Chances are good that, if you vape, you want nicotine. Whether you’re just starting out with a disposable cig-a-like, or fogging rooms with your sub-ohm monster mod, nicotine is a vital component to most vapers’ experiences.
Now, we’ve already discussed nicotine at length on these pages. But moving beyond the science of vaping, many vapers – even experienced ones – still struggle to find that elusive “sweet spot” for ideal nicotine strength.
Let’s see if we can help…
Why does nicotine matter to vapers?
Short answer? Because it feels good. For ex-smokers, nicotine is the element that matters most. Not only because of the satisfaction your body craves, but also because of the throat hit it provides.
In vape devices, nicotine serves the same purpose, producing a more realistic “smoking sensation.” This is just as vital to many vapers as flavor or cloud production.
Anecdotally speaking, one of the primary reasons people go back to smoking after trying e-cigs is because they try to step down too quickly, opting to cut down nicotine. As a result, they puff more frequently, and with more intensity, than they smoked, leading to dissatisfaction.
For beginners, we recommend a different approach…
Nicotine tips for new vapers
Before we jump in, let’s be clear – these are recommendations from former smokers and current vapers, and are meant as suggestions. No two vapers – or smokers – are alike, and no single recommendation will work for everyone. Finding an ideal nicotine strength is a personal journey – one that will likely require a little trial and error before finding an optimized experience.
We have seen many beginners achieve success by roughly matching a nicotine strength to how many mg of nicotine in the cigarettes they smoked, and how often they did so.
As a general rule, heavier smokers should look to higher nicotine levels in less powerful devices. Cig-a-like brands are designed for these smokers, and usually come in higher strengths, ranging from 1.8% (the percentage of nicotine solution in the included e-liquid) all the way to 3.6% or higher. Levels in this range should closely match a cigarette-like experience, as they provide a high nicotine “jolt” and a satisfyingly thump of a throat hit.
For veteran vapers, those numbers (and results) seem unfathomable. But for those who just tossed aside the cowboy killers, it’s a welcome breath of relief.
Even casual smokers should stick in the 12-18% range, as this will still replicate the smoking experience, but isn’t as abrasive to the throat.
Now, we can hear some detractors already – “You’re telling us to stay on nicotine?” – so we need to reiterate that nicotine isn’t the dangerous part of smoking. By starting at a high nicotine level, new vapers are less likely to abandon their devices after repeat bouts of frustration.
On the contrary, we feel vaping should be a comfortable and enjoyable part of your daily routine. If an e-cig isn’t satisfying your needs, or if you find yourself blowing through cartomizers and disposable devices at a breakneck pace, then you’re not getting your money’s worth.
If you find over time – and many vapers do – that you could probably step down your nicotine intake, then there are a ton of options for doing so.
Maybe you found that your cig-a-like in a particular strength, is all you need, and this is where your vaping exploration ends. If so, congratulations – this is fantastic! It’s also rare.
More than likely, though, you might find yourself perusing more advanced vaping devices. If so, the nicotine situation becomes a little more complicated.
Stepping up the hardware? Read on...
It wasn’t that long ago that box mods and high-wattage devices were exclusive to the most hardcore vapers. Heck, the term “mod” is derived from the modifications old-school vapers applied to existing technologies to drive more power and performance.
Today? Modifying that Smok Alien will get you nothing but a broken device and an angry email explaining why your warranty is no longer valid.
Modern vape devices come out every day, each seemingly capable of more power. When combined with complex coils and a capable atomizer, users will be chucking massive plumes of vapor in just seconds.
The e-liquid conundrum
But with that power comes consumption. Just as a high-performance car uses gas at an ungodly rate, many of today’s tanks devour e-liquid – those sick clouds don’t happen by accident, friends. In order to make huge vapor, you need to vaporize more e-liquid. And the more liquid you consume, the more ingredients come with it.
You see where we’re going here. Users of high-wattage devices and sub-ohm tanks and RDAs generally stick to lower-nicotine e-liquid, not only because the throat hit can become extremely harsh at high power, but also because taking in that much nicotine might prove to be uncomfortable over the course of a day.
While there are no “hard and fast” rules, higher-nicotine vapers (let’s call it >9 mg, or so) tend to prefer mouth-to-lung tanks that work better at lower wattages, and ultimately consumer less e-liquid. The sensation is more akin to smoking, with satisfying throat hits.
Sub-ohm vapers, on the other hand, tend to stay at 6 mg or lower. As the industry becomes increasingly focused on more powerful devices and voluminous cloud production, you’ll notice vape shops carrying more and more VG-heavy e-liquid lines that cap at 6mg, with most products at 3 mg or less.
High-nic or zero-nic? There’s a vape for you
Though we just mentioned the industry’s propensity toward high-wattage devices, it hardly spells the end of MTL vaping, so don’t fret! There has been a recent resurgence of this style, through new pod vape systems – an improved take on the classic cig-a-like design that simplifies the process for users.
Likewise, we are seeing the venerable vape pens and classic cig-a-like designs continue to pop up in more vape shops and mass market stores across the country. We don’t know if it’s because advanced devices are becoming a little too unwieldy, or just a renewed focus on replicating the act of smoking, but these handy, reliable MTL setups are perfect for high-nic vapers.
You might not be able to find 60 mL bottles of 18 mg liquid in many vape shops anymore, but pod systems like Juul, My Von Erl and the like have catered to this crowd. They serve as a perfect bridge between disposable e-cigs and high-end vaping, with more nicotine varieties and effortless, plug-and-play use.
When clouds aren’t high on your list of priorities, but flavor and satisfaction are, new and old systems alike can meet your high-nic needs.
The flip side of the coin – nicotine-free vaping
It might seem strange to vape without nicotine, but there are thousands of satisfied people doing just that. For these individuals – a list that includes this author – the physical “act” of exhaling smoke/vapor was far more of a driver than the nicotine itself.
Instead, these vapers do so for the love of vapor, flavor and the satisfaction they get from the entire routine. Nic-free vapes aren’t for everyone, but for that matter, neither are ultra-high strengths. It all comes down to personal preference … something that can be said for all aspects of vaping.
Like we said at the beginning of this post, most ex-smokers give up on vaping because they’re not satisfied. And this dissatisfaction may very well come from having the wrong nicotine level to satiate their cravings. Maybe their ideal level can be attained by moving higher, or to no nicotine at all – they won’t know until they experiment with different varieties.
While there’s no magic formula for choosing a nic level, we’re confident more ex-smokers will find vaping a satisfying alternative if they are willing to put in a little trial and error to find the right one for their needs.