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How Much Nicotine Is In A Cigarette?

Jim McDonald
February 14, 2019

When vapers ask how much nicotine is in a cigarette, it’s often because they’re trying to calculate what nicotine concentration they want in e-liquid. The idea is to mimic the hit they get from cigarettes, and get the same nicotine experience from vaping that they do from smoking.

But knowing how many milligrams of nicotine are in one cigarette won’t necessarily translate to vaping. That’s because the method of delivery is much different, and even an equivalent amount of nicotine won’t provide the same kick when delivered in a vape versus in a cigarette.

Nicotine is a complex topic. Vaping360 is a vaping publications, and our nicotine articles are focused on vaping. But because most vapers were once smokers, and because lots of smokers are looking for low-risk alternatives to cigarettes, we want to explore all aspects of nicotine usage. Also, this is a pretty interesting topic, and if the FDA manages to reduce nicotine in cigarettes below addictive levels, it will soon become even more interesting!

How much nicotine is in a cigarette?

So, exactly how much nicotine is in one cigarette? It’s a simple question, right?

Well, no. There is between 0.65 and 1 gram of tobacco in an average unlit cigarette, which includes somewhere between 7.5 and 13.4 milligrams of nicotine, according to testing done at the Behavioral Endocrinology Laboratory at Penn State University. Newport cigarettes had the most nicotine of any American brand tested, at 13.4 mg per cigarette.

A Marlboro red contains 10.9 mg of nicotine, and the median of all the brands tested was 10.2 mg per cigarette. A separate study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists shows that Newport and Marlboro brands contain about the same amount of nicotine (19.4 and 20.3 mg) per gram of tobacco. The mean nicotine content for all brands tested by the CDC was 19.2 mg per gram of tobacco.

That certainly debunks the claim that one JUUL pod contains “as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.” A JUUL pod contains 41 mg of nicotine (0.7 mL X 59 mg/mL), but an average pack of cigarettes contains 204 mg of nicotine (20 cigarettes X 10.2 mg) — and some brands contain considerably more.

But the question shouldn’t be how many milligrams of nicotine are in a cigarette. Rather, the issue is how much nicotine from a cigarette is absorbed by the smoker. It’s complicated.

According to Prof. Bernd Mayer of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Karl-Franzens University Graz (Austria), “Smoking a cigarette results in uptake of approximately 2 mg of nicotine and gives rise to mean arterial plasma concentrations of about 0.03 mg/L (30 ng/ml).” Mayer is a known expert on nicotine, but other researchers have slightly different answers. UCLA professor Arthur Brody says typical “light” cigarettes yield 0.6-1.0 mg, and regular smokes 1.2-1.4 mg per cigarette.

So cigarettes deliver a lot less nicotine to the smoker than they actually contain. The difference may seem huge, but in reality it may not matter. That’s because smokers (and vapers) in large part control their uptake of nicotine, and because other factors account for a big part of a cigarette’s powerful nicotine delivery.

Nicotine is nicotine, right?

When we use nicotine, we ourselves decide how much nicotine we take in — by smoking more or less, faster or slower, more or less often. That’s called self-titration, and all nicotine consumers do it.

You know what it feels like to have too much nicotine, right? Whether you’re getting the drug from cigarettes or a vape, the effects are the same:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Cold sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Racing heart
  • Anxious or jittery
  • Ringing ears

But because our bodies know when we’ve had enough, we stop or slow down. For experienced nicotine users, the process is almost subconscious. Self-titration is our brain telling us when our body needs more or less. And those warning signs are what prevent nicotine overdoses. Nobody OD’s on cigarettes or vapes. You’d have to keep inhaling while vomiting and dealing with a splitting headache!

So nic users keep themselves in check with self-titration. But getting nicotine from a cigarette is a little more complicated. Between tobacco itself and the tobacco companies, cigarettes are built to deliver a supercharged dose of nicotine to the brain.

What makes smoking so addicitve? - Infographic

Aside from nicotine, cigarettes contain other chemicals that hyperpower the nicotine delivery of the smoke. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI’s) combine with nicotine to produce a reinforcing effect in the brain that makes users want more nicotine more often.

And tobacco companies discovered long ago that adding ammonia to cigarette tobacco created a form of nicotine that was more desirable, and more addictive to the user. By changing the chemistry of the nicotine the smoker absorbs, ammonia supercharges the nicotine as it hits the brain.

