What is e-juice made out of?

That’s a question that many people seem to be confused about. From well-meaning vapers who say “It’s just water vapour” (it isn’t) to tobacco control fanatics yelling, “We don’t know what’s in it” (we do), misinformation and weird beliefs about e-liquid are all over the place.

Luckily, there’s no real mystery about how e-juice is made or what goes into it. In fact the ingredients are usually all listed on the label. That’s the law in the EU and soon will be in the USA, but reputable juice makers have been doing it for years anyway.

So it’s easy to find out what’s in your e-juice, but is that really very informative? Most of it is chemical names, which can look intimidating – and they also don’t say a lot about what the substances actually are. That makes it easy for people to create scare stories, such as “E-liquid contains antifreeze” (it doesn’t!)

Most e-liquid has four main ingredients; there’s some variation, but not really very much. If you know the basics you’ll be able to spot any differences quickly. In the meantime, here’s what you can expect to be pouring into your atomiser.

Vegetable glycerin

Liquid designed for modern atomisers is mostly vegetable glycerin, or VG – this can be up to 80% by volume. If you want to know how it is that e-cigs have gone from producing a little wisp of thin vapour to belching out huge white plumes, this is why.

Glycerin is a natural substance that can be processed from most kinds of fat. The glycerine used in e-liquid comes from vegetable oils, which is why it’s called VG, but it doesn’t really make a lot of difference. One important point is that although it’s processed from oils it isn’t an oil. In fact it’s an alcohol, which makes it safe to inhale.

VG is a non-toxic colourless liquid with no smell, but a sweet taste. It’s very thick and viscous, which means high-VG liquids don’t work well in older atomisers and small clearomisers – it’s too thick to wick well. Some liquids use aqueous glycerine to solve this, basically just VG with some water added.

Lots of common products contain VG. It’s used in the food industry as a sweetener, and also added to some foods to keep them moist. Many medicines contain it too. Scientists have studied it for years, and it’s never been linked to any health problems.

Liquids with a lot of VG produce lots of dense vapour, but not a lot of throat hit.

Propylene glycol

Most of what isn’t VG in your liquid is probably propylene glycol, or PG. Some liquids contain more PG than VG; these work better in clearomisers and older atomisers, because they’re less viscous.

PG is an alcohol, like VG, and it’s also nearly odourless. It has a faint sweet taste, although not enough for it to be used as a sweetener; it does get added to foods, medicines and other products to keep them moist, though.

One other use for PG is in antifreeze, and it’s because of this that some people like to claim e-juice contains antifreeze. In fact this is totally dishonest. PG is only one ingredient in antifreeze, and it’s actually there because it’s non-toxic; PG-based antifreeze is less harmful to children and pets. It’s worth pointing out that water is also an ingredient in antifreeze; just because something is used in a product that has a reputation for being poisonous, that doesn’t say anything about how harmful that substance is.

It’s true that there have been some minor health issues linked to PG. It’s been studied since the 1940s and is classed as generally safe; swallowing or inhaling it won’t do you any harm. A small percentage of people are sensitive to it, though, so if liquid with a high PG content makes you feel unwell, switch to one with more VG.

PG produces less visible vapour than VG, so it’s unpopular with cloud chasers but liked by people who want to vape discreetly. It also carries flavours better and gives more throat hit.


One of the best things about vaping is the wide choice of delicious-tasting juices, and that’s all down to flavourings. Liquid doesn’t have much taste on its own, so it’s flavoured with food-grade additives.

If there are any health concerns about vaping that’s mostly down to flavourings. There are some ingredients that are safe to eat but not to inhale – diacetyl, for example. However, the industry has done well at eliminating additives that there are worries about. Don’t use food flavourings from the supermarket though; some of them contain oils, which are harmful if inhaled. Stick to flavours from vape manufacturers, because these have been elected for maximum inhalation safety.


Finally, most liquids contain nicotine. This is what makes vaping such an effective substitute for smoking; you can satisfy your nicotine cravings without having to set fire to tobacco leaves. Nicotine also gives a good throat hit, so if this is important to you try higher-nicotine liquids.

