To begin with, we want to state that we wouldn’t advise you to start vaping unless you’re using it to quit smoking. That’s its purpose as a cessation tool. Although it’s got a unique following of ‘cloud chasers’ hoping to create crazy shapes with tricks, the majority decide to vape for the sole purpose of replacing cigarettes with vaping nicotine. In this guide, we explain how the two are linked by taking an in-depth look at nicotine, how it works as an addictive substance, exploring whether it’s safe to use and how to pair it with e-liquid.
Eventually, the goal should be to cut your nicotine down to the point where you no longer rely on it. That might mean vaping nicotine-free or even better - giving up vaping for good and not needing to return to cigarettes. If this is the case, a massive congratulations! It takes a great deal of perseverance and determination to achieve this accomplishment and we salute you for it. Let’s commence this guide by looking at nicotine - including where it comes from and how it’s used in cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
What is Nicotine?
Let’s kick off by explaining that nicotine isn’t bad, even if it is heavily associated with cigarettes, which are bad for your short-term and long-term health. As Wikipedia states, nicotine is a chiral alkaloid that is naturally produced in the nightshade family of plants and is widely used recreationally as a stimulant and anxiolytic. The danger lies when smoking with tobacco, which when heated creates tar that can stick in the lungs, leading to several potential illnesses and life-threatening cancer. Nicotine is an addictive substance but with the help of a cessation tool like vaping can be managed and controlled.
The difference between medical findings and public opinion often leads to a polarised perception of nicotine and what it does to the body and mind. In each cigarette, we know there is roughly one spoon of sugar as well as between 6 milligrams (mg) and 28 mg of nicotine depending on which you purchase. You can only pick and choose which you buy but with no idea how much you’re inhaling, which is one of the reasons why vaping has the upperhand. It’s possible to tailor the amount to your requirements, whether that’s starting high and finishing low, or somewhere in between.
Very small amounts of nicotine are even found in foods that come from plants, such as tomatoes and potatoes. The degree to which you consume and more importantly the amount you consume dictates how addicted you will be to the substance.
What Does it Do to Your Body and Mind?
As we know thanks to a basic level of science taught at school, the body can not function without the brain. The most important organ in the head controls all the movements, actions and thought processes to help you put one foot in front of the other. With nicotine, it acts to increase the production of other chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters that affect brain function. It also boosts acetylcholine, which provides a key role in acting as a chemical that sends vital signals to other parts of the body. Other reasons why nicotine stimulates the body and mind include:
·Potential to relieve anxiety
·Creates long term effects on the dopamine system, which impacts mood and feeling of accomplishment or reward
·Can create a calming effect on the brain
However, as we know the body works in mysterious ways and nicotine impacts everyone in different ways. As we stated earlier, nicotine is an addictive substance and various medical publications also state that when mixed with the dangerous carcinogens in cigarettes, nicotine can elevate heart pressure, hardening the arterial walls, increase heart rate and narrow the arteries.
Despite this, many medical professionals and organisations such as the NHS and Cancer Research UK state that of the two, vaping is considerably safer than cigarettes if you’re addicted to nicotine and want to quit smoking, although Cancer Research does state more medical research is needed on vaping to highlight the positive impact they can have as a cessation tool.
Overall, the benefits of vaping far outweigh the ‘negatives’ - including not just positive changes to your health but the money saved and the removal of dangerous second-hand smoke for those around you. Nicotine plays a role in both smoking and vaping and you need to understand what nicotine strength is right for you to introduce yourself to vaping - preventing any relapse to smoking. There is much to consider for a successful and smooth transition before getting the correct nicotine strength that will work; such as the type of nicotine you use, the e-liquid flavour you pick and the carrier used to bind the nicotine with any flavourings.
What Strength of Nicotine is Best for Your E-Liquid?
So you’ve put down the cigarette and picked up the vape, a great first step! Now it’s important to get the e-liquid just right - with a particular focus on nicotine strength and type before getting the most valuable overall experience. Think of vaping like a puzzle, you have to get all the right pieces joining together to achieve the final result. The coil resistance needs to match with the vape strength of nicotine to achieve what each vaper desires, in tandem with the vape juice.
This is the tricky part, because one vape hit might not work for the next. Typically, when you first switch from smoking to vaping, you will crave a similar sensation. It will require holding something familiar in the hand, as well as the same throat hit while the inhale and exhale should feel the same. Because smokers vape mouth to lung, meaning inhaling the nicotine, holding in the mouth for a couple of seconds before it passes into the lungs and you exhale back out, vapers will want the same hit.
