The (un)real deal? Synthetic nicotine and vaping
Among those who are pro-vaping, it’s commonly said that while E-liquids contain nicotine just like conventional cigarettes; unlike the former, they don’t contain any of the other harmful ingredients. Well, to a large extent that’s true – but not entirely. The truth is that, while E-juices are indeed free of the vast majority of the carcinogenic chemicals found in tobacco that can slowly destroy your health, the nicotine they contain is actually derived from tobacco. And that means that, at a very small level, this nicotine does contain some of the impurities that come with tobacco.
But here’s the newsflash – it doesn’t need to be that way. Nicotine for E-liquids doesn’t have to be cultivated from tobacco alone; it can also (and in some instances in the vaping industry already) is synthetically created, ensuring the result is entirely free of tobacco’s harmful chemicals. So is synthetic nicotine actually the real deal? What’s going on with it…?
Where can you get ‘pure’ nicotine from?
Pure – or at least much ‘purer’ – nicotine occurs naturally in many things. Granted, extracting it’s not exactly straightforward and to do so the work has to be conducted in a laboratory by expert chemists. The most obvious and surely the best way is to extract it from the naturally-occurring nicotine plant itself; yes, there actually is one – Nicotiana tabacum. As you’d expect, this plant’s absolutely packed full of ‘pure’, practically odourless and colourless nicotine. Intriguingly, the reason the plant’s so crammed with the chemical is because it evolved to contain it in order to defend against hungry insects that munched away on its leaves – the dry weight of these leaves is made up of as much as 14% nicotine.
Believe it or not, trace levels of nicotine can also be found in several vegetables rich in health-giving vitamins and minerals, such as aubergines, eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes. That said, of course, the levels of nicotine they contain is so minimal it wouldn’t exactly make for a very economical extraction process – not least for commercial use; that is, for the mass production of E-liquids for a vape shop or an online vaping outlet.
The downside to synthetic nicotine
Yes, there is a downside – and, essentially, it’s the same thing as mentioned in the last point. It’s costly to produce. In fact, it’s been estimated that creating nicotine synthetically instead of merely extracting it from tobacco (i.e. a tobacco plant) is 13 times more expensive. But why is this? Well, it requires drawing together a number of raw materials and then producing a compound (as mentioned, under complicated laboratory conditions), all of which takes more time than deriving nicotine simply from tobacco – and so adds up to ever escalating cost. And, right now, it’s for that reason why synthetic nicotine isn’t found in E-liquids anything like as much as the nicotine extracted from tobacco.
The bottom line for vapers
So, aside from being perhaps a naturally interesting topic for vapers, if nothing else it’s worth keeping an eye on developments in synthetic nicotine – those that are scientific, commercial and legal – because, should its use in E-liquids become more commonplace, it’ll result in an even healthier (yes, even ‘purer’) product that’s even more impurity-free and flavoursome than is already the case. Could this happen? Could the costs of synthetic nicotine production come down? Could it become more affordable? Never say never; science and its application are moveable feasts – there are breakthroughs and developments every day.
And, happily enough, from a legal perspective, the UK attitude to vaping and its nicotine content (either tobacco-based or synthetic) is relatively progressive; compared to say, the United States, where E-liquids are deemed as tobacco products even though they contain extraordinarily few of the harmful chemicals found in tobacco – and don’t at all, of course, when the nicotine is synthetic. The UK’s legal outlook then is sensible and relatively fair. Aside from pushing for the likes of smaller tanks, refills and concentrate levels, British lawmakers appear to look on vaping as a healthier alternative to smoking and treat it accordingly. Which suggests that, should the use of synthetic nicotine truly take off, that outlook’s likely to become even more favourable. And that would be great news for vapers up and down the country.