What is Synthetic Nicotine?
For information on the manufacturers and future of tobacco free nicotine and synthetic nicotine, check out our feature deep-dive: What is Tobacco Free Nicotine?
As a vaper, you may have questions about synthetic nicotine and what role it may play in the future of a viable and independent vaping industry. Teen vaping rates have plummeted in the face of Tobacco 21 and flavor restrictions placed on the prefilled vape pod flavors which made up the bulk of sales to minors and adults under 21.
Their pursuit of vaping prohibition and total nicotine abstinence by adults has made the use of tobacco derived nicotine increasingly precarious for the independent vaping industry.
In a parallel development, the expense of synthetic nicotine has declined to the point where it can now be used in nicotine e-liquids. Today we are simply going to answer this question: What is synthetic nicotine?
Despite the gains made in reducing teen vaping, anti-vaping zealots have now placed synthetic nicotine in their crosshairs. Tobacco free nicotine (TFN) is also becoming more widely available. It will be featured in the next article in this series.
Presumably as a vaping website reader, you are familiar with the physical interactions nicotine has with the user. Nicotine is the psychoactive ingredient cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems (Vapes). Apart from its addictive properties, nicotine is a stimulant and is commonly used as an anxiolytic.
Anxiolytic simply means a drug used to combat anxiety. Medical authorities will point out nicotine is ineffective in that role and extremely addictive, but this is the elephant in the room and remains one of the primary reasons for its use. It should be noted that the UK’s NHS, the same national health system that advocates for vaping in place of smoking, pull no punches when attacking nicotine’s efficacy as an anxiolytic.
Nicotine occurs naturally in the family of plants known as nightshades (Solanaceae). The nightshade family includes eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, and green peppers. The amount of nicotine found in plants other than tobacco is quite minimal and it is also present in the coca plant.
Tobacco not only contains a greater amount of nicotine than other plants, but it has been selectively bred to increase the quantity. Today, nicotine makes up 0.3 to 0.5 of the tobacco plant by dry weight according to Science Daily. Nicotine, as we are all aware, is the active and addictive ingredient in cigarettes, e-liquids, cigars, and all manner of tobacco products.
Nicotine is an alkaloid, which is simply a chemical term for any organic nitrogenous compound of plant origin that interacts physiologically with humans. Quinine, a common treatment for malaria, is also an alkaloid. So is atropine, which is used as an antidote for mushroom poisoning and has other medical uses such as treating low heart rate.
Morphine is an alkaloid but so is strychnine. Morphine used to treat pain and strychnine is a pesticide often featured in murder mysteries. It has not been used for that purpose in recent decades because of its bitter flavor is hard to mask and that fatal doses result in a violent, painful, and forensically distinct mode of death. This may not seem relevant to nicotine, but it is worth noting what a wide category alkaloid is.
The name synthetic nicotine is quite apt. It is nicotine that was manufactured without the use of tobacco leaf, or any of the other plants that also contain nicotine in far smaller quantities. Tobacco free nicotine (TFN) is also available, extracted from plants other than tobacco. It is distinct from synthetic nicotine in that it is still plant derived. Synthetic nicotine requires no agriculture inputs or materials.
As it is made in a lab, synthetic nicotine does not contain tobacco. It has the same chemical structure as naturally occurring nicotine (C10 H14 N2 or ten carbon atoms, 14 hydrogen atoms, and two nitrogen atoms). As it is molecularly identical, it has the same effect as a tobacco nicotine molecule does, for good or ill.
But there are advantages to synthetic nicotine. To extract nicotine from tobacco, a wide range of chemicals and solvents are used. These are removed safely but the purer synthetic nicotine does have a cleaner chemical profile and flavor.
Carbon Footprint of Tobacco Farming
On the production side, the industrial agricultural base that supports tobacco cultivation relies heavily on pesticides. While there has been some improvement on that front, the carbon footprint for growing tobacco and extracting the nicotine is far greater than synthesizing it in a lab setting. Moreover, the tobacco used for e-liquids must be purchased somewhere. And that somewhere is Big Tobacco in many cases. Vapers, whether former or current cigarette smokers, may not want to add additional money to the coffers of that industry.
Even organically grown tobacco requires processing to extract the nicotine for e-liquids. Synthetic nicotine does not need to be processed in the same way that tobacco leaves are. Its production can be scaled up without an increase in cropland, pesticides, or industrial extraction facilities.
The synthetic nicotine on the market today is not being manufactured in a trailer somewhere and the supply chain is transparent. Patents have been filed for the more efficient methods of synthesizing nicotine. These methods have also brought down its price to the point where it can be utilized in e-liquids and nic salts. Two of the major players in synthetic nicotine production are CNT and Next-Gen Labs.
Nicotine exists in two stereoisomers: S-nicotine and R-nicotine. A stereoisomer describes two identical molecular formulas, in the case of nicotine C10 H14 N2, that are arranged different spatially. Isomeric molecules do not necessarily interact the same way physiologically or have the same chemical properties.
Pharmaceutical grade synthetic nicotine is pure S-nicotine, it has been found in nicotine patches and gums for decades. Small amounts of R-nicotine are found in tobacco smoke. Derived from naturally occurring nicotine, the tobacco free nicotine of Next-Gen Labs is a 50/50 blend of R-nicotine and S-nicotine.
In either case, any credible medical source will point to the combustion and smoking process as being the worst components of smoking.
Future of Synthetic Nicotine
In the US, the Orwellian named Truth Initiative and other heavily funded anti-vaping groups have launched relentless attacks on the vaping industry. Their goal is vaping prohibition and enforced nicotine abstinence on adults. San Francisco is a shining beacon for harm reduction and compassion when dealing with IV drug use. City leaders have spared no effort when it comes to denying their citizens access to smoke and ash free alternatives to combustible cigarettes. The well-funded anti-vaping lobby is subsidized to the tune of hundred-million-dollars annually by Michael Bloomberg. They are about to unleash their full fury and attempt to ban synthetic nicotine.
This is ironic because until recently synthetic nicotine was only found in the sundry nicotine replacement patches and gums. These are the very products anti-vapers believe smokers should be pointed towards in place of vaping. Yet these nicotine replacement products were found to be much less effective and appealing to smokers than e-cigarettes in a New England Journal of Medicine Study. This despite the fact decades of effort and expense have been dedicated to making nicotine replacement therapy more effective.
UK NHS: A Beacon for Rational Vaping Regulations
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service has already demonstrated how to regulate vaping effectively. Their rates of teen vaping and adult smoking much lower than the United States. Amazingly, the NHS actually hosts a web domain titled “Using E-Cigarettes to Stop Smoking”.
A health claim of such temerity would run afoul of the FDA in the United States. Of course, the NHS has skin in the game and is funded by taxpayers. Price and effectiveness are their only considerations. Lobbying and special interests have far less sway.
The NHS is notorious in natural health circles for dismissing and barring popular health modalities. These were treatments they deemed ineffective or prohibitively expensive. Herbal medicine, acupuncture, most supplements, naturopathy, and homeopathy have all gotten the axe by the NHS. Despite the protestations of Prince Charles himself. Yet their support of vaping as a viable option for combustible cigarette smokers remains unchallenged.