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Nicotine in a Cigarette vs Vape: Absorption, Amount & Conversion

Published 14 August 2023, Updated 10 April 2024

Nicotine in a Cigarette vs Vape: Absorption, Amount & Conversion

The amount of nicotine absorbed by the body from vaping for 5 minutes is one-third to one-fourth the amount absorbed from smoking a cigarette in the same timeframe.

On average, a smoker absorbs between 1mg and 2mg of nicotine from each cigarette, while a vaper absorbs 50% of the nicotine contained in a vape. A typical 20mg/ml vape contains 2ml of e-liquid and 40mg of total nicotine. A vaper absorbs about 20mg of nicotine from vaping the entire 2ml of nicotine in a typical vape.

The nicotine in a vape is the same alkaloid found in a cigarette. However, the rate of absorption in the body differs between the two. A typical 20mg/ml vape equals about 10-20 cigarettes in terms of nicotine absorption.

The health implications of vaping and smoking also vary. While nicotine is a toxic substance that can increase blood pressure, studies show that moderate nicotine usage is no more dangerous than the caffeine in a cup of coffee.

Nicotine side effects are less harmful when nicotine is absorbed from vaping rather than smoking. Traditional cigarettes produce over 5,000 harmful chemicals when burned, of which at least 70 are carcinogenic. In contrast, vaping involves heating a liquid containing nicotine, significantly reducing the number of harmful byproducts.

Nicotine Absorption: Vaping vs Smoking

Nicotine is rapidly absorbed by the body when consumed via e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes. The absorption of nicotine occurs mainly via the mucosa of the oral cavity (mouth), the pharynx (throat), and the lungs. Once in pulmonary circulation, nicotine reaches the brain within seconds.

The amount of nicotine absorbed by the body from vaping is less than the amount absorbed from smoking. Research by the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center found that compared to smoking one tobacco cigarette, e-cigarettes deliver one-third to one-fourth (25% - 33%) the amount of nicotine after 5 minutes of use.

To understand the nicotine equivalence between cigarettes and vapes, we must first consider how much nicotine the body absorbs from smoking vs vaping.

How Much Nicotine is Absorbed from a Cigarette?

On average, a smoker absorbs between 1 milligram and 2mg of nicotine from each cigarette. A typical full-flavour cigarette contains 8-20mg of nicotine, of which the smoker absorbs 10% on average. So, from a packet of 20 cigarettes, a smoker absorbs a total of 16 to 40mg of nicotine.

A study conducted by Neal Benowitz, tobacco specialist at the Department of Medicine, University of California, found that, on average, smokers systemically absorb 10% of the nicotine contained in the rod, with a typical systemic intake of 1–2 mg of nicotine per cigarette.

How Much Nicotine is Absorbed from a Vape?

On average, a vaper absorbs 50% of the nicotine contained in a vape. A typical vape contains 40mg of nicotine (2ml of e-liquid x 20mg/ml nicotine strength = 40mg). So, a vaper absorbs about 20mg of nicotine from vaping a typical vape.

A study conducted Neal Benowitz, tobacco specialist at the Department of Medicine, University of California, found that e-cigarette users absorb 50% of the nicotine contained in a vape. By vaping a 20mg e-cigarette that contains 2ml of e-liquid, a user absorbs about the same amount of nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes (approximately 20mg).

How Much Nicotine in a Cigarette vs Vape?

A 20mg/ml vape filled with 2ml e-liquid contains 40mg of nicotine. The body absorbs around 20mg, or 50% from vaping. A full-flavour cigarette has 8-20mg of nicotine. The body absorbs about 1-2mg, or 10% from smoking. Therefore, the amount of nicotine in a vape is the equivalent of one pack of 20 cigarettes.

The amount of nicotine in a cigarette varies considerably from brand to brand. Regular or "full flavour" cigarettes typically contain more nicotine than "light" or "ultra-light" cigarettes. Marlboro Red, a regular full-flavour cigarette, contains about 12mg of nicotine per cigarette. Approximately 10% or 1.2mg of nicotine is absorbed from smoking one Marlboro Red cigarette or about 24mg from a pack of 20. Silk Cut, an ultra-light cigarette, contains about 4mg of nicotine in each cigarette, so approximately 0.4mg is absorbed from a single cigarette or 8mg from a pack of 20.

The amount of nicotine in e-cigarettes differs due to varied volumes of e-liquid and nicotine strength per millilitre. The amount of nicotine in disposable vapes, like the Elf Bar, Lost Mary, and Crystal Bar, is 40mg (2ml of e-liquid at a nicotine strength of 20mg/ml). A vaper absorbs about 20mg of nicotine from these products – the equivalent of one or two packs of 20 cigarettes.

Vape to Cigarette Conversion

When converting from cigarettes to vapes or from vapes to cigarettes, the two main factors to consider are nicotine strength and e-liquid volume.

