Where Does Nicotine Come From?

Have you seen the logo “TFN” or “TFN Nicotine” on a bottle of e-liquid recently? If you think the answer to that question is “no,” take a closer look at the vape juice you’re using right now. There’s a good chance that the e-liquid’s formula and label design have changed recently, and the changes may have been so subtle that you haven’t even noticed. The acronym “TFN” stands for “tobacco-free nicotine.” In other words, the nicotine in the e-liquid you’re using right now isn’t derived from tobacco and is actually synthesized in a laboratory – and if you’re not using synthetic nicotine already, you probably will be very soon.

Without a doubt, synthetic nicotine is the biggest e-liquid trend in 2022. By the end of the year, it’s highly likely that most of the vape juices on the market will use TFN nicotine. So, what is synthetic nicotine? Why is synthetic nicotine vape juice such a big thing in 2022, and how will it affect your vaping experience? Those are the things that we’re going to cover in this article. First, though, let’s learn more about where nicotine traditionally comes from.


Where Does Nicotine Come From?

To understand what synthetic nicotine is and why it’s significant to the vaping industry and to your personal experience as a vaper, you must first understand where the nicotine for e-liquid traditionally comes from. Until recently, tobacco was the source of nicotine for all e-liquids and all nicotine replacement products such as lozenges, gums and patches. The specific type of nicotine used by the majority of the world’s e-liquid makers is manufactured to meet the standards of the pharmaceutical industry and is over 99 percent pure. In other words, it essentially consists of nothing but the isolated nicotine molecule and has no detectable contaminations or residual solvents.

There are many accepted methods for extracting nicotine from tobacco, although most methods involve the use of solvents such as ammonia, petroleum ether and ethanol. Steam distillation of nicotine is also possible, but solvent-based extraction is more popular due to its lower cost. The process of extracting nicotine from tobacco with a solvent is fairly simple. A tobacco processor grinds tobacco leaves into a powder and mixes the powder with a solvent, creating a slurry. The plant material is filtered out of the mixture. The nicotine is then isolated by evaporation, with the nicotine being distilled out of the solvent or vice versa.

What Is Synthetic Nicotine?

While the easiest and cheapest way to obtain nicotine is by extracting it from tobacco leaves, it’s also possible to obtain the same molecule through a chemical reaction. The basic idea here involves taking a molecule that can serve as a nicotine precursor and combining the molecule with a catalyst that reacts with the precursor to form nicotine. It’s significantly more costly to synthesize nicotine in a laboratory than it is to simply extract it from tobacco leaves. There is strong demand for synthetic nicotine in the vaping industry, though, and laboratories have refined their production methods as a result. Between the increased efficiency and the demand for very high quantities, the switch to synthetic nicotine hasn’t really affected e-liquid prices for consumers.

As for how synthetic nicotine is made, every lab has its own proprietary method – and there are usually many patents involved. One method, for example, involves using ethyl nicotinate as a precursor. Ethyl nicotinate is an ester of nicotinic acid, which is also known as vitamin B3 or niacin.  It’s possible to convert ethyl nicotinate to nicotine through the use of multiple chemical reactions, and that’s just one method of creating synthetic nicotine. Since the exact method used to create the synthetic nicotine for a particular e-liquid product is transparent to the end-user, it’s likely that many different methods will continue to be used as long as the patents for those methods remain in force.