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A Beginners Guide to E-Liquid

If you’re new to the e-cigarette game, this guide to e-liquid covers cost, ingredients, and everything else you need to know about e-liquid, from flavours to nicotine strength. 

E-liquid guide vape shop

Vaping is here to provide a better alternative to smoking and is a tool that can help you quit, but whether you’re still trying to decide whether or not to switch to e-cigarettes or you’ve already bought your first vape kit, choosing the right juice can be a bit of a tricky challenge.

Not only are you spoiled for choice when it comes to flavour, but there’s also the strength and vaping device to consider when trying to choose the best e-liquid for you and your needs. 

To help those who are struggling with where to start looking, we’ve put together this beginner’s guide to e-liquids to answer some of the most common questions and help you decide which e-juice you should go for based on your previous level of smoking and flavour preferences.

Contents

Put simply, e-liquid is the liquid you put into your vaping device. The e-liquid inside your device is what produces the vapour you inhale and exhale and also provides flavour and nicotine (if applicable).

How does e-liquid work?

E-liquid is poured into the pod or tank of your device. When the device is fired, the heating element increases temperature and heats the liquid to create vapour. This vapour is then inhaled by the user through a mouthpiece before being exhaled. 

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Is e-liquid the same as vape juice/vape liquid?

This question always arises when someone is new to vaping. E-liquid has many alternative names – with ‘vape liquid’, ‘e-juice’, ‘mod juice’ and ‘vape juice’ being some of the most common. But, these are all referring to the same thing – the liquid you use in a vaping device. 

e-liquid guide cost

How much does e-liquid cost?

Another common question – but one without a definitive answer. Like any product, e-liquid does not have one single price. Depending on the brand, product, quality etc, a bottle of e-liquid can cost anything from a couple of pounds up to £12+ a bottle for more premium brands. As is the case with any consumer product – it’s up to you to choose how much you want to spend and what you choose to buy. 

What ingredients are in e-liquid?

E-liquids are typically created with 3 or more components. The primary ingredients you’ll find in most e-liquids are:

Vegetable Glycerine (VG)

Vegetable Glycerin (VG) is a water-soluble, non-toxic chemical that you will find as a sweetener, thickener and moisture retainer in many foodstuffs, medicines and cosmetics. It is a thick, odourless, colourless liquid which has a slightly sweet taste and is used within e-liquids for its thickening properties. In e-liquid, VG is what produces vapour clouds. 

Propylene Glycol (PG)

Propylene Glycol is an odourless liquid that you will find as an ingredient in many foods and medicines. Thinner than Vegetable Glycerine, its purpose within e-liquids is to carry flavour (and nicotine) as well as providing a ‘throat hit’ when vaping.

Flavourings

Flavouring makes up around 10% of an e-liquid. The flavouring in e-liquid is vital to the experience of vaping – providing vapers with flavours that replicate foods and drinks to make the process more enjoyable.

Nicotine (Optional ingredient)

The final (optional) ingredient in e-liquids is nicotine. Nicotine is the addictive ingredient you find in cigarettes and is included in e-liquids at different strengths (see below) to satisfy the cravings of smokers who are switching to vaping. For non-smokers who are vaping purely for enjoyment, it is best to avoid e-liquids containing nicotine due to its addictive quality.

Why put nicotine in e-liquid?

Nicotine is a tobacco-plant-derived chemical compound that contains small amounts of nitrogen, and it shares chemical similarities with substances like coffee and cocaine. 

It’s also found in small quantities in vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergine, and even potatoes! To put your mind at ease, this is a comparatively tiny amount. The quantity found in these vegetables is a mere 0.0001 mg of nicotine compared to the 20 mg found in 1g of tobacco.

It is thought that nicotine on its own is less addictive than smoking, meaning it’s easier to transition to a tobacco-free but nicotine-containing e-liquid before potentially phasing out the nicotine altogether, as studies have shown that people are less dependent on e-cigarettes. 

Which nicotine strength should I choose?

The complexity associated with vaping and finding the right nicotine strength for you is what puts a lot of people off attempting to make the switch. Most e-liquids are available in various strengths which are measured in mg. You can choose from 0 mg, 3 mg, 6 mg, 12 mg, and 18 mg, although the maximum strength allowed in Europe and the UK is technically 20 mg. 