Although it gets a lot of bad publicity, nicotine is actually a very safe drug: It’s the smoke from cigarettes that causes harm, not the nicotine. It is toxic in high does, but there’s really no chance of poisoning yourself by vaping. Long before you get to a dangerous level it will make you feel slightly nauseous, then give you a headache. Vapers (and smokers) are very good at getting just as much nicotine as they need, and no more.

It’s usually best to avoid e-liquids that contain anything apart from these four ingredients. Vitamins, colouring, supplements like caffeine – these don’t do anything for the quality of your vape, and unlike flavourings they haven’t been selected for inhalation safety. But if you stick to the ingredients listed here you can look forward to a low-risk and enjoyable vaping experience.

Finally Some Good News for Italian Vapers

After four years of being crippled by a bizarre and unfair tax on e-liquid, the Italian vaping industry can finally begin to rebuild itself and once again help the country’s smokers find safer alternatives at reasonable prices.

Two parties — League and the Five Star Movement — were able to push through an amendment to drastically reduce the crushing vape tax in a Nov. 26 Senate Finance Committee vote, according to Sigmagazine. The tax was cut by 80 percent on nicotine-containing liquids, and 90 percent on zero-nic products. The amendment was passed despite opposition from the Ministry of Health.

In 2014, the Italian vape industry had about 4,000 businesses — in a country of just 61 million people. That’s more than five times as many vaping vendors per capita as the United States has now. But the excise tax reduced the number of vape businesses to just 1,000 before the end of 2016.

The tax added almost €0.40 (40 Euro cents, about 46 U.S. cents) per milliliter to the cost of e-liquid — or about €4 (or $4.60) on each 10 mL bottle. The new law will reduce the tax to €0.08 per mL for e-liquids containing nicotine, and €0.04 for nicotine-free e-juices. For DIY enthusiasts, PG, VG, and flavorings are untaxed, unless they’re mixed before purchase.

The taxation change must still be approved by the full parliament, but that’s not expected to be a serious hurdle. The bill could be passed before Christmas and take effect quickly.

The bill will also lift the ban on online sales within Italy (cross-border sales will still be prohibited). Unfortunately. the Italian Tobacco Customs Monopoly (AAMS) will maintain its jurisdiction over e-liquid, which means that vaping may continue to be legally conflated with smoking and subject to the same restrictions on public and indoor use..

AAMS will also control and license distribution, and monitor Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) compliance. Manufacturers will still have to follow TPD rules, which means a maximum bottle size of 10 mL for nicotine-containing e-liquids, a nicotine limit of 20 mg/mL, and a maximum size of 2 mL for tanks and other liquid-containing devices.

Still, for vapers who have fought the monstrous tax law for years, the change will be more than welcome. Italy had a thriving vapor industry before the 2014 implementation of the excise tax, which was based on a byzantine formula that supposedly described how much e-liquid was equivalent to one cigarette, and then taxed e-liquid at half the rate of cigarettes by weight.

The result was a tax so high it made the average vaper’s daily e-liquid cost twice as much as a pack of cigarettes, according to Judy Gibson of the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations. INNCO, in conjunction with Italian vapers’ consumer group Associazione Nazionale per i Vapers Uniti (ANPVU), submitted a letter to Italian lawmakers explaining why the existing law was terrible for smokers and vapers, but also for the government itself.

“In May of 2015, the consumption of e-cigarettes in Italy fell by approximately 70% caused primarily by users importing products online, sourcing illicit (and untested) alternatives or tragically, returning to a verified assassin – combustible tobacco,” said the INNCO letter. “The number of e-cigarette vendors and businesses fell from 4,000 to 1,000. In the first 11 months of 2016, the Italian Exchequer collected an estimated 3 million Euros in tax revenue. This represented c. 0.3% of the tax revenues generated by tobacco products and the loss of 3,000 vape shops which equates to roughly 10,000 retails jobs lost.”

There is no benefit to the country in a tax so high it pushes people to the black market, reduces revenues, kills tax-paying small businesses and the jobs they create, and discourages smokers from trying a product that might save their lives. The Italian government has finally gotten the message and shifted course.