If you’re just starting vaping or you’re interested in regulating the amount you vape, finding out how much nicotine is in a cigarette can serve as a useful guide. It’s not as easy as you might hope to translate this directly to an amount you should vape, but once you learn how many mg of nicotine is in a cigarette, you can make rough estimates of how much you’ll need to vape, and it can help you choose the right nicotine strength for your e-liquid.
- There is between 10 to 15 mg of nicotine in a cigarette, and about 1 mg makes its way into the smoke.
- For vaping, there is between 0 and 24 mg of nicotine per ml of e-liquid.
- The amount of nicotine in the vapor varies according to device and wattage, but after 20 puffs, it’s equal to or higher than the amount put out by a cigarette.
- We don’t absorb nicotine as well by vaping, so even with more nicotine in the vapor, you have to vape for longer to feel satisfied.
- It’s recommended that new vapers start at 1.2 % or 1.8 % nicotine, depending on your device.
The Nicotine Content of Cigarettes – Yields vs. Raw Content
The question of how much nicotine is in a cigarette is quite easy to answer because cigarettes have been extensively studied and are required to show a practical illustration of their nicotine content on the pack.
There are really two different things to consider, though: the nicotine that’s actually present in the tobacco before it’s burned and the nicotine that is delivered as part of the smoke. The values shown on the side of cigarette packs are the “yields” of nicotine; that is, the amount of nicotine a smoker actually consumes when they smoke the cigarette. Really this is much less than the amount of nicotine that’s actually in the tobacco itself.
Raw Nicotine Content of Cigarettes
So for the content of nicotine actually in a cigarette, not taking into account how much is delivered to the smoker, the figure is generally between 10 and 20 mg of nicotine per cigarette. For older cigarettes, the average was estimated at about 18 mg. However, the amount of nicotine in cigarettes is reducing over time, so several studies now cite figures between 10 and 15 mg for the raw nicotine content of cigarettes. One example study actually measured this for Marlboro and Lambert and Butler cigarettes, and found nicotine content ranging from 11.4 to 12.9 mg per cigarette.
Nicotine Yield of Cigarettes
However, most of the nicotine in a cigarette isn’t delivered to the smoker. The “nicotine yield” of cigarettes is around 0.95 mg, and this figure hasn’t changed in a while. So if you want to know how many mg of nicotine in a cigarette, the most relevant answer to smokers and vapers is 0.95 mg, or about 1 mg. However, there is actually about 12 mg of tobacco in the cigarette itself, you just only get a small fraction of that when you smoke it.
How Much Nicotine is in a Pack of Cigarettes?
Based on the above, we can estimate that there is about 240 mg of nicotine in a whole pack of cigarettes, and about 20 mg of this is delivered to the smoker when he or she smokes the pack. For most smokers, this is about the amount of nicotine you’ll inhale over a day of smoking.
How Much of the Nicotine Do Smokers Absorb?
Although splitting the nicotine content into the amount actually in the tobacco and the amount delivered to the smoker may seem complicated enough already, it’s even more complicated than that.
The “yield” just tells you how much nicotine is in the smoke from one cigarette, but what actually affects the smoker is the amount of nicotine that ends up in his or her blood. This can vary quite a lot, but in general, smoking one cigarette leads to blood-nicotine concentrations of between 15 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter of blood) and 20 ng/ml, depending on which study you base the estimate on (examples here and here).
What’s the Nicotine Content of E-Liquid?
For e-liquid and vaping, the situation is very similar but we don’t have anywhere near as much information to work with. The main thing that’s missing is a clear indication of the “yield” when you vape some e-juice. However, we do have a bit of evidence on this which can be used to make a comparison with smoking.
E-Liquid Nicotine Strengths
The nicotine strength of your e-liquid tells you how much nicotine is in the juice before you vape it, and every bottle of e-liquid includes this information. The most commonly-used nicotine strengths are:
- 0 % (0 mg/ml)
- 0.3 % (3 mg/ml)
- 0.6 % (6 mg/ml)
- 1.2 % (12 mg/ml)
- 1.8 % (18 mg/ml)
- 2.4 % (24 mg/ml)
Using the mg/ml figure, you can easily work out how much nicotine is in a certain amount of e-liquid by multiplying the figure by the number of mls of liquid you’re interested in. This means a 15 ml bottle of 3 mg/ml e-liquid contains 3 × 15 = 45 mg of nicotine in total, and a 30 ml bottle of the same e-liquid would contain 3 × 30 = 90 mg of nicotine.
So if you fill up a 2 ml tank with 0.6 % (6 mg/ml) e-liquid, the tank contains about as much nicotine as a single cigarette. If you fill up the same tank with 1.2 % (12 mg/ml) e-liquid, in contains as much nicotine as two cigarettes, and if you fill up with 1.8 % (18 mg/ml) e-liquid, it contains as much as three cigarettes.
E-Cigarette Nicotine Yield
This may make you think that you’ll need to consume loads of e-juice each day in order to approach the amount of nicotine you’d get from smoking, but this isn’t the case. The key point is that the difference between the baseline quantity of nicotine and the amount delivered to the user is much bigger for cigarettes than for e-cigs.