This has decreased dramatically since the early use of e-cigarettes, which involved e-liquids with a nicotine strength much higher than 19 mg. But what strength is the best to choose? 

The best way to determine which e-liquid strength you should start with is to think about your former level of smoking, and how many cigarettes you were getting through in a day.

Social smokers

Social smokers are the lightest smoking category and will therefore require the least nicotine strength in their e-liquid. In fact, people who only enjoyed the occasional puff on a night out when they were still smoking cigarettes could get away with a nicotine-free 0 mg e-liquid. 

This allows you to still enjoy the social aspect of smoking without loading up on nicotine. It’s also ideal if you’re somewhat of a smoking connoisseur and you enjoy the aesthetics of blowing vapour rings or nailing the Irish Waterfall for pure pleasure rather than a guilty one. 

Light smokers

It’s tempting to choose the lowest level of nicotine possible. However, if you’re trying to ditch the fags, you are better off using a higher level of nicotine to replicate the hit of a cigarette. 

As the lowest level of nicotine you can get in an e-liquid, 3 mg is not sufficient for most people, even those who only smoke a few cigarettes a day. 3 mg is usually used by more advanced vapers who use high powered devices (which produce a stronger nicotine hit) and by vapers slowly reducing the amount of nicotine they vape. 

Most light smokers, who are using a vape starter kit, will find somewhere between 6 and 12 mg sufficient to alleviate any nicotine cravings. However, if that doesn’t work for you don’t be scared to use a higher nicotine level. 

Average smokers

Most average smokers find 12 mg of nicotine the perfect amount, but it will vary depending on your actual usage. For those who are used to a pack a day, 12 mg is a good option to try first when you start to make the switch to e-cigarettes instead of tobacco smoking. If that doesn’t work, try increasing it to 18 mg. 

Heavy Smokers

If you’re someone who was typically getting through more than one pack of cigarettes in a day before you decided to make the switch to e-cigarettes, you might want to think about diving straight in with 18 mg of nicotine or more. 

Currently, this is the highest level of nicotine you can get, and with modern vape equipment, it’s sufficient for most vapers. The UK government is currently reviewing the maximum amount of nicotine allowed in e-liquid, and there is a good chance this will be increased in the future.  

VG:PG ratios in e-liquid

You’ll find the ratio of Vegetable Glycerin and Propylene Glycol in e-liquids displayed as VG: PG XX: XX – adding up to 100 (e.g VG: PG 50:50 / 60:40 / 70:30). 

The VG:PG ratio of your vape juice will determine many factors of your vaping experience – including how flavoursome it is, how much vapour it produces and how strong the ‘throat hit’ is.

Choosing the right VG:PG ratio

The VG:PG ratio of e-liquid you choose depends on what you are looking for in your vaping experience as well as the device you are using. Do you vape for the flavour, the vapour clouds or the throat hit?

For flavour: If you’re looking for maximum flavour from your e-liquid you would want to choose a vape juice with a ratio of around 50:50 as PG is the liquid that carries and enhances the flavour of a blend, whilst VG produces the vapour which makes the flavour more intense. However, a higher VG e-liquid, such as shortfill blends can provide very intense flavour due to its large vapour production. 

For vapour: For an e-liquid that produces larger, denser clouds of vapour, you would want to choose a blend with a higher VG ratio. If you’re looking to be more discreet when vaping, a higher PG liquid will help keep cloud production lower.

For throat hit: A big factor for former smokers who want to replicate the physical feel of smoking, those looking for a stronger throat hit when will need a higher PG e-liquid.  See more about throat hit below. 

The device you choose to use your vape juice in and the coil resistance within the device will also influence the VG:PG ratio you choose as certain devices and coils will work best with certain e-liquids depending on their ratio.

E-liquid guide types image

Types of e-liquid

As each vaper is different, the e-liquid market has had to expand its product offerings to suit their diverse needs. This is why there are now a range of different e-liquid options out there.

10ml e-liquids

The most common e-liquid variety on the market are 10ml e-liquids. Known as ‘freebase’ nicotine liquids, they are available in a range of flavours, VG:PG ratios and nicotine strengths and traditionally deliver a substantial throat hit. These liquids were, at first, available in larger sizes but were eventually restricted to the 10ml bottle size due to TPD regulations. 

Who would use 10ml e-liquids? 
10ml e-liquids are suitable for vapers who require nicotine in their e-liquids.

