By: Nicholas King.
If you think you know all you need to know about nicotine, think again! Many former smokers approach vaping in much the same way they managed their smoking habit, and that can be a mistake. Nicotine is one of those things that everyone thinks they understand, but that so few really do. And nowhere is that truer than when it comes to understanding just how much nicotine is actually in a cigarette, and what that does in the human body. So, if you’ve ever wondered how much nicotine is in a cigarette and how it impacts you, read on!
Why Does It Matter?
It might not seem like an important question to ask, but it is actually one of the most important things all smokers should understand. You see, nicotine is the reason most smokers continue to smoke long after they’ve come to the realization that the habit is bad for their health. Nicotine is a stimulant, and it is extremely addictive. In fact, it is nicotine that makes you want to pick up that cigarette and inhale the smoke. Yes, there are a ton of other chemicals contained in each cigarette, but none of them are what give you that craving.
Still, understanding that nicotine is addictive doesn’t necessarily explain why it is important to know how much of the chemical is found in cigarettes – at least not entirely. That only really becomes an important bit of information when you’re trying to actively quit smoking. Since so many people now use electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation efforts, that means figuring out how much vaping they really need to do to effectively replace their cigarettes with electronic nicotine delivery devices.
How Much Nicotine Per Cigarette?
Different cigarettes use different ratios of chemicals, of course, so there is no easy answer to the question of how much nicotine each cigarette can deliver. On average, most cigarettes contain somewhere between eight and 20 milligrams of nicotine with most hovering at around 12mg per cigarette. While that sounds like a lot of nicotine power on a per cigarette basis, it really isn’t – especially when you consider the fact that only a fraction of that nicotine is actually actively absorbed by the human body.
According to the CDC, each time you smoke a cigarette, your body only actually absorbs about 1 mg of that nicotine (slightly less, actually). That one-milligram absorption rate is constant too; it doesn’t change just because you smoke two cigarettes. You don’t get more than an additional one milligram on your third cigarette. When you smoke one cigarette, you get one mg of nicotine. Two cigarettes provide you two milligrams. Three gets you three. And so on. Because of that constant rate of nicotine absorption, smokers whose bodies crave more nicotine must smoke more cigarettes – which means that they are exposed to all of those more toxic chemicals that the manufacturers include with their products.
The human brain becomes accustomed to the nicotine it receives, and it wants that nicotine to continue to be delivered at that consistent rate. So, a smoker who typically smokes twenty cigarettes a day has a brain that craves that level of nicotine. That brain also gets a bit dissatisfied when its routine shipment of nicotine doesn’t arrive as scheduled. That, along with other addictive chemicals that manufacturers sneak into their recipes, is the primary reason so many people struggle with smoking cessation.
What About E-Cigarettes?
It’s easy to lose sight of the real differences between cigarettes and the best-vaping devices, and simply assume that they both accomplish the same things in much the same way. That particular viewpoint is the one shared by many e-cig opponents and remains one major part of their argument that e-cigs must be dangerous because smoking is dangerous. In their minds, the imagined similarities between these two nicotine delivery systems automatically mean that they share the same dangers. But how similar are they? As it turns out, there are some important differences that must be understood.
First, any real similarities between smoking and vaping are, in almost every instance, more imagined than real. Smoke and vapor are not the same things, and they do not work in the same way. Take smoke particulates, for example. In cigarette smoke, each particulate is roughly one thousand times smaller than a millimeter. We call this a micron. Because those particulates are so tiny, they are quickly absorbed at every level of the lungs, in even the tiniest of passages. E-cig vapor has larger particulates, which limits that lung penetration.
It should also be noted that the nicotine absorption from cigarettes is enhanced by the many chemical additives put into each formula by the manufacturers. Many of those added chemicals boost nicotine absorption, supercharging the nicotine hit that you receive as you’re puffing on your cigarette. That doesn’t happen with an e-cig since e-juice is not loaded up with all of those extra chemicals Big Tobacco loves to sneak into its products. The end result: nicotine delivery without the horde of toxins you receive from those tobacco cigarettes. This is resulting in a number of people turning to vape to quit smoking.
So, how much nicotine do you actually get when you inhale vapor from an electronic cigarette device? Studies indicate that it is less than what is typically found in combustible cigarette smoke. Different attempts to measure the nicotine content in the vapor indicates that about half of all of an e-juice’s nicotine content actually makes its way into the vapor – but even those estimates are dependent upon various levels of performance.
Comparing the Two
It is comparisons of nicotine levels that people really find confusing, so let’s try to make that as simple to understand as possible. A smoker who smokes one pack of cigarettes a day receives about 20 milligrams of nicotine from that pack. That’s his daily intake of the chemical. Someone who smoked half as many cigarettes daily would receive half that amount of nicotine, just as someone who smoked two packs a day would receive twice as much nicotine – roughly 40 mg daily.
E-liquid tanks and cartridges are a little more complex for most people to understand. If your one milliliter of liquid comes in a 24mg concentration, that means that there are 18 mg of nicotine for every 1000 ml of liquid. So, if you vape a total of one ml of e-liquid a day – about the equivalent of many pre-filled cartridges – then you are actually vaping 24 mg of nicotine. However, if only half of that nicotine actually makes it to the vapor, then you’re actually receiving about 12mg of nicotine a day.
That can vary, depending upon the type of liquid and the quality of the vaping products. As a general rule, however, someone who quits smoking by vaping typically ingests less nicotine on a daily basis than he ever did with those combustible tobacco products. For those who want to eventually abandon the nicotine habit too, that is great news indeed.
While all of this might seem academic to those who just want to receive their daily supply of nicotine in a safer, cleaner way, there are good reasons to have at least some understanding about the mechanics of nicotine delivery. Whether you’re just interested in having a rough idea about the type and quantity of chemicals you put into your system or are actively trying to wean yourself from nicotine altogether, this information can help to inform your decisions.