosity thin enough to use with any type of atomizer. (And then it’s no longer 100% VG, sort of…)

Vegetable Glycerin is non-toxic and safe for human consumption. Several studies on VG prove this. Many people seek out all VG e-Liquids because either they want a super smooth, super thick vapor, or a very sweet experience. Some companies, like Virgin Vapor and Kind Juice, specialize in 100% VG or PG-free e-Liquids.

Most Vapers without allergies to PG will opt for either 50/50, 80/20 or 70/30 ratios of PG/VG  because it provides a balanced experience of flavor, vapor, and throat hit. High VG eliquids have to use more flavorings in order to obtain the same ‘flavor’ of an eliquid made with PG/VG.

As you begin to learn your way around the e-Liquids you like the most you’ll begin to understand how the ratio of PG/VG affects your satisfaction with the eJuice you are using. Some people simply have to have the thickest possible vapor, (cloud chasing) while others want a powerful throat hit. The ratios are what make this happen.

Are There Different “Grades” of eJuice?

A “loaded” question for sure. The answer can make some people uneasy or downright angry but there is an answer…. The answer is YES, there are.

As a company, Spinfuel eMagazine no longer reviews e-Liquids that are made in anything less than professional-level labs. That lab must consist of materials approved for mixing chemicals, it must use equipment that assures the proper ratios of all ingredients, especially dispensing nicotine, and that are dust-free and free of all possible contaminations. We realize we’re not the FDA and we don’t do inspections, but we do vet the companies we review, sometimes they are not even aware of it.

So, a Spinfuel Approved, or “Premium e-Liquid” company will mix their eJuice in clean, laboratory-like conditions, and use advanced and properly functioning equipment at all times. Some brands can do all this is a separate part of the owner’s home, in a warehouse setting, or even an office park. Others build their labs in the back of a retail space. It doesn’t matter “where”, it only matters that the conditions for safety are met.

There is more to a real “Premium” e-Liquid than just the physical place where the eJuice is made and packaged. In order to be a premium e-liquid the company must use the best possible ingredients and provide safe, sterile, and tamper proof packaging.

Pharmaceutical grade ingredients, 99.99% pure nicotine solutions, kosher grade PG and VG, flavor concentrates from the top companies, and so forth must be a part of the eliquid label’s mission statement. They must also provide enough information on their labels that the possibility of not knowing what you’re vaping is next to nil.

An e-Liquid company that is more concerned about profit and use the least expensive products they can, and mix them in unclean rooms using nothing more than an eyedropper for measuring are still numerous, but are declining quickly. This type of e-Liquid company is taking huge risks with your safety and should be avoided at all cost. When the FDA finally comes down with their “deeming regulations” you can be sure this aspect of the market will be dealt with.

Complexity

In the past several Spinfuel e-Liquid Reviews you may have noticed that we are now looking at complexity when evaluating an e-Liquid. Complexity means that the e-Liquid artist is providing a flavor that is more than a simple one-flavor experience. There are many great tasting single flavor e-Liquids, and we use them all the time, but they are not complex. When a brand describes a particular e-Liquid as a combination of two or more flavors, with one flavor going first and other flavors coming later, they are describing something complex. The team evaluates how successful they are at executing that complexity and we score their success or failure to deliver that complexity.

We can award a non-complex, single flavor e-Liquid with a Spinfuel Choice Award because in every other way the e-Liquid is superb. We can also award a Choice Award to an e-Liquid that may not score top honors in vapor or throat hit but deliver a series of “tastes” in a particular order that are so incredibly complex that to pull it off  you know there is a real artist behind it.

Chinese e-Liquid

Lastly, as far as Spinfuel is concerned, it is very rare that a Chinese e-Liquid company is doing everything “by the book”, and although there are probably a couple of premium-level eJuice vendors in China, we prefer to use and review American made, or European made e-liquids. We will not review Chinese eLiquid.

Bad Chemicals!  Down boy, down!

Though pretty rare these days, some chemicals found in the worst e-Liquids can be pretty bad for you. Here are a couple of them.

Acetoin: This ingredient can react with other chemicals such as Diacetyl. Here’s the official Wikipedia definition: Acetoin, also known as 3-hydroxybutanone or acetyl methyl carbinol, with the molecular formula is C4H8O2, is a colorless or pale yellow to green yellow liquid with a pleasant, buttery odor. Acetoin is a chiral molecule. The form produced by bacteria is (R)-acetoin

Diacetyl may be hazardous to your health. Premium e-Liquids do NOT have Diacetyl in it… Here’s the official Wikipedia definition: Diacetyl (IUPAC systematic name: butanedione or butane-2,3-dione) is a natural byproduct of fermentation. It is a vicinal diketone (two C=O groups, side-by-side) with the molecular formula C4H6O2. Diacetyl occurs naturally in alcoholic beverages and is added to some foods to impart a buttery flavor.