Nicotine salts

While traditional e-liquids contain freebase nicotine, this variety of e-liquid contains salt nicotine. Salt nicotine has a different chemical makeup which delivers the nicotine to the bloodstream more quickly. Salt nicotine e-liquids deliver a different vaping experience to traditional e-liquids that more closely resembles the strength of cigarette smoking – with a more intense hit of nicotine per inhale and a smoother throat hit.

Nicotine salts are, again, available in 10ml bottles and in a variety of flavours and strengths to suit your preferences.

Who would use nicotine salts? 
Nicotine salts are ideal for vapers who are looking for high levels of nicotine per puff without having to endure a super-harsh throat hit. This is a great option for former heavy smokers.

Nicotine salts vs Freebase e-liquid: What’s the difference?

As mentioned above, the difference between freebase nicotine and salt nicotine lays in both their chemical makeup and their effects. In basic terms, salt nicotine is stronger and absorbs nicotine into the bloodstream more quickly, providing a more intense blast of nicotine with a smoother throat hit than freebase nicotine e-liquids.

Shortfills

Shortfills are the name for nicotine-free e-liquids. As the regulations placed on 10ml bottles do not apply to nicotine-free e-liquids, you will find shortfills in larger bottles (usually 50ml servings). Whilst shortfills are nicotine-free, you can add nicotine content to them with the use of nicotine shots (see below). To facilitate this, the bottles come in a larger size than the 50ml serving to leave space for nicotine shots (hence the name ‘shortfill’).

Who would use shortfills? 
As Shortfills usually come in higher VG ratios, they are perfect for those vapers who want large vapour clouds and those who use powerful devices. Thanks to their larger size, they are also more economical for use with more ‘juice thirsty’ devices as they will last longer.

Nicotine shots

Nicotine shots, also known as ‘nic shots’ or ‘nicotine boosters’, are bottles of flavourless, liquidised nicotine usually provided in 10ml bottles. Nicotine shots come in a range of strengths (the most common being 18mg) and are designed to be mixed with shortfills to add extra nicotine at your discretion to create a larger bottle of nicotine-inclusive e-liquid than the standard 10ml versions. 

As most 50ml shortfills are provided in 60ml bottles, this leaves room to add a 10ml nicotine shot to your desired strength. For example, adding a 10ml, 18mg strength nicotine shot to your 50ml shortfill will create 60mls of 3mg strength e-liquid. 

Who would use nicotine shots? 
Nicotine shots are great for vapers looking to add extra nicotine to their favourite shortfill blend and want control over how much nicotine their e-liquid contains.

Concentrates

E-liquid concentrates are ready mixed flavourings that replicate popular blends and can be added to base e-liquid to create your own blends. Unlike flavourings made for food items, e-liquid concentrates are created specifically for vaping and do not contain PG, VG or nicotine – meaning they fall outside of the 10ml restrictions of TPD regulations and can be sold in larger bottles (usually 30ml). 

Who would use e-liquid concentrates?
E-liquid concentrates are great for vapers who like to mix their own blends but want to take some of the guesswork out of trying to replicate their favourite flavours. Please note: e-liquid concentrates shouldn’t be vaped directly and should only be used when mixed with e-liquid.

One big difference between vaping and cigarettes is the flavour element. Whilst cigarettes only come in tobacco flavour (especially since the banning of menthol cigarettes in the UK in 20202), e-liquids come in an almost unlimited variety of flavours which make them a lot more tasty than smoking cigarettes. You will find e-liquids with a single flavour or a mixture that layers multiple flavours (known as ‘blends’). 

Whilst there are tobacco-flavoured e-liquids available which replicate cigarette smoking, many blends will replicate the flavours of popular foods and beverages. Some of the blend options you will find include; fruit, candy, dessert and beverage flavours. 

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Which e-liquid flavour is best?

Like most things in life that you consume (food, drink etc) the flavour of vape juice you choose is, ultimately, down to your personal preference. 

The trend for most former smokers switching to vaping is to start with tobacco or menthol flavours as these most closely replicate the experience of smoking. As they continue to vape, many will start experimenting with other flavours and creating their own flavours through mixing. However,  some research has found that beginning with a non-tobacco flavour can make switching more successful. So, it may be worth opting for a different flavour than tobacco for your vape juice.

e-liquid guide image flavour types

Types of e-liquid flavours

Fruity

There’s a huge range of fruity flavours that make the transition from tobacco to e-liquid oh-so-sweet, which has been a leading factor in helping people to switch to vaping.