Milligrams and Percentages on a Bottle Explained
On your vape juice bottle, you will often get a percentage or milligram (mg) level, which relates to the strength of your nicotine. For instance, the highest you will find is 2%, or 20mg of nicotine. That equates to the amount of nicotine diluted after you add in the other ingredients per millilitre of e-liquid. It can go down to 0.3% or 3mg of nicotine per bottle which is for very light smokers or those who have managed to cut down to the lowest level before vaping nicotine-free.
With e-liquids that you vape, to begin with, they traditionally included freebase nicotine. This is the most common type of nicotine base you will find in your vape juice, which is measured in milligrams and sometimes as a percentage. In more recent times, we have seen the introduction of nic salts as a popular form of nicotine. But what’s the difference between the two?
What is Freebase Nicotine?
This is the most common form of nicotine produced in e-liquids. Nicotine is a stimulant that enters the body and moves around the membranes (although not freely). Therefore, the process known as ‘freebase’ speeds up the process by adding ammonia to pure nicotine. Your organic membranes accept freebase nicotine with greater ease when the negative particles of nicotine are released from their shackles.
For years since it was first discovered by Marlboro, this popular method that changes nicotine from a natural salt into a pure substance is a stronger and harsh throat hit for vapers. It’s a similar process to cigarettes and works well with high powered devices.
However, it has a high PH level of acidity, meaning that the harsh throat hit can be too much for new vapers. Alternatively, if dropped too low, the nicotine deliverance may not be enough when switching from cigarettes, which can lead to a relapse or cigarette cravings once more. Decades later since the discovery of freebase nicotine, have we seen the solution with ‘nic salts’ that offers the best of both worlds?
What are Nic Salts?
Nicotine salts, also known as nic salts is the modern-day extraction method that has given vaping an edge. You get the smooth intake of nicotine in a much purer form with the additional benefit of Benzoic Acid. How nic salts work compared to freebase is by adding Benzoic Acid, you can reduce the alkaline that naturally forms in nicotine, allowing you to vape at a lower temperature if required.
Because it’s less harsh on the throat, it’s especially ideal for new vapers looking to transition from smoking and not wanting discomfort. Nic salts absorb into the body much quicker than traditional nicotine (freebase), which you can read more about in our comprehensive nic salts guide. That means you can inhale nicotine at a higher concentration but the body can take it more easily because it’s smoother. This means not needing to puff as much but still getting the same results as you would from a cigarette in terms of nicotine intake. Nic salts are traditionally vaped at around 18-20mg so that high dosage is ideal for those wanting to quit smoking and feel like they do not get enough nicotine fast enough from the freebase format. Once you feel satisfied with the transitional period, you can move on to a lower dose of nicotine with freebase, gradually reducing the amount consumed
VG and PG Explained
Another important aspect to consider with your e-liquid is which will be the dominant carrier or base in your vape juice. Will it be VG or PG? VG, known as Vegetable Glycerin is a sweet thick liquid commonly used in food production. Because it’s naturally sweet, you can sometimes lose the tasty properties of the best fruity flavours available in the e-liquid world, such as cherry or grape with a higher ratio of VG. However, it is great for thicker clouds because of the density when mixed with the other ingredients of a high VG e-liquid.
On the other side of the coin, you have Propylene Glycol (PG). This is also a liquid used in food and chemical production and is naturally more popular as a higher ratio than VG with first-time vapers. This is because it gives you a more intense throat hit like you would get with cigarettes and you can appreciate the natural flavours from your e-liquid because PG is a thinner texture. For an even greater focus on everything e-liquids, read our extensive 101 guide on PG and VG.
What’s Your Flavour of Choice?
Now that you know about freebase nicotine in comparison to nic salts and have figured out which carrier is best for you between VG and PG, it’s time to pick the flavour! To begin with, many vapers are used to tobacco flavours, which is natural considering the level of addiction you may have had and the lack of variety.
If you manage to move away from these traditional flavours and fancy something different, you can tailor your nicotine to personal preference with a high VG shortfill at 70% VG to PG ratio and top up with a nic shot with its own VG or PG carrier preference to get the balance just right.
Once you have factored all of these simple considerations into the equation, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of vaper you are and what strength of nicotine you will need to begin with, or change your mind along the nicotine journey and now re-evaluating the steps you need to take to reduce your levels. Initially, it all boils down to what kind of smoker you were in the past, how many cigarettes you smoked a day to get a better understanding of what's required on your mission to use vaping as a cessation tool to give up nicotine and stop smoking completely.
