One of the burning (no pun intended) questions about smoking and vaping is how nicotine delivery compares.
We have seen a few headlines whizzing about in the wake of the disposable vaping boom, claiming that even the smallest of these devices (600puff, 20mg) contains as much nicotine as 40-50 cigarettes; is there any truth to this?
There have been some studies looking into this, including one from the National Library of Medicine. This study focussed on JUUL pods, and explored how their max strength products (50mg/ml – not available in the UK) stacked up against cigarettes.
While this and much of the other data on the subject takes a more global stance, we will give you a rundown of their findings below, and try to put it into context for the UK, as our regulations are a little tighter than the wider vaping world, in an effort to keep us safe on our vaping journeys and ensure products like ours are held to proper quality standards!
If you want to get your head around what nicotine actually is, and how it works, you can check out our guide: Nicotine & Health first, which dives into the specifics.
Nicotine in Cigarettes
The nicotine content of a cigarette varies between brands, with ‘lites’ tending to be closer to the 6mg mark, and stronger options being closer to 28mg – by the averages however most will contain around 10-12mg of nicotine per stick.
As with most substances we consume, we do not typically absorb every last bit of it. Of the 10-12mg of nicotine in a cigarette, we only tend to absorb around 1-2mg. When we factor this in, we can equate an average packet of 20 cigarettes to actually deliver around 22-36mg of nicotine despite containing much more.
Nicotine in Vapes
Much like cigarette brands, the amount of nicotine offered by a vape can be largely influenced by the type of vaping device you use. Smaller kits like the EDGE GO pod system typically deliver less nicotine than a massive sub-ohm kit simply because of the amount of vapour they produce.
Factors like temperature, power output, coil, and battery size all play a part in determining how much or how little nicotine a device will deliver. This of course goes double for the strength of e-liquid we choose which in the UK could range from 3mg or 6mg, up to 12mg, 18mg, and even 20mg nic salts. Factor-in the length and frequency of puff that a person takes in the device and there are just too many variables to give an accurate prediction of nicotine delivery off-the-cuff.
Outside of the UK, strengths can even go as high as 50mg, but this is not permitted on our shores.
One thing worth noting however is that we tend to absorb more nicotine when vaping vs smoking, which means the given nicotine content of a bottle is a closer representation of what we actually absorb when inhaling.*
Puffs Vs Packs
Ignoring the possible variance between cigarettes and vapes for a moment for the sake of comparison, a commonly used average is that 1ml of e-liquid can yield approximately 100 puffs.
If we use the max UK limit of 20mg/ml (which is incredibly popular among users of disposable vapes), this means a 10ml bottle of e-liquid could offer as much deliverable nicotine as 9 packets of cigarettes.
If we return to the example used in the media – a disposable vape containing 2ml of 20mg/ml e-liquid could deliver as much nicotine as two packs of cigarettes (40 sticks total) – so it seems there is some credibility to the claims made on social media and beyond.
While it is important to remember just how many variables are at play when comparing nicotine delivery in vapes to cigarettes, even by the averages it suggests vaping is a lot more affordable.
You can get a 10ml bottle of our 20mg nic salts for £1. If we use our calculation above, that equates to 9 packets of cigarettes worth of deliverable nicotine.
In the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) the current (2022) cost of 20 cigarettes is £13.41. Multiplied by 9 this equals £120.69.
In short, by the averages you could be getting £120 pounds worth of ‘cigarette nicotine’ for only £1 by switching to vaping. During a cost of living crisis it comes as no surprise then why switching to vaping has been recently hailed as a possible way for our poorest families to make a significant saving.