You can find all sorts of natural flavours, including apple, banana, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, etc, as well as some more exotic-sounding fruits and some sour variations as well. These flavours are all great encouragement to someone who is trying to quit smoking. 

Dessert

There have been a number of people who have shown concern over the use of sweet-tasting, delicious-sounding dessert flavours for e-liquids due to the fear that it will encourage young children or teenagers to take up vaping. 

In fact, researchers see a link between the flavour choices available to vapers and an uptake in young people who are taking up the habit. Bad news for lovers of sweet things who prefer the sound of dessert-flavoured e-liquids over the less appealing taste of tobacco smoke. 

Dessert flavours can include a number of your favourites, although it will depend on the brand and strength of the liquid you’re buying. Some examples include lemon cheesecake, apple pie, berry crumble, banana caramel waffle, blackberry tart, and cherry bakewell flavours. 

However, due to the concerns about former non-smokers being encouraged to start vaping, there may be restrictions put into place in the future for purchasing certain flavours. 

Tobacco

If you’re a smoker, chances are that you’re tempted to switch straight to a tobacco flavour e-liquid. And of course, if that works for you, that’s fine. But bear in mind that research shows that vapers who start with a non-tobacco flavour are, on average, more likely to successfully switch to vaping.

Fortunately, there is a middle ground. In addition to traditional tobacco flavours – you’ll find everything from rolling tobacco to cigar like flavours – you’ll also find chocolate tobacco, honey nut tobacco, cinnamon tobacco and many other flavours. These make the perfect choice for a smoker who is not yet ready to try a fruit, sweet or confectionery flavour.

Menthol

In a move that probably saw many smokers up and quit on the spot, the UK banned the sale and use of menthol cigarettes in 2020. The US looks set to follow suit according to the FDA, which has recently claimed that it will ban both menthol cigarettes and flavoured cigars.

This is due to the fact that they are thought to encourage smoking in younger adults and even children or teenagers. You can stop clutching at your menthol flavour e-liquid, by the way, as the ban on menthol smoking products doesn’t and will not apply to vaping products. 

How to choose the right vape device

For the inexperienced, standing before the rows upon rows of e-cigarette and vape kits that are on display is like staring at a different world. You’d think they’d make switching from cigarettes and tobacco smoking to vaping easier to encourage people to make this change.

In addition to the vast range of choices that complicates your decision, there is also some debate with contrasting views over which is the best kit for those who are new to vaping. 

Whilst all types of e-cigarette kits essentially work by vaporizing e-liquid by heating an electronically powered coil, there is much that differentiates them and how their systems work. To help clear up any confusion, we’ve put together a quick guide of kit-buying tips. 

e-liquid guide devices

Cigarette-like devices

These electronic cigarette-impersonators are fashioned after their tobacco-touting counterparts, sharing the traditional look of a cigarette’s outer exterior whilst ditching the nasty stuff it contains on the inside. Instead, this is replaced with an electronic alternative. 

E-cigarettes that look like the real thing, or ‘cigalikes’ as they’re also known, contain small batteries as well as a heating coil and a “cartomizer” of e-liquid in the flavour of your choice. 

Typically, you can smoke cigalikes no differently than how you would smoke a regular cigarette, and they’ll give you less of a nicotine hit than you’d get with a pod or tank system. 

Pod kits

Pod kits have really developed in recent years, and are now capable of producing the power and performance of a reasonable quality mod device whilst still retaining the simple, low-profile design and functionality of an electronic cigarette-like pen. 

You can choose between closed pod kits which sit nearer the cigalike end of the e-smoking spectrum. Alternatively, you can choose refillable pod kits which are still relatively easy to get to grips with, but with the added advantage that you can use any and all of your favourite e-liquids in their systems. 

Vape pens

Vape pens are one of the most well-known types of e-cigarette kits. They have become a hugely popular smoking alternative thanks to their lightweight and discreet “pen” design. 

Activated with the simple press of a button, vape pens are powered by a built-in battery that heats up an internal coil in order to create a vapour for the user to inhale. There are both Mouth-to-Lung (MTL) and Direct-to-lung (DL) style vape pens available, with MTL being a suitable choice of vaping device for anyone who has only recently started vaping. 

