Nicotine is an alkaloid extracted from the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum. It can be synthesised but this an expensive process so is not commonly used. It is even found in small amounts in common foods such as tomatoes, potatoes and aubergine. Nicotine works as both a relaxant and a stimulant, with people reporting effects such as mood elevation, alertness and calmness. It is commonly viewed as physically and psychologically addictive, and so many vapers who started out as smokers use e-juice with varying levels of nicotine. Commercial e-juice can be bought without nicotine but it is usually sold with a range of strengths.
Picking the right nicotine strength is an important decision for a new vaper. Too much and you might wind up coughing, too weak and you may wonder what all the fuss is about. Or even worse, you spend a chunk of cash on a huge bottle of premium juice, only to find out that its nicotine strength is not enough to satisfy your cravings.
E-liquids come with strengths that start from zero nicotine, and go up to over 50 mg/mL. You may have also seen nicotine strength stated in percentages instead of concentrations. All this can be confusing at first, but it doesn’t have to be! This guide will help steer you in the right direction when choosing nicotine strength, and show you how to navigate the market.
Note that the information presented in this article pertains to nicotine strength in commercial e-liquid. If you are learning how to mix your own juice–which may involve diluting nicotine base–take a look at our article on how to make DIY e-juice for beginners.
Regular nicotine and nic salts: two great options
The JUUL is not only one of the most popular vapes around, it is also one of the most influential. One of the most significant market effects of the JUUL has been the introduction of nicotine salt e-liquid, which has changed the way many users quit smoking and begin vaping.
You can find more info about nic our nicotine salts mini guide, but they are the reason you see nicotine strengths jumping from 3 mg and 6 mg to 25 mg or even 60 mg in online shops. In layman’s terms, nic salts employ a compound (benzoic acid) that smooths out the throat sensation of nicotine, making larger concentrations more tolerable.
When the nicotine strength is in milligrams and not a percentage (more on that later), single digits means it’s probably good ol’ regular nicotine (sometimes called “freebase” nicotine). Anything over 20 mg/mL is probably nicotine salt e-liquid, with only minor exceptions. There is no direct correlation between these two, but most people say that 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.
What’s the best nicotine strength for you?
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 about 10 cigarettes a day, you fall in the lower range of each suggestion. Around a pack a day will land you somewhere in the middle, whereas smoking two packs or more will get you into 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. The best nicotine strength is the one that keeps you away from combustible cigarettes.