In this post, I’ll be focusing mostly on the questions of how much nicotine is in vape e-juice and what e-juice selections are most appropriate for those who are looking for a smoking replacement. However, I will first mention a few more important data points on the benefits of vaping versus smoking.
The popularity of nic salts e-liquid is the reason you see nicotine strengths jumping from 3 mg or 6 mg to 25 mg or even 60 mg. Nic salts, or protonated nicotine, uses an acid (usually benzoic acid) that smooths out the throat sensation, making higher nicotine concentrations more tolerable to the vaper. (You can find more info about nic salts in our nicotine salts mini guide.)
Unlike nic salts, regular nicotine (sometimes called freebase nicotine) is harsh at very high levels. There are some exceptions, but typically e-liquid that’s sold at a level of 18 mg/mL or lower uses regular nicotine, and juice over that strength is made with nic salts. Most people say the throat hit of 6 mg regular nic feels more or less like 20-25 mg nic salts.
With such high concentrations, salt nicotine has become synonymous with pod systems and other devices with low power and vapor output. The tiny atomizers on pod vapes need higher nicotine levels to produce a satisfying experience for the user.
The nicotine concentration of e-juice is often expressed in terms of milligrams per milliliter. But it can also be expressed in terms of percentages. Luckily, there is a very easy rule of thumb to use when converting milligrams per milliliter to percentages: The percentage is the milligram-per-milliliter number divided by 10.
For example, an e-juice bottle that contains 16 milligrams per milliliter of nicotine will work out to a nicotine percentage of approximately 1.6 percent.
Another issue arises when trying to figure out the cigarette equivalent of a given volume of e-juice and a given nicotine percentage. This can be a bit trickier. But as a general rule of thumb, a typical hit off of a cigarette will be equivalent to a hit from a 16 milligram-per-milliliter bottle of vape juice. It should be noted that this can vary considerably depending on the pen or mod being used. You should always test things out, only moving up or down one level of nicotine concentration when finding the right levels.
By way of example, a one-milliliter bottle of e-juice will roughly contain around 100 hits. This is roughly equivalent to 10 cigarettes or a half of a pack. So, say you wanted to know roughly how many cigarettes a 5-milliliter bottle of 16-milligram-per-milliliter e-juice equates to. In this case, we know that a 1-milliliter bottle equals 10 cigarettes. So, we would just multiply that number by five, giving us a total of 50 cigarettes. This is roughly equivalent to two and a half packs of cigarettes.
Again, it cannot be emphasized enough that this is an inexact science, depending greatly on how any individual smokes cigarettes, what style, make, and model of vaping rig they use, and whether they are using freebase nicotine or nicotine salts. Your mileage will certainly vary, and real-world testing is the only way to get exactly the right vaping experience.
If you’re a new vaper, there are two major factors to consider when picking nicotine strength: your smoking habits, and the type of device you are planning on using. To help you navigate the market, we have categorized our suggestions by vapor output, as this is the factor that ultimately dictates the amount of nicotine consumed per puff.
If you smoke socially, or up to a few cigarettes a day, you’ll probably fall in the lower range of each suggestion. If you smoke 10-20 cigarettes a day, you’ll land somewhere in the middle. Smoking more than a pack a day most likely puts you in the higher area.
Bear in mind that the suggested strengths in this section are exactly that: suggestions. Use them as a starting point, but if you find that you prefer your vape stronger or weaker, don’t be afraid to try other nicotine strengths. Remember that nicotine without smoke is not a major health risk. The best nicotine strength is the one that keeps you away from combustible cigarettes!
Discreet clouds, similar to the smoke produced by a cigarette. This grouping includes most pod systems on the market, as well as mouth-to-lung (MTL) tanks with a very tight airflow. High-strength nic salts are the most popular choice for this category. (Many e-liquid manufacturers don’t even make flavors with regular nicotine at strengths over 6 mg/mL anymore.)
Regular nicotine: 12-24 mg/mL
Nicotine salts: 30-60 mg/mL
Clouds, but not of the massive variety. Devices that fall in this category can come from practically any product range. This includes pod systems that take sub ohm coils, airier MTL tanks, and even sub ohm tanks that have a very restricted lung draw.
Regular nicotine: 6-12 mg/mL
Nicotine salts: 20-30 mg/mL
Big clouds. This includes powerful sub ohm tanks and rebuildable atomizers with large airflow channels. Finding nic salts for this category may not be easy, because these devices put out so much vapor that it’s very easy to get too much nic too quickly. Most vapers who use sub ohm devices usually go for regular nicotine juices at very low strengths. Even 6 mg/mL e-liquid may be too strong considering the vapor volume delivered by some of these devices!
Regular nicotine: 1.5-6 mg/mL
Nicotine salts: 1.5-6 mg/mL
When it comes to quitting smoking, we advise new vapers to try a low vapor device—either a pod system or MTL tank. These will emulate the draw of a cigarette, which may help smokers smoothly transition to vaping.
If you aren’t too traumatized by the math lesson, you can now confidently navigate the e-liquid market and buy juice in the strength range that will most likely satisfy your nicotine cravings. You can also explain what mg/mL means, what the percentage values on e-liquids mean, and convert between them easily. No matter where you’re ordering from, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. But if you don’t nail it on the first try, don’t give up! With so many nicotine levels available, you will eventually find the e-liquid strength that works best for you.