A cigarette typically contains about 10 milligrams of nicotine, but the amount can vary depending on the brand and type of cigarette.
That should be an easy question to answer if you are a smoker, right?
However, I don’t think I’m alone in saying when I used to smoke; I paid no attention whatsoever to the amount of nicotine in each cigarette.
It was more a case of these are strong cigarettes, and these are lighter, but as for the actual miligrams of nicotine, I was none the wiser.
So when I transitioned to vaping, one of the first things I, and am sure many other ex-smokers asked themselves is:
Exactly how much nicotine is in my favorite brand of cigarette? And what level of nicotine should I be vaping to replicate it?
That should be an easy thing to calculate right? Not quite.
Imagine my confusion when I looked at the content details on a pack of my favorite cigarettes ‘Marlboro Gold’ and realized it says they have 0.6mg of nicotine in each cigarette.
Great, but eliquid comes in strengths of 0mg, 3mg, 12mg, 18mg and more! So what nicotine level should I be vaping?
Don’t worry we are going to walk you through it and make sure you start at the right level. As the most important part of quitting smoking is getting the correct nicotine fix for you.
However, first, it’s important to understand a little more about nicotine, the delivery method, and its effects.
But nicotine is nicotine, right?
As a smoker, you become accustomed to a particular strength or brand of cigarette, and you satiate your nicotine cravings by smoking a certain amount of cigarettes throughout the day.
This will, of course, vary for each individual. Ultimately you are deciding how much nicotine you take in by smoking more or less frequently.
It’s called self-titration, all nicotine consumers do it.
So irrelevant of the strength of a particular cigarette we will self-monitor and adjust our behavior and the amount we consume within a given day to fulfill our own personal level. (https://www.bmj.com/content/2/6186/357).
So it becomes less of a case of how much nicotine is in a cigarette? And more a matter of how much nicotine do I require to satisfy my cravings throughout the day.
Not everyone is the same
Even if you absorb the same amount of nicotine as the next person, the effect that the nicotine has on you may be entirely different.
That’s because everyone’s body is different and can react differently. People with a healthy immune system or larger mass may not be affected by nicotine in the same way as a smaller person, or someone with a weak immune system.
That’s why analyzing nicotine content in cigarettes, and its effects on individuals may not give the same answers every time.
What happens if I have too much nicotine?
Whether you are a smoker or a vaper, you probably know what having too much nicotine feels like.
The effects are the same regardless of the delivery method:
- Increased heart rate
- Anxiety or jitters
- Cold sweats
- Ringing ears
However, due to self-titration most experienced nicotine users very rarely get to the point of suffering from these. It’s almost a subconscious process where your brain tells you that you’ve had enough.
The above warning signs are also what stops anyone overdosing on nicotine. Also, anybody that’s feeling the effects of the above is very unlikely to take in more nicotine while feeling that way.
Nicotine delivery from cigarettes
However, the delivery of nicotine from cigarettes compared to vaping is a little more complicated.
Aside from nicotine, cigarettes contain countless other chemicals that aid in the delivery of nicotine through smoke.
Tobacco companies have been wise to this over the years, and not only do we see monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI’s) present smoke which reinforces the effect in the brain of wanting nicotine more often (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15582589).
We have also seen tobacco companies introducing ammonia which creates a more desirable and more addictive form of nicotine, by changing the chemistry of the nicotine the smoker absorbs. Ammonia essentially supercharges the nicotine as it hits the brain (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2424107/).
Therefore it’s incredibly difficult to compare the nicotine content and delivery of a cigarette with that of a nicotine patch or eliquid, neither of which contain ammonia or MAOI’s.
Smoking as a nicotine delivery mechanism is far more potent than that of any other method.
How much nicotine is absorbed from smoking a cigarette?
As with most studies on nicotine, tobacco and vaping, there are some conflicting results and ideas on nicotine absorption.
Prof. Bernd Mayer of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Karl-Franzens University Graz (Austria), states “Smoking a cigarette results in uptake of approximately 2 mg of nicotine and gives rise to mean arterial plasma concentrations of about 0.03 mg/L (30 ng/ml).” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3880486/)
Whereas UCLA psychiatry professor Arthur Brody says, there’s 0.6-1.0 mg of nicotine in “light” cigarettes, and 1.2-1.4mg in regular cigarettes. (http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/do-light-cigarettes-deliver-less-64109)
However, as we know, there are a lot of determining factors in the nicotine delivery of cigarettes. This is all without mentioning other factors like depth of inhalation, and length of the cigarette.
What nicotine level should be vaping?
Ok, so if I’ve confused you even more with all the cigarette talk. I’m afraid to say it’s not entirely straightforward with vaping either.
There are so many vaping devices on the market, each with different power outputs, coil resistance, and efficiency of delivering vapor.
So unlike smoking, the delivery method of vaping can vary dependant on what style of device you are using.
So where should you start if you want to quit cigarettes and start vaping?
Well, most starter kits, vape pens, and pods mods are designed to be low power and mouth-to-lung style vape devices, which mimic the draw of a traditional cigarette.
The below graphic will show you a good guide on where to start with eliquid nicotine level based on what type of smoker you were:
Typical starter kits and mouth-to-lung devices will be right for the levels above.
However, as we mentioned above, each individual is going to be different with the amount they consume in a day, so it’s best to always self-monitor and find what works best for you.
If you do transition into more powerful devices, and start vaping at lower Ohm resistances (sub-ohm style vaping), the vapor production and therefore nicotine delivery is going to be far greater, so it’s advisable to reduce your milligrams of nicotine. (what is sub-ohm vaping)
For sub-ohm vaping it will look more like this:
I started with a simple starter kit and MTL devices and found that 12mg was perfect for me as a light (Marlboro Gold) smoker. As my vaping experience has progressed, I now mainly use sub-ohm style devices and vape 3mg e-liquid.