What Will My Vaping Experience Be Like? What Happens and When?

If you have never tried an electronic cigarette you may not know what to expect. So, we’re going to tell you.

Taste – If you are about to vape for the first time, taste is the first of the senses you’ll deal with.  It is here where the future of your vaping takes off. If the Vaper has the unfortunate luck to encounter a foul tasting e-Liquid time after time that Vaper is more likely to give up on vaping and return to cigarettes where the flavor is exactly what he or she expects and it never wavers. We want to minimize the chance of that happening, which is why we put so much time and effort into every e-Liquid review we do.

Do you enjoy menthol, do you enjoy sweet flavors, dessert or bakery flavors, or are you looking forward to tasting rich tobacco flavors? Whatever it happens to be there are hundreds of variations on a theme, and you should experiment with as many flavors as you can afford so that you gain experience in the wide array of flavor sensations out there. Have a plan when you begin your vaping experience. Read our reviews, and other reviews, watch eliquid review videos,  to get an idea of what you can expect. Learn which reviewers you can trust to give you the honest impressions of an e-Liquid you’re interested in. Stay away from companies you’ve never heard of unless the recommendation comes from a trustworthy source. And consider an eLiquid Subscription Service like Craft Vapery. These types of companies and help you explore eliquids that you might never try, and I have personally found several brands and flavors this way. Its inexpensive, fun, and adventurous. Think = ESS SAFA (Eliquid Subscription Service = Surprise – Anticipation – Fun – Adventure) But, be careful about which one you choose, trust me, they are not all alike.

Throat Hit – Some people look for the biggest throat hit they can get and for them it’s an imperative for kicking cigarettes to the curb. Others don’t need a huge throat hit, and some don’t need one at all.

Vapor – The vapor that is produced from vaping looks nearly identical to smoke that come out of the end of a tobacco cigarette.  The E-liquid should provide consistently thick vapor so that the Vaper gets the same look and feel he or she would get when inhaling and exhaling a tobacco cigarette. Good vapor production is vital to a good vaping experience. But it’s not the only thing that must be present to provide a good, or great vape.

Flavor – Flavor is paramount; you could have an e-Liquid that provides the most vapor production produced anywhere and without great taste it just won’t be enough. When I write about flavor I draw a distinction between flavor and taste. You may love the flavor of a mango, but the e-Liquid you purchased, called Mango-whatever, may taste awful. The flavor of an e-Liquid is what the e-Liquid is supposed to be; the taste is the realization that the flavor is actually a good flavor or one that tastes awful. And just because you like the taste of a fresh peach it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like the taste of peach vapor.

The biggest difference between an inexpensive ‘peach’ flavor concentrate and a top-quality peach flavor is the actual taste the concentrate. How well an e-Liquid company uses that flavor determines the ‘taste’ of the vape. Some companies use artificial concentrates, natural concentrates, organic concentrates, and extracts. I prefer artificial concentrates, as strange as that may sound.

Before you invest in a bottle of eJuice make sure the company behind it is using safe ingredients, in a safe facility, and who have made a commitment to their customers to create the best e-Liquid they possibly can.

In The End…

Creating a great e-Liquid is a difficult task, to say the least. It takes an artist, and a craftsman, to understand the ingredients well enough to use them to create an e-Liquid that offers the Vaper a memorable experience. Frankly speaking, there are hundreds of companies selling eliquids that have no business selling eliquids. They just don’t have the knack for it, while others can consistently make superior flavors every time.

Now that you know how much goes into creating e-Liquids don’t waste your money any more than you need to. The faster you discover the eJuice that satisfies you the faster you’ll become a Vaper and leave tobacco behind you…forever. If you’re just starting out, I would again suggest an eliquid subscription service to begin your adventure. You’ll receive a selection of eliquids every month and its the least expensive way to discover great new flavors and brands.

Tom McBride

Urbul CBD
Vapor Authority
Nug Republic CBD
The Art of Vaping

About The Author

All original content is written and produced for our readers by the Spinfuel Staff. The writing staff includes Julia Hartley-Barnes, Keira Hartley-Barnes, Tom McBride, Jason Little, Melanie Hendrix, and Dave Foster. Spinfuel also publishes guest contributors on occasion. All original content is protected by US copyright laws.

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