In part one of our nicotine series, we looked into the history of nicotine, from where it comes from to how it has evolved over the years. Now we’ll explore how much nicotine is in a cigarette compared to alternative nicotine delivery products.
From Smoking to Vaping: Understanding Nicotine Content
Choosing the right nicotine strength is crucial when switching from smoking to vaping. The act of vaping might look and feel like smoking, but the nicotine content and delivery method is quite different. Fortunately, the nicotine content in e-liquids is usually listed right on the labels, and you have the option to choose between different strengths. But where does it say how how much nicotine is in a pack of cigarettes? It’s a bit of a guessing game, and the answer really depends on the type and brand.
So, How Much Nicotine is in an Average Cigarette?
According to a 2017 study conducted in the Behavioral Endocrinology Laboratory at Penn State University, a typical cigarette contains between 7.5 and 13.4 milligrams of nicotine. However, only about 1mg is actually absorbed into the body. The amount of nicotine in a smoker’s bloodstream has more to do with how often they smoke rather than which brand they prefer. The additional chemicals added to cigarettes act as fuel to deliver nicotine as quickly as possible.
Nicotine can seep into your bloodstream through your skin, lungs or mucous membranes located in your nose and mouth. This is how nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs), such as patches and gum, are designed to assist with smoking cessation and ease the symptoms of tobacco withdrawal. E-cigarettes, which the FDA refers to as “electronic nicotine delivery systems” or “ENDS”, are designed to closely mimic the act of smoking. Yet, the nicotine delivery method has a significant impact on how it’s absorbed into the body.
If you’re switching from smoking to vaping, it’s important to understand the differences in nicotine delivery between the two.
So, How Much Nicotine is in E-Cigarettes?
Depending on the brand, e-cigs deliver nicotine through a mixture of vegetable glycerin (PG), glycerol and/or propylene glycol. For example, White Cloud e-liquids contain a mixture of propylene glycol and glycerol, along with food-grade flavorings.
Unlike smoking, vaping allows you to tailor your nicotine intake with different nicotine strength options. The nicotine content in e-liquids is commonly measured in milligrams and can range anywhere from 3 milligrams to 54 milligrams. Going by numbers, this might sound like a lot; however, studies conducted over the years have showed that vaping is actually a less effective nicotine delivery method than smoking. This means vapers on the whole consume less nicotine per puff.
Heavy smokers often go for the higher nicotine content when first switching to vaping. The higher levels are known to closely resembles smoking with the stronger “throat hit” many smokers crave. Since e-liquid made up of, well, liquid, and milligrams are used to measure dry ingredients, we uses percentages, or nicotine by volume (NBV), rather than milligrams to indicate how much nicotine is in our e-liquids. Many other brands go the milligram route, instead, so we often get questions regarding why we use nicotine by volume.
Here’s an extensive article about how we measure nicotine to help explain why we feel NBV is the more honest way to label e-liquids. You’ll also find tips for choosing the right nicotine strength based on your smoking habits.
So, How Much Nicotine is in NRTs?
As mentioned before, nicotine replacement products were designed to give smokers an alternative to inhaling the harmful chemicals in cigarettes to help them quit smoking. For example, nicotine patches work through skin contact and deliver nicotine in controlled quantities over a 24-hour period. They typically come in doses of 5- to 22 milligrams.
Nicotine gums and lozenges usually come in 2- to 4 milligram doses and have a more immediate effect since they’re absorbed through the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth. Nicotine inhalers and nasal sprays come in various doses, as well – yet, similar to cigarettes, only about 1- to 2 milligrams are absorbed into the blood.
How Does Nicotine Affect the Body?
Most smokers reach for a cigarette to help calm them down in stressful situations. However, paradoxically, it actually stimulates the central nervous system. How is this possible? Learn more in part 3, the effects of nicotine on the body.