When we first make the switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes most of us want to match what we were currently smoking to what we will be vaping with.
And with flavours this comes easily, SMOKO for example has a wide range of tobacco flavours to help make the switch easier. However when it comes to the nicotine strength things get much trickier.
On the surface it seems easy, just compare how much nicotine is in a cigarette and then look at what is in an e-cigarette.
Because of the differences between smoke and vapour though it can actually be extremely difficult if not impossible to accurately compare the nicotine between cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
Not only does the nicotine in cigarettes differ between themselves, but body chemistry, the type of e-cigarette used and even how each person uses them can effect how much nicotine each person gets.
Nicotine in cigarettes
Each brand of cigarettes is different, and the range of nicotine in a cigarette can be anywhere from 6mg to 28mg. Some brands though use a different measurement to show how much nicotine is in a cigarette, showing how much by weight of the cigarette and will display it as 0.6 instead.
On average though a cigarette contains about 10mg to 12 mg of nicotine. But to make this even more confusing you don’t inhale every milligram of nicotine as it burns. Even scientists aren't sure how much nicotine a smoker will actually absorb, with different studies saying different things. To give a very rough average though a smoker will probably inhale about 1.1mg to 1.8 mg of nicotine by the end of each cigarette, which is a lot less than what a cigarette holds.
But there isn't just nicotine in a cigarette, there are over 4000+ other chemicals and 50+ carcinogens in there, some of which help with getting the nicotine into your body as soon as possible.
Chemicals like ammonia speed up process of getting nicotine to your brain and satisfying your craving. The design of cigarettes is also a factor in how much and how fast nicotine gets into your body, with ventilated filters helping to get even more smoke into your lungs and so more nicotine into your body.
Lastly how the smoker puffs on a cigarette can affect how much nicotine is entering the body. If you are a shallow puffer for instance you will be taking in much less nicotine than a smoker who breathes in smoke deeply and holds it in their lungs. Also the body of the smoker will have an effect on how much nicotine is absorbed, as different people’s body chemistry can have a big impact on how much nicotine a smoker gets.
The added chemicals, the design of different brands and the individual smoker create a whole load of variables that make trying to figure out how much nicotine each smoker gets extremely difficult, and that isn’t even adding the variables that e-cigarettes bring.
Nicotine in e-cigarettes
The nicotine in e-cigarettes is easier to measure than cigarettes as there aren't 4000+ chemicals to complicate the matter. As e-cigarettes only contain 4 ingredients: Nicotine, Propylene Glycol (PG), Vegetable Glycerine (VG) and Flavourings we can with separate and measure the nicotine easier. To read more about our e-liquids and what is in them click here.
Also as all e-liquids have to be tested and proven safe due to the TPD laws before they are sold the amount of nicotine will always be prominent on the packaging.
However, the way that the amount of nicotine is displayed can be different, just like with cigarettes. The dosage of nicotine in e-liquid is almost always measured in milligrams (mg). For example, all our starter kits have refills with 20mg of nicotine in, and have strengths going down to 1.1mg.
Sometimes though the amount of nicotine is shown as a percentage of the full volume of the liquid, and is worked out as how many milligrams of nicotine is in 1 millilitre (ml) of liquid. This is shown as 2mg/ml or 2%.
But like with cigarettes not all the nicotine in the e-liquid will be absorbed, in fact a study on how much nicotine actually makes its way from the vapour into your body found only about 50% is absorbed.
Even this isn't certain though as other studies have shown different numbers. And to make it even less clear, all the studies stress how the difference in types and brands of e-cigarettes plus how each person uses the e-cigarette can affect this.
Comparing Cigarette and E-Cigarette nicotine
Even though the nicotine can be, to a certain extent, compared between cigarettes and e-cigarettes it is much more complicated than that.
Comparing the numbers isn’t that useful as the type and brand of cigarette will also have a big impact on how much nicotine your body gets. Each cigarette brand may have the same nicotine in them, but the chemical make up (such as tar or ammonia) of the cigarette will be different between the different cigarettes and so how much nicotine your body receives will be different as well.
The differences between brands also effects e-cigarettes as well. Though the amount of nicotine will be the same, and the actual ingredients will be the same in e-liquids (as all e-cigarettes in the UK have to prove they are free from harmful chemicals) the mixture will be different from e-cigarette to e-cigarette. For example our e-cigarettes are a mix of 80/20 between the PG and the VG, while other brands will have different mixtures. This difference in mixtures will not only change how much vapour is made but how much of a throat hit you get.
But the differences between e-cigarettes don't stop at what liquid you are using. The voltage of the battery you are using will affect the amount of vapour that is made, which again will influence how much nicotine you receive. If you were to use the same e-liquid on two different e-cigarette systems you will get a different amount of nicotine.
Because of the differences between how e-cigarettes and cigarettes deliver the nicotine the speed and amount of nicotine can be vastly different. E-cigarette vapour is mainly water vapour, and as such is much kinder to the lungs than smoke is. But because water vapour doesn't hurt the lungs like smoke does it is slower to transfer the nicotine than smoke is.
The 4000+ chemicals in cigarettes is also another difference between cigarettes and e-cigarettes, the lack of these chemicals makes e-cigarettes 95% less harmful than cigarettes but because of this the speed of absorption of nicotine from the vapour e-cigarettes is less than what you would get from a cigarette.
To put all this another way, a smoker using a 20mg cigarette will more than likely get a different amount of nicotine from another smoker using a similar 20mg cigarette, and both smokers will get a vastly different nicotine amount if they moved to different e-cigarettes, even if they used a 20mg e-liquid.
What nicotine level to start with
Truly comparing how much nicotine you get between cigarettes and e-cigarettes is almost impossible as it depends on so many variables that the amount of nicotine each person gets is almost unique. However, we do have some general guidelines that can help.
When the TPD laws on E-cigarettes were passed in 2016 they not only made sure that all e-cigarettes have to be independently tested to make sure they are safe, but it was also found that 20mg (2%) was the highest amount needed to satisfy a smoker. That is why the amount of nicotine allowed in e-liquids in the UK was capped at 2%.
It is also the reason that all our starter kits have 2% refills in, as that ensures that all smokers will have enough nicotine to help them make the switch from cigarettes.
Even if you are using a cigarette that has a lower nicotine level we would suggest starting with the 2%, as it might seem higher than you are used to but as the nicotine in e-cigarettes won’t be absorbed as well it might well feel the same.
Once you are used to e-cigarettes then you can of course move downwards in strength, but it will come down to individual tastes on how low you can comfortably go and how fast.