What Kind of Smoker Are You?
Whether you’re a casual smoker or a heavy smoker, the number of cigarettes you previously inhaled makes a big difference in what nicotine strength you should start with when vaping. For instance, if you only smoke one cigarette a day that’s considered a very low amount so you will not need to vape as often or at as high strength.
You’ll want to replicate your pattern of smoking initially and cut it down to remove the habit of smoking completely. It’s not advised to go cold turkey and quit cigarettes instantly so that’s why many now see vaping as one of the best cessation tools to help you.
It all depends on personal preference and cravings. Some may smoke a lot but not need a lot in a vape, while others inhale many cigarettes daily but require more strength in a vape device.
What Nicotine Vape Strength Should You Use?
It depends on the kind of smoker you are. It's best to start with an easy to use vaping kit so you do not stray back to smoking cigarettes. Keep the nicotine high if needed (more on this below) and the wattage low to not burn your coils quick. The last thing you want is a nasty taste that puts you off the journey before it’s even started! Because of TPD compliance, the highest strength of nicotine you can vape is 20mg as stated earlier. It's best to start off on a higher level 20mg or 18mg (roughly equates to 20 cigarettes a day) but you can then reduce this down to 0.6% (1-5 cigarettes a day). You can find some of our best starter kits after switching from smoking here.
·Social Smoker (3mg recommended) - Whether it’s a tendency to smoke around friends on a night out or just the odd one during the lunch break, your addiction to nicotine and dependency on smoking is low but you’re still aware of the risks. Switching to vaping makes sense and as a social smoker, you’ll be best starting on 3mg and slowly cutting that down to zero when you feel ready.
·Light Smoker (6mg recommended) - If you smoke 5-10 cigarettes a day and not through chain smoking, this is the vape nicotine strength for you. With 6mg of nicotine in your vape juice, it’s level with an ultra-low pack of cigarettes for those needing a throat hit but not as frequently.
·Average Smoker (12mg recommended) - Everyday smoking of roughly one pack will relate to this level, as you get the nicotine hit you’re familiar with, with a plan in place to eventually cut that down.
Heavy smoker (18mg or nic salts recommended) - This is the much stronger quantity of nicotine in your e-liquid to match more than a pack of cigarettes a day you’re used to smoking. Not all vape devices can cope with this so it’s important you pick a low wattage vape pod or mod that can manage the high levels of nicotine. Nic salts are a smart choice because they’re higher concentrations at a smoother consistency.
Finally, the end goal will be to reach 0mg or 0% of nicotine, which will be clearly labelled for the consumer. If you’ve done the hard work from 20mg after giving up cigarettes but like the flavours and want to maintain the familiarity of holding something in the hand, zero nicotine is the answer.
As we stated earlier, because the amount of nicotine you consume will be higher at the start, you’ll want the process to be as smooth as possible. If you need a higher amount of nicotine, it’s better to vape high milligrams in strength less often, than vape lower amounts of freebase nicotine but more frequently. That will likely lead to swapping one addiction for another.
How Will You Know if You Have the Right Level?
When you first start vaping it can be trial and error. Using all the tips above should help you but if you find yourself with a vaper's cough or the vape tastes bad due to a burnt coil then it might mean you are using the wrong inhalation technique, nicotine strength for the device or even selecting the wrong vape coil for the job. We have a live chat on our site if you need any advice on your nicotine levels.
However, if you notice any of these side effects below during or after inhaling nicotine e-liquids, it could mean you’re inhaling too much nicotine or are vaping too often for the strength you are using:
Don’t worry - these side effects are only temporary and after a little tweak to your set up and a short break, it will improve. It means that you have too much nicotine.
How to Reduce Your Nicotine Levels
Once you have been vaping for a while, particularly if you were a heavy smoker and started on a strength of 18mg or higher, you can think about reducing the amount of nicotine per mg that you are vaping. Although nicotine is not dangerous on its own as a substance, it does contribute to the addictive nature of smoking and vaping. The likes of the NHS and Cancer Research UK suggest vaping is better for the body and mind short-term and long-term than smoking but you still need to reduce your vaping nicotine levels.
If you follow the correct methods, cutting down your nicotine gradually and carefully, you should be able to quit vaping altogether or at least vape nicotine-free safely. We hope that’s been a useful guide for helping you.