Vape kits

Basic kits are often the best choice for beginners or new “vapers” as they’re commonly called, and they can be a great way to familiarize yourself with the foundations of vaping. 

Alternative Suggestion: All vape kits will come with basic functionality, but higher-end kits typically come with more power, functionality and better build quality. 

A basic starter kit, for example, will be limited in its wattage range, typically producing less than 30 watts. A high-end Direct-Lung device can produce up to 200 watts or more. It might also come with more functionality, such as the ability to change the speed at which your coil heats up. High-end kits are also built to last, with some boasting waterproof, dustproof and shockproof qualities. 

There are even couples kits available for the duo who are done with traditional tobacco smoking and want to make the switch to vaping for good. These come with two pieces of each component and peripheral so that there is enough for you to both get started. 

E-liquid throat hit

For non-smokers, you might be wondering what a throat hit is. Vaping tends to be more commonly associated with clouds of vapour or blowing rings for the more practised vaping enthusiast. That, and the range of sweet-tasting flavours that are available to vape. 

When switching from smoking to vaping, missing the physical sensations that come with smoking can be one of the hardest parts. This includes missing the ‘throat hit’ – that feeling you get at the back of your throat you get when inhaling smoke from a cigarette. To prevent former smokers from reaching for a packet of cigarettes to achieve this sensation, e-liquids need to provide an adequate throat hit.

E-liquid for a stronger throat hit

E-liquids with a higher nicotine strength (such as nicotine salts), will provide a bigger throat hit than lower nicotine blends. The VG:PG ratio and flavour of your e-liquid will also impact the throat hit you get – higher VG liquids will give a more noticeable hit than higher PG liquids and tobacco- flavoured or sweeter blends (such as dessert or candy varieties) will also give a stronger sensation on the throat when vaping.

e-liquid guide vaping

How does e-liquid break down when vaping?

The science-y side of vaping isn’t as complicated as you might assume, and the way the e-liquid breaks down when vaping actually has a fairly simple concept behind it. 

The fact that e-liquid is an aerosol rather than steam means that, when used correctly, the liquid is broken down by the hot coil and turns into water (which is the vapour exhaled through your mouth) and CO2 (which you already exhale with every breath, e-liquid or no e-liquid). 

Unlike a regular cigarette which is lit at the far end causing it to produce a hot smoke that you inhale when an e-liquid is broken down, it releases a vapour that is much cooler and only reaches warm temperatures, depending on the vape setting you use.

How to store e-liquid

The general rule of storing e-liquid is to try and keep it in a cool, dark place (think a drawer, cupboard or even a fridge) and to ensure the lid is kept on tightly. 

As with any consumable product such as food and drink, how you store your vape juice will affect its condition and how long it lasts. Storing e-liquid in the wrong conditions can affect the liquid’], its taste and colour. 

The three elements that will affect your vape juice are; heat, light and air. Extended exposure to too much heat or light (particularly UV rays, such as in direct sunlight) will cause the chemical elements to start ‘breaking down’ into smaller molecules – which will eventually affect the taste of the liquids. Meanwhile, air exposure will affect your e-liquid by exposing the liquid to oxygen – which reacts with nicotine to create cointine. This oxidation will then cause the nicotine to break down over time. This can be easily avoided by ensuring you tightly replace the lid after use. 

Another issue when storing e-liquid is safety – due to the potentially harmful effects of the nicotine in e-liquids and the risks if swallowed, e-liquids should be kept safely out of reach of children and animals. 

Does e-liquid expire?

Yes, e-liquid, like any consumable product, has an expiration date, which can be found on the packaging. The expiry date for e-liquid is usually 1-2 years from when it is made. The expiry of e-liquid is attributed to the VG and PG chemicals within it, most of the ageing effects are due to the disintegration of flavourings and oxygenation of the nicotine.

e-liquid guide summary

We hope that this article has provided you with enough of an overview of e-liquids that when you next find yourself standing in front of a vape counter, you’ll have a basic understanding of e-liquids which will help you find the right vape kit and e-liquid for your needs.

Whether you’re simply starting to think about switching to vaping or you’re already committed to making the swap, you’re already on your journey to living a tobacco-free lifestyle, and we can guarantee you that you’ll feel better for starting the switch. 

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