Do you know vapers who’ve dropped their e-liquid nicotine levels? Did they do the math and figure out if they actually reduced their total nic intake — or did they just assume the nic level told the whole story? It’s an old discussion among vapers, and now we’re seeing actual evidence showing that your e-liquid’s nicotine level may not mean that much.
Think about it: if you vape 3 mL a day of 18 mg/mL e-liquid, then switch to a sub-ohm device and vape 18 mL of 3 mg/mL liquid a day, you haven’t changed your total nicotine intake. Both vaping methods produce 54 mg of nicotine, but you have increased your e-liquid use times six.
A new study from researchers at three London (U.K.) universities confirms that vapers who reduce their e-liquid nicotine concentration compensate for the lower nic level by inhaling more vapor. The nicotine in their systems — measured using cotinine tests — was not significantly changed after “reducing” their nicotine consumption.
Indeed, a 2016 study from two of these researchers (and three others) showed that vapers self-titrate their nicotine. That means you adjust your vaping patterns to maintain the preferred nicotine level in your body. A 2015 study by Jean-François Etter showed similar results. The current study is a replication of the Etter research, but conducted over a longer period (12 months versus Etter’s eight).
The research team began with 32 exclusive (no use of other nicotine products) vapers, and wound up with 27 after five were disqualified or withdrew from the study. Between the beginning of the study and the 12-month follow-up, a significant number of vapers had begun using sub-ohm vape gear.
Sub-ohm vaping delivers a lot more vapor in each puff than the traditional mouth-to-lung (MTL) style, which mimics the draw of a cigarette. Some vapers prefer sub ohm to MTL, but even they can’t deny that low-resistance coils are juice hogs. High-volume vaping on sub-ohm devices delivers big clouds by using more e-liquid.
The study confirmed that even though most of the vapers in the study reduced their e-liquid nicotine concentrations over time, their nicotine levels (measured through salivary cotinine tests) did not decline. In fact, the nic in their systems was on average slightly higher.
Is reducing nicotine intake important to you?
The recent growth of pod vapes and high-strength salt nic e-liquid shows that, for many vapers, high nic and less vapor is a better way of vaping. If you vape a full JUUL pod, you’ve consumed about 44 mg of nicotine — but only 0.75 mL of e-liquid. That can be a money saver too, especially if you use devices that can be refilled.
But for some vapers, reducing nicotine intake is important. They may not like the idea of being dependent on a drug like nicotine, or they may discover that the rituals of smoking and vaping are more important to them than the nicotine. For them, nicotine can be stepped down gradually, even reaching the point where they vape without nicotine at all.
The only reliable way to do that is to be very aware of the total nicotine being consumed. Simply dropping to a lower nic concentration isn’t a reliable way to reduce the amount of nicotine you vape. As this study shows, we unconsciously compensate for differences in nicotine content, and vape more when the concentration is lower.
For vapers concerned with any potential vaping health risks, consuming less e-liquid with a higher nicotine concentration is likely the safer choice. After all, even though we don’t know that vaping causes any particular health problems, if there are dangers lurking in that cloud, it probably isn’t going to be caused by nicotine, which has been examined for health risks over decades and found to be relatively safe.