For people who vape as a means to switch from tobacco smoking, the idea of using nicotine-free e-liquid might seem counterproductive, or even downright useless. But just tell that to the growing legions of vapers who now have arsenals of e-liquid full of flavor, but devoid of nicotine solution – which is likely the same substance that drove them to vape in the first place. It seemed silly to this author, too. That was, until I tried it.
Let’s make an assumption: most vapers get into the practice because they want a better and safer way to get nicotine. In order to satisfy their bodies – which have become accustomed to obtaining it from cigarettes – vapers generally start at higher levels of nicotine when starting with e-cigarettes, and often slowly work their way down to less intense levels. In the beginning of their journeys, vapers turn to nicotine to recreate the throat hit sensation so prevalent with cigarettes. To these users, a realistic smoking sensation is far more important than blowing voluminous clouds of vapor. Nicotine, as most vapers know, is not inherently dangerous. It doesn’t cause cancer, heart disease, or any of the lung conditions that plague smokers. In fact, it is a naturally occurring alkaloid, found in many of the nightshade family of plants. Its presence in e-liquid is there to recreate realistic smoking sensations, without the potential harm from more than 4,000 other known chemicals in burning tobacco.
So, at this point, you’re probably wondering why anyone would bother using a nicotine-free e-liquid in a vape device. After all, if you reach the point at which you no longer desire nicotine in your body, why even vape at all?. The answer is partly because smoking and nicotine addiction isn’t solely a physical dependence. When smokers begin using tobacco, the dependence on nicotine is tied to countless other sensory experiences related to cigarettes.
As the smoker continues using tobacco, these habits are all tied into other behaviors. For example, the feeling of the post-meal cigarette, or the enjoyment of taking a smoke break with friends outside a bar. Though nicotine is certainly the key driver of dependence on tobacco, these habitual practices may be just as important when switching to an alternative like vaping. Vape devices, regardless of nicotine content, allow former smokers to mimic the physical act of smoking, without actually needing smoke (or nicotine). Inhaling, exhaling, socializing… heck, even the tactile feel of having a device in your hands – it’s all part of the enjoyment. Nicotine-free e-cigs and e-liquids allow users to move beyond the physical dependence on nicotine, while still experiencing the more enjoyable aspects of smoking, such as exhaling “smoke,” getting rich flavor, or topping off a great, filling meal. Of course, you will sacrifice most of that throat hit you loved so much.
As I alluded to above, I had serious doubts about the viability of nicotine-free vaping. But, since I had steadily advanced beyond cigalikes and vape pens, and higher-power devices made my usual nicotine levels too harsh to inhale, I began reducing my nicotine level, and then even started giving serious thought to dropping nic entirely. More importantly, I felt this was a necessary move to truly make the break from the smoking habit that once held me hostage. Eliminating nicotine was as much a symbol of freedom as it was an e-liquid choice.
I figured to myself, “I’ve already eliminated 3,999 known chemicals from my body. What’s one more?”
My first day on zero nic was liberating. Having treated myself to three new e-liquids – all zero nic – I was excited to learn that the flavor and vapor production was just as good as it was before. In fact, because I was instinctively taking deeper draws, due to my body hunting for nicotine, my clouds were more massive than ever. Before I give off the impression that this was all sunshine and roses, let me be clear – this wasn’t easy. Nicotine is an addictive substance, and my body was craving it almost immediately. The throat hit I had grown to love had gone away, replaced by fuller, richer flavor. Despite the improved taste, however, I didn’t adapt immediately, and before long, I started seeking my 3 and 6mg juices in hopes of a quick reprieve. In other words, EXACTLY the type of addictive behavior I was trying to escape. It may not have been as intense as when I gave up cigarettes, but there was still a craving, even for the low nicotine concentrations I was vaping regularly. But over the course of a few days (and a few more new bottles of e-liquid) I started learning how to get past the cravings – mostly through replicating a more intense throat hit. Using fruit-flavored juices with a menthol undertone, I suddenly realized the sharpness of the minty bite compensated somewhat for the lack of a peppery shot of nicotine.
Was it exactly like nicotine? No. But after a few hours, I didn’t notice. Things only got better once I found several other e-liquids with the same fruit/menthol blend. They were refreshing, in every sense of the word. More importantly, those last vestiges of an old addiction began to leave my body. I found myself vaping only when I wanted to, and never because I needed to. In fact, that temporary “rush” sensation I would get from vaping nicotine e-liquid – like many of us experience with our first vape of the day – was largely gone as well. Now, I only vaped when I wanted flavor, and not because I had to handle a fix. My first real dilemma came a few weeks down the line, when I had a strong desire to use some of my older e-liquids. Not because of the nicotine content, but simply for the flavor. I decided to take a chance on some 3mg, high-viscosity juice in a dripper, just so I wouldn’t waste a tankful if it didn’t feel right. This too, was amazing. It was a strong rush, and felt entirely different than what I had been vaping for nearly three weeks. But more importantly, the relatively low nicotine concentration allowed me to vape a few puffs for the intense throat hit, then move right back to where I was at zero. It also showed me that I may never truly have been addicted to nicotine, as much as I was addicted to the feeling – the tactile sensation that I learned to replicate with the chemical. I love blowing vapor. I love the flavor. And I love the mild throat hit. Turns out, I don’t need nicotine to make it happen, leaving me a very contented nicotine-free vaper. Today, I still go back to nicotine liquids on occasion. My reasons vary, and my time with them is usually limited. But after years of ridding myself of the shackles of smoking, I finally escaped the last one satisfied and unscathed. Now even nicotine is a choice, and that’s the way I like it.