  1. Nicotine Strength: Vapes come in various nicotine strengths, typically ranging from 0mg/ml to 50mg/ml. The higher the nicotine strength, the more nicotine is delivered per puff.
  1. E-Liquid Volume: The amount of e-liquid in a vape also affects the total nicotine content. A vape with a larger e-liquid capacity will contain more nicotine overall.

These two factors determine the total amount of nicotine in a vape. By multiplying the nicotine strength (mg/ml) by the e-liquid volume (ml), you can calculate the total nicotine content (mg) in a vape. For example, a vape with a nicotine strength of 20mg/ml and an e-liquid volume of 2ml contains 40mg of nicotine in total. This can then be compared to the nicotine content in cigarettes.

A smoker typically absorbs about 1-2mg of nicotine from a single cigarette. So a 2ml, 20mg/ml vape with a total nicotine content of 40mg would be equivalent to smoking between 10 to 20 cigarettes, considering that the body absorbs about 50% of the nicotine from vaping.

2mg of Nicotine in a Vape Equals 1-2 Cigarettes

A 2mg/ml vape with a 2ml e-liquid capacity has 4mg of nicotine in total. The body absorbs about 50% of the nicotine delivered from vaping, or 2mg in this case. Comparatively, the body absorbs about 1-2mg of nicotine from smoking a full-flavour cigarette. Therefore, a 2mg vape is the equivalent of 1-2 cigarettes.

3mg of Nicotine in a Vape Equals 1.5-3 Cigarettes

A 3mg/ml vape with a 2ml e-liquid capacity contains 6mg of nicotine in total. The body absorbs about 50% of the nicotine delivered from vaping, or 3mg in this case. Comparatively, the body absorbs about 1-2mg of nicotine from smoking a full-flavour cigarette. Therefore, a 3mg vape is the equivalent of 1.5-3 cigarettes.

6mg of Nicotine in a Vape Equals 3-6 Cigarettes

A 6mg/ml vape with a 2ml e-liquid capacity contains 12mg of nicotine in total. The body absorbs about 50% of the nicotine delivered from vaping, or 6mg in this case. Comparatively, the body absorbs about 1-2mg of nicotine from smoking a full-flavour cigarette. Therefore, a 6mg vape is the equivalent of 3-6 cigarettes.

10mg of Nicotine in a Vape Equals 5-10 Cigarettes

A 10mg/ml vape with a 2ml e-liquid capacity contains 20mg of nicotine in total. The body absorbs about 50% of the nicotine delivered from vaping, or 10mg in this case. Comparatively, the body absorbs about 1-2mg of nicotine from smoking a full-flavour cigarette. Therefore, a 10mg vape is the equivalent of 5-10 cigarettes.

20mg of Nicotine in a Vape Equals 10-20 Cigarettes

A 20mg/ml vape with a 2ml e-liquid capacity contains 40mg of nicotine in total. The body absorbs about 50% of the nicotine delivered from vaping, or 20mg in this case. Comparatively, the body absorbs about 1-2mg of nicotine from smoking a full-flavour cigarette. Therefore, a 20mg vape is the equivalent of 10-20 cigarettes.

50mg of Nicotine in a Vape Equals 25-50 Cigarettes

A 50mg/ml vape with a 2ml e-liquid capacity contains 100mg of nicotine in total. The body absorbs about 50% of the nicotine delivered from vaping, or 50mg in this case. Comparatively, the body absorbs about 1-2mg of nicotine from smoking a full-flavour cigarette. Therefore, a 50mg vape is the equivalent of 25-50 cigarettes.

Is the nicotine in a vape the same as a cigarette?

Yes, the nicotine in a vape is the same alkaloid found in a cigarette. However, the rate of absorption in the body differs between the two. Studies show that the body absorbs about 50% of the nicotine from a vape, as compared to 1-2mg per full-flavour cigarette. So, a typical 20mg/ml vape equals about 10-20 cigarettes.

Is Nicotine Bad For You?

Nicotine is a toxic substance that increases your blood pressure. In high doses, nicotine is indeed poisonous. However, a 2015 report from the Royal Society for Public Health explained that moderate nicotine usage is no more dangerous than the caffeine in a cup of coffee.

What Are the Side Effects of Nicotine?

The main side effects of vaping or smoking nicotine are dry mouth, irritation in the mouth and throat, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, insomnia, decreased appetite, heart palpitations and increased blood pressure.

While the side effects of nicotine can be unpleasant, the side effects of vaping are less harmful than those associated with smoking. Traditional cigarettes produce over 5,000 harmful chemicals when burned, of which at least 70 are carcinogenic. In contrast, vaping involves heating a liquid containing nicotine, significantly reducing the number of harmful byproducts.

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