Synthetic nicotine (SN) isn't a new compound. It has existed since 1906 and has been used in nicotine replacement therapy products, such as gums and the patch, for over 30 years. Recent advances in production have made it a viable replacement for tobacco-derived nicotine.
Next Generation Labs (NGL) and their product Tobacco Free Nicotine (TFN) is the first non-tobacco nicotine to be affordable enough to be included in vape juices.
This cutting of the cord from Legacy Nicotine, the primary growers to the tobacco used to manufacture liquid nicotine, is a step in the right direction. You can learn more about Synthetic Nicotine here. Today we will examine the five things you need to know about synthetic nicotine.
Synthetic nicotine, Tobacco Free Nicotine, and non-tobacco are lab-manufactured nicotine. They contain zero tobacco. The most well-known of these products is Tobacco Free Nicotine (TFN). A patented product of Next Generation Labs, the name is so logical that it is applied to products that are not TFN. TFN dominates the vaping market currently, creating a situation akin to when all copier machines were called Xeroxes.
Whether it comes from eggplants, tomatoes, an old Pall Mall, tobacco leaves or a laboratory, the molecular structure of nicotine is always the same: C10H14N2. Its physiological impact works on the same biological channels. Non-tobacco nicotine is a purer product than tobacco-derived nicotine due to the extract process but is otherwise indistinguishable.
Nicotine is chiral molecule, meaning that it is not superimposable as a mirror image. The molecular formula may remain the same, but S-Isomer and R-Isomer have totally different biological effects. The R-isomer is inert and occurs in only small amounts in whole leaf tobacco. S-Isomer is the molecule that impacts the nicotine user. It has the biological impact.
It is easier and cheaper to manufacturer nicotine that is half R and half S isomer nicotine. But as the R-Isomer is inert, it takes twice the quantity of R and S-Isomer nicotine to match the potency of pure S-Isomer.
There are two leading producers of non-tobacco nicotine, namely Contraf-Nicotex Tobacco (CNT) and Next Generation Labs (NGL). We have already met NGL, and if you are a vaper have probably encountered their TFN product. This product has a more neutral flavor than tobacco-derived nicotine. This allows vape juice flavor profiles to shine even more brightly.
NGL is based in California and announced as far back as 2018 that they would be doubling their yearly production capacity in anticipation of increasing demand. NGL producers two types of non-tobacco nicotine.
CNT only makes pure S-Isomer synthetic nicotine.
Heilbronn, Germany based Contraf-Nicotex-Tobacco or CNT has been manufacturing synthetic nicotine since 1982. Vaping wasn’t even on the horizon in 1982. Their product was high-end and meant for research, medical purposes and eventually nicotine replacement therapies. The price point has dropped over the decades, but its primary uses remain unchanged.
As the older business with the more expensive product, there appears to be a bit of a rivalry brewing. CNT produces a true synthetic nicotine that contains no R-Isomer nicotine, which as we mentioned above is inert. They consider it a byproduct. CNT synthetic nicotine has been certified by the EU as suitable for pharmaceutical purposes.
CNT’s Torsten Siemen takes a dim view of R-Isomer nicotine. As discussed in a feature in Tobacco Asia, “We think R-S nicotine, which contains a significant amount of R nicotine, can only be considered to be an intermediate, which requires further purification to the S form. For these reasons, CNT does not sell R-S nicotine…In the best case, the same quantity of R-S nicotine can be considered to be only 50 percent effective.”
“Currently, CNT has a vast production capacity of over 500 metric tons of tobacco-derived nicotine per year, but since synthetic nicotine is made in an industrial setting using various chemical raw materials, there really is no cap as to how much we can potentially produce.”
The unlimited potential for production is no small deal. Cutting cord with Legacy Nicotineshould be a goal of the independent vaping industry. That this would correspondingly reduce the carbon footprint of e-liquids by divorcing them from the industrial agriculture machine behind tobacco is a huge bonus.
Next Generation Labs and their affordable TFN product currently controls much of the non-tobacco nicotine vape juice market. But what about the presence of R-Isomer nicotine, which CNT did not hesitate to throw shade at?
A July 2021 press release by Next Generation Labs announced the granting of a patent for the use of TFN Combinational R- and S-Isomer synthetic nicotine in tobacco cessation products. In this release, NGL elaborated on their vision of a future that heavily features R-isomer nicotine.
