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What is in E-Liquids?

One of the quintessential vaping questions is "what is e-liquid made of." The answer to this question is deceptively simple. In short, there are generally 4 components to e-liquid:

  • VG aka vegetable glycerin

  • PG aka propylene glycol

  • Flavoring

  • Nicotine

As will be mentioned below, VG and PG are quite simple ingredients. Nicotine adds a little bit of complexity in that there are two main types; classic/normal nicotine and salt-based nicotine. Where things get complicated is the flavoring. There is an unending list of flavorings that can be used in infinite different combinations to produce different flavors. We will go in to more detail on these ingredients below.

Vegetable Glycerin: An odorless, clear, sweet tasting liquid with a syrup-like consistency.

It is a sugar alcohol derived from plants.VG is commonly used in food, medicine, cosmetics, and obviously e-liquid. VG is water soluble and is therefore easily metabolized. The VG in e-liquid adds the characteristic viscosity and provides a smooth, dense vapor when atomized. It is considered by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe” for human consumption (or GRAS). This rating refers to ingestion.

Propylene Glycol: An odorless, clear liquid with a viscosity slightly thicker than water.

PG is produced through high pressure, high temperature, non-catalytic hydrolysis of propylene oxide. Similarly to VG, PG falls in the same chemical group as alcohol. PG is water soluble and is therefore easily metabolized. The PG in e-liquid serves two purposes. Firstly, it is used as a carrier/emulsifier. Most flavorings are in a PG base to help them mix well in the e-liquid. Secondly, it allows for e-liquid manufacturers to produce liquids that are a specific viscosity. If you’re a vaper you’ve probably heard the phrase “what’s the VG/PG ratio?” Simply put; the higher the PG content, the thinner the liquid becomes. The difference between a 50/50 VG/PG ratio e-liquid and a 80/20 VG/PG e-liquid is quite noticeable.

You may hear that PG is dangerous due to its presence in antifreeze. Although yes, PG is found in some antifreeze, it does not inherently mean that PG is dangerous. PG has a very low freezing temperature (-59 °C) which is why manufacturers have used it in antifreeze. You can find PG everywhere from foods to medication. It is considered by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe” for human consumption (or GRAS). This rating refers to ingestion.

Nicotine: A clear alkaloid liquid that contains nicotine extracted from plants.

The nicotine present in e-liquid does not contain tobacco. Contrary to what a lot of us think, nicotine is present in a plethora of plants other than tobacco. The nightshade family of plants have the highest concentration of nicotine and include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants (aubergine), and green peppers. As anyone who uses it can tell you; nicotine is highly addictive. We use  nicotine in our e-liquids to offer adults who consume nicotine through combustible methods an arguably less unhealthy alternative form of consumption.

Nicotine is not classified as a carcinogen by the US Surgeon General. Although no direct link to cancer has been found, nicotine does potentially have other adverse effects. It has been linked to increased blood pressure, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), can inhibit brain development in young users, and act as a teratogen. 

Generally diffused into a base of VG or PG. E-liquids contain varying levels of nicotine based on the advertised nicotine strength on the bottle. In the case of original nicotine, it has basic properties and is present in relatively small amounts in e-liquid. At higher strengths, original nicotine has a noticeable throat hit. Salt based nicotine is nicotine mixed with a proprietary ratio of benzoic acid. This causes salt based nicotine to have more acidic properties. This makes it absorb much faster and have substantially less throat hit. Salt based nicotine e-liquids generally contain a much higher concentration of nicotine compared to original nicotine.

Flavorings: Food grade flavorings that come from reputable suppliers.

They are derived from both natural and artificial sources. The number of flavorings that can be used in e-liquids is easily in the thousands. There are numerous companies all over the world who manufacture flavorings. As a point of reference there are well over a dozen strawberry flavorings alone. If you’re a vaper, you’ve probably experienced two e-liquids with similar flavor profiles on paper; but, are substantially different upon tasting. As you can imagine, finding the perfect balance of flavors can be quite the challenge. The flavorings used in e-liquid are the same flavorings found in confectioneries and other foods. The amount of flavoring present in e-liquid will vary from flavor to flavor. Some have as little as 5% flavoring, some have as high as 30%. As mentioned previously most flavors are mixed in a PG base to mix easier into the e-liquid. 

A common question we hear is “does vaping cause Popcorn Lung?”

In simplest terms; no. Popcorn Lung (bronchiolitis obliterans) is an extremely rare lung disease that was caused by workers inhaling diacetyl while working in a microwave popcorn facility. Although the disease is non-cancerous, it is still quite dangerous. There have been unscientific links made between Popcorn Lung and vaping due to the fact that some flavorings contain diacetyl. This anecdotal link has never been proven, and no vaper has contracted popcorn lung.

Read MoreDoes Vaping Cause Popcorn Lung by Cancer Research UK


Vitamin E acetate; what is it and is it in e-liquid?

A synthetic form of vitamin E often used in dermatological products. Chemically known as tocopheryl acetate, this substance is an acidic fat-soluble liquid which when inhaled may interfere with normal lung function. This chemical has been found in a staggering number of black market THC cartridges. If you're unaware - a very common way people consume THC these days is through pre-filled cartridges that function very similarly to conventional vapes. There is a tank with a coil that heats up and produces vapor. In an effort to have a "premium" look, black market manufacturers will add thinning and thickening agents, such as vitamin E acetate, to attain the most sought after viscosity. Vitamin E acetate is not, and never has been, present in any e-liquid produced by River City Vapes. 


In conclusion, vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, nicotine and flavorings are combined in proprietary ratios to produce e-liquid.

This liquid offers adult smokers an arguably less unhealthy way of consuming nicotine. To quote the Royal College of Physicians:

"Although it is not possible to precisely quantify the long-term health risks associated with e-cigarettes, the available data suggest that they are unlikely to exceed 5% of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure".

Please feel free to take a look at our Consumer Advocacy blog post for links and resources pertaining to vaping.


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John Sager December 09, 2019

Thank you for the proper information. River city is the best vape shop I know of. Thank you

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