Choosing the Right E-Liquid Nicotine Levels
When you first start vaping, e-cigarettes can seem a little overwhelming, with new terminology, more parts than you know what to do with and countless little decisions to make along the way.
One of the most important choices you have to make when you start vaping is related to the nicotine level in your e-liquid – after all, nicotine is really what brings smokers to vaping.
But with so many nicotine levels to choose from – ordinarily 0 mg, 6 mg, 12 mg, 18 mg and 24 mg/ml – how are you supposed to know where to start?
Understanding E-Liquid Nicotine Levels
Nicotine level is expressed as a quantity of nicotine (in milligrams, mg, which is 1/1000 of a gram) per milliliter. So, for example, you might buy a 15 ml bottle of e-liquid in 18 mg/ml of nicotine: this means that for each milliliter in the bottle, there is 18 mg of nicotine, and so the whole bottle contains 15 ml × 18 mg/ml = 270 mg of nicotine. This is why keeping e-juice with nicotine away from children and pets is important: although each milliliter only contains a relatively small amount of nicotine, a full bottle really does have quite a lot, and kids and pets can have severe reactions to much smaller quantities than adults.
Although the mg/ml method of displaying nicotine is most common, they might also be (equivalently) expressed as percentages, so 6 mg/ml is 0.6 %, 12 mg/ml is 1.2 % and so on.
Nicotine Delivery: E-Cigarettes vs. Cigarettes
While you could probably find something suitable on the basis of what you’ve already learned and the information on a cigarette pack, there’s one more thing to consider: cigarettes are more efficient at delivering nicotine than e-cigarettes. This has been shown in a fairly straightforward piece of research that measured the quantities of nicotine in e-liquid and in the vapor produced from it, but has been more convincingly demonstrated in studies looking at the amount of nicotine present in the blood of vapers in comparison to that present in the blood of smokers.
A study of the latter type found that it takes about 35 minutes of vaping to produce the same levels of nicotine in the blood as is found after just five minutes of smoking. And crucially, this was only true with a higher-powered, later-generation device – cigarette-sized models still don’t produce equal amounts of blood nicotine after a whole hour of vaping.
Which Nicotine Level Should I Go For?
So now we have enough information to work with to determine which nicotine strength will be best for you. Generally, smokers start out with 18 mg/ml e-liquids, but the decision shouldn’t be made that simply. The blood nicotine study above used 18 mg/ml e-liquids, and realistically, the findings show that this – even combined with a high-end device – won’t give you as big a hit of nicotine as a cigarette. The authors concluded that as high as 50 mg/ml would be needed to achieve that, but nobody offers e-liquid that strong.
This is because there’s a trade-off between getting a lot of nicotine and having a pleasant vaping experience. Higher-nicotine e-liquids are harsher to vape, and if 50 mg/ml e-liquids existed, nobody would use them for that reason.
So let’s consider each common nicotine level in turn:
24 mg/ml: This is generally recommended for heavier smokers, of more than a pack a day. However, the study above shows that if you do want a solid hit of nicotine to help you make the switch, it’s worth considering for even pack-a-day smokers. Research has suggested that vapers who start with over 20 mg/ml are more likely to quit smoking.
18 mg/ml: While the above is true, there’s good reason this is usually recommended. It gives a nice dose of nicotine, but crucially, it’s not as harsh as 24 mg/ml. If you’re roughly a pack-a-day smoker, this is the ideal level for a first vape, then if you find you don’t get enough nicotine, bump up to 24 mg/ml.
12 mg/ml: If you’ve vaped for a while or were only an occasional or light smoker, 12 mg/ml is an ideal nicotine level. Most smokers won’t get enough nicotine if they start here, though.
6 mg/ml: This is really intended for those gradually reducing their nicotine consumption – a stop off on the way to becoming nicotine-free.
0 mg/ml: No nicotine! Why would someone vape this? Part of the appeal of e-cigarettes is the hand-to-mouth action, the visible vapor exhalation and the whole ritual of nicotine consumption. This is for when the behavioral side of things is all you’re vaping for.
Extra Tips for Getting Enough Nicotine
You’ve undoubtedly noticed that the choice isn’t as simple as it seems. But it isn’t really complicated either, and most advice boils down to: “start at 18 mg/ml unless you’re a heavy smoker, then 24 mg/ml.” However, to give yourself the best shot at quitting smoking, there are a few points that will help you make the transition:
- Use a bigger, more powerful device: Many variable voltage or wattage (VV/VW) e-cigarettes let you increase the power, and are more effective than cigarette-sized devices for nicotine delivery.
- Vape longer: Regardless of your device, vaping as a habit is different to smoking. Spend a bit more time vaping than you would have done smoking, especially at first. It might feel odd (like you’re somehow more addicted), but really it’s just because vaping isn’t as efficient when it comes to delivering nicotine.
- Know when you’ve had too much: At the same time, it’s useful to know the signs of too much nicotine: nausea, dizziness and stomach pains are the most common. If you have these symptoms – take a break! If this happens regularly, you should probably step down a nicotine level or vape less often.
Conclusion – Successfully Shifting Your Addiction
Finally, don’t worry too much about the whole “addiction” element. You want to quit smoking, which is fantastic, but it helps to separate quitting smoking from quitting nicotine, at least at first. Don’t shy away from more nicotine if you think it will help you reduce the harm associated with your addiction. Even if, after trying lower levels, you feel like you need 36 mg/ml e-liquids to make the switch: go for it! The goal for now is to shift your addiction to vaping, and that means getting a satisfying hit of vape juice with nicotine.
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