“Nicotine has been studied extensively in its naturally derived tobacco form, which includes the naturally occurring S and R isomers, which are metabolized in the consumption of current tobacco products, vape and smokeless tobacco products. There is nothing to indicate that the R isomer is anything other than a positive attribute to the nicotine molecule.”
“Next Generation Labs believes future combinational R- and S-isomer nicotine formulations may prove to be less addictive than natural or biosimilar standalone S-isomer nicotine and could potentially help achieve the broader public health goal of providing adult consumers with a satisfying, but non-addictive form of nicotine to replace current products. These new variable isomeric ratios of synthetic nicotine products may ultimately assist adults in quitting or reducing their overall dependence on current tobacco, vape and nicotine products.”
“We are at an early stage in the evolution of isomeric nicotine and its utility. NGL is trying to ensure that companies have the option based on their evaluation of the utility and safety of synthetic nicotine in their products.”
These duelling press releases may not shed much light on the issue or how it will resolve itself. It is quite possible that CNT versus NGL will end up being the VHS-BETA MAX style war for nicotine supremacy.
Neither CNT or NGL are eager to share their production processes, or the materials used to manufacture non-tobacco nicotine. These are not fly by not operations operating out of a desert trailer. Millions have been invested, methods perfected, patents granted, and valuable trade secrets are at stake.
A few of CNT’s processes for purification of R-S Isomer synthetic nicotine can be run down in the EU. But the heart of the matter, how NGL makes TFN and how CNT makes their pure SN, is proprietary.
Nor is every vape juice manufacturer and disposable vape company that eager to share who they are doing business with. In a business poised to challenge Big Tobacco’s dominance, this secrecy is not a surprise.
An example of this is a statement from Puff Bar: "Our nicotine-based products are crafted from a patented manufacturing process, not from tobacco." The company didn't specify the origins of their non-tobacco nicotine.
But one thing is clear; the process doesn't include tobacco. The clarity of flavors, often cited as a feature of disposables like the Puff Bar, is proof of concept and non-tobacco nicotine’s potential appeal to adult vapers.
Vape juice companies who want to buy non-tobacco nicotine and the adult vapers who seek these products at the retail level are surely interested in the cost of non-tobacco nicotine, SN and TFN.
The R&D, logistics, expertise, production cost, and raw materials required to produce Tobacco Free Nicotine are significantly higher than the tobacco extraction process. This is no surprise, as Legacy Nicotinehas been churning out liquid tobacco nicotine for decades.
When you compare the costs, the expense involved in 1 liter of 100mg tobacco-derived nicotine, sufficient for the production of 18,000ml of 6mg vape juice, stands at about $100 (consumer price). For the same amount of e-liquid containing Tobacco Free Nicotine from NGL, the price is around $259.99.
While this difference is significant, the fact that non-tobacco nicotine has cut Big Tobacco’s advantage to 2.5 to 1 suggests that with greater scale it could end up being the much cheaper product. It certainly places a smaller strain on the environment and the money spent acquiring non-tobacco nicotine does not go straight into the coffers of Big Tobacco.
Having understood what synthetic nicotine means and the cost involved, let's look at why it is being made in the first place. There are two main reasons. The first is that it has the potential to be a superior tasting product that does rely on a tobacco industry that is frequently accused of not acting in good faith.
It is also a product with greater purity. Many vapers swear by its taste, or lack thereof. Synthetic nicotine and TFN do not contain the impurities found in tobacco-derived nicotine.
Escalating regulations on the independent vaping industry are another motivation. Restrictions that benefit Legacy Nicotinecontinue to arrive in the form of the PACT Act, additional vape taxes, PMTAs and other examples of onerous restrictions. That these restrictions seem laser focused on small vape companies has created a scenario that is beginning to mirror regulatory capture by the major tobacco stakeholders.
The vaping industry has naturally responded by shifting away from tobacco products such as tobacco-derived nicotine. Legacy Nicotineclearly has a homefield advantage and there is little reason to expect fair treatment.
The Tobacco Control Act states that a tobacco product is "any product made or derived from tobacco and intended for human consumption, including any component, part, or accessory of a tobacco product. Synthetic nicotine is not tobacco-derived and allows small vaping companies to exit a rigged game and hopefully receive fairer treatment in the future.
In other news, smoking rates are up for the first time in decades. New restrictions that deny adult vapers their preferred e-liquid flavors and hardware have finally taken hold.
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