The most useful study for comparing nicotine yields from cigarettes and cigarettes was conducted by prolific vaping researcher Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, who compared first-generation e-cigarettes with more modern devices using a 2 % (20 mg/ml) nicotine e-liquid and a realistic puffing pattern. The results showed that after 20 puffs, the earlier-style devices (cigalikes) delivered about as much nicotine to the vapor as cigarettes do to smoke (which is around 2 mg when using an “intense” puffing schedule), and higher-quality devices (like the Kanger Subtank paired with a VW mod) offered much higher levels, with the highest being almost 5 times as much as the tobacco cigarette.
This study generally suggests that you’ll inhale about as much nicotine from 20 puffs of an early e-cigarette as you would from a cigarette when using a 2 % nicotine e-juice. For sub ohm tanks with variable wattage mods, the nicotine yield is even greater, and much more than when you use a tobacco cigarette for 20 puffs.
This tells us two things. Firstly, higher-quality e-cigarettes deliver more nicotine than lower quality ones, and secondly, higher wattages deliver more nicotine than lower wattages. There are still a lot of gaps to fill in – for example, few vapers use 1.8 % nicotine e-liquids with higher-end tanks, so how much would be provided by lower nicotine juices? – but this is about as close as we can get to finding out the yield of nicotine from e-cigarettes.
Compared to how much nicotine is in a cigarette (or, more importantly, the smoke it produces), this would suggest that you only have to vape for as long as you’d smoke as long as your nicotine level is high enough. But other research suggests there are problems with that.
How Much of the Nicotine Do Vapers Absorb?
As before, the really important thing is how much nicotine actually reaches the vaper’s blood. And this is where the difference between vaping and smoking really starts to open up. We don’t have hugely up-to-date evidence on this, but the studies we do have suggest that you absorb a lot less nicotine when you vape.
The reason for this is that smoke particles deliver nicotine directly to the lungs, but a lot of (if not most) of the nicotine you absorb from vaping is actually through the lining of your upper throat and mouth (this is covered in the Royal College of Physician’s report on vaping, if you’re interested). This is less effective, and is much like the way the nicotine in nicotine gum is absorbed.
So when Dr. Farsalinos conducted a study looking at the blood nicotine levels obtained from vaping, he found that levels rose more slowly than for tobacco cigarettes. In the study, he used a 1.8 % nicotine e-liquid and got volunteers to vape it either using a first-generation cigalike or an eVic at 9 W. Those vaping using the cigalike didn’t get a cigarette-like amount of nicotine in their blood after the whole 65 minutes of vaping, but those using the eVic did so after about 35 minutes. This is compared to smoking for just 5 minutes.
All of this leads to the conclusion that even if there is as much (or even more) nicotine in vapor than in smoke, we don’t absorb it as well from vapor in comparison to smoke. As with the study looking at the amount of nicotine making it’s way to the vapor, you’d expect that more modern devices vaped at higher wattages would improve things, but the same basic conclusion is likely to hold.
The upshot is that you’ll need to vape a lot longer than you’d have had to smoke to get enough nicotine. If we assume that newer devices are about twice as effective at getting you nicotine as older models, then it would still take about 17 minutes to get as much nicotine in your blood as you would from smoking. This may be an overestimate or it may be an underestimate, but such educated guesses are the best we can do at present.
Cigarette to E-Cigarette Conversions: How Much E-Juice Will I Use?
If you’re trying to find out how many mg of nicotine is in one cigarette for the purposes of predicting how much you need to vape, hopefully this post has made it clear that it’s really very hard to do the sort of firm conversion you may be hoping for.
But there is a reason that just-switching smokers are generally recommended to start at 1.8 %. As the studies we spoke about show, this should get about as much nicotine into the vapor as a cigarette would into the smoke (or possibly more), and with a modern device we can assume you’ll feel satisfied after 10 to 15 minutes of use.
The only problem is that modern devices deliver so much nicotine that it may be a little unpleasant to vape a high-nicotine juice, so you’ll probably have to drop down to 1.2 % or 0.6 % if you’re using a sub ohm tank. In these cases, you’ll have to vape for a bit longer, but it’s worth it if the higher nicotine levels are too harsh on your throat to use.
The amount of e-liquid you’ll use very much depends on your device, the nicotine level you can cope with and your usage habits. We’d recommend overestimating if you’re trying to plan ahead, but a good general assumption is that you’ll use around 5 ml per day or more. If you’re using a higher nicotine level, 5 ml (or possibly less) will probably be more accurate, but for lower nicotine levels it could easily reach 10 ml or more.
Conclusion – We Know How Much Nicotine Smokers Get, But Not Vapers
The upshot is that we can answer the question of how much nicotine is in a cigarette comprehensively. With about 12 mg in the tobacco rod itself, about 1 mg making it’s way into the smoke and smokers getting blood nicotine levels of between 15 and 20 ng/ml, it’s very clear-cut. For vaping, there’s much more variation (depending on your e-liquid and device), and we have much less data to work with, so we can only really guess when it comes to estimating how much you’ll need to vape.
The best advice is to start at 1.8 % nicotine if you’re using an eGo or cigalike device, and 1.2 % if you’re using a mod with a modern atomizer, and then vape as much as you need to in order to feel satisfied. It might not be easy to plan ahead, but hopefully you’ll accomplish what matters: cutting down or quitting smoking.