Those are all reasons why we can’t simply compare the nicotine content of a cigarette to an equivalent amount of nic in e-liquid or a nicotine patch. Vapes don’t have ammonia or MAOI’s. That’s why scientists say nicotine in e-cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products isn’t as addictive as cigarettes.

How much nicotine is in a cigar?

The CDC research team that measured the per-gram nicotine content of dozens of cigarette brands also investigated cigars. While none of the cigar types the CDC tested were close in average nicotine content to cigarettes, large cigars (premium, sometimes hand-rolled) were the closest. Here are the cigar types with the mean nicotine concentrations for each, compared to cigarettes:

  • Cigarettes 19.2 milligrams per gram of tobacco
  • Large cigars 15.4 mg/g
  • Cigarillos 13.0 mg/g
  • Little cigars 12.6 mg/g
  • Mini-cigarillos 12.5 mg/g
  • Pipe tobacco cigars 8.79 mg/g

Even cigars that contain as much or nearly as much nicotine as cigarettes probably don’t deliver it as effectively to the smoker. Cigar smokers don’t typically inhale deeply (or at all), and cigars are not treated with ammonia to enhance the addictive power. That’s not to say that cigars can’t be addictive — but no nicotine delivery mechanism provides the addictive blast of a cigarette.

What if cigarettes had NO nicotine?

Can you quit smoking with vaping? - Thumbnail

That may all change soon though. In July 2017, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced that the agency was beginning research on a plan to reduce the nicotine in cigarettes to a level so low that they wouldn’t be addictive at all.

TThe theory is that by eliminating cigarettes’ addictive potential while allowing high-nicotine alternatives like e-cigarettes and NRT products to remain on the market, many smokers would migrate to the low-risk alternatives. And proponents of the plan say that new smokers would never get addicted to cigarettes at all.

It’s not a new idea. Tobacco control scientists have discussed lowering the nicotine in cigarettes since at least 1994, and recently clinical trials have been conducted on so-called very low nicotine cigarettes (VLNC’s) — which are sometimes called reduced-nicotine cigarettes.

What would prevent a massive black market of nicotine-filled cigarettes?

Gottlieb’s plan faces many challenges. First, it will take a long time — and that means the plan will have to be carried out by future administrations and FDA regulators. And to make it possible, the FDA would have to show that it could enforce the rule. What would prevent a massive black market of nicotine-filled cigarettes?

Additionally, serious large-scale trials would have to show real potential for VLNC’s to succeed. Finally, Congress could buckle to cigarette industry pressure and amend the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to eliminate the FDA’s authority to alter the nicotine content at all.

But if Gottlieb manages to pull it off — if the FDA is able to eliminate 90 percent or more of the nicotine from cigarettes — it would be one of the most significant political and public health events in decades.

Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy


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Shane H. TeedJim McDonaldrawadJustinMichael Willner Recent comment authors
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Instead of reducing the nicotine content in cigarettes, what about starting out with not allowing the cigarette makers to treat the tobacco with ammonia, which would start to make cigarettes less addicting. Then start reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes. Also just have cigarette makers stop doing anything that “enhances” the nicotine delivery.

Julie K Reeser
Julie K Reeser

My thoughts exactly…


There are cigarettes with 90% less nicotine in Europe so it can be done, and is being done by American brands like Marlboro and Winston. If the American companies can produce very low nicotine cigarettes for Europe and Canada, they can do it for the US too.


When I smoked cigarettes I wanted to smoke all day long, smelled it on my clothing, and coughed from the tar and chemical build-up. I juul with 3% nicotine, am satisfied with a few puffs in the morning, and have no desire at all for more the rest of the day. I smell clean, there is no after stink, no cough. There is no desire to look cool…just have my private puff in the morning. It is bliss without a high, no stink, no spray needed in the car for my clothing, and no gum to make my breath tobacco-free.… Read more »

v g
v g

so, yea, can you just plainly say which mg i should get for my dad? please. just guestimate for me…? im about to buy him a pod vape that is small and easy to put in his pocket. i need to know if its better to get him 20mg, or 50mg? he’s a daily smoker for the last 30 years. i get what you’re saying in the article; i read the whole thing just now, but please just tell me which is MORE COMPARABLE to a cigarette (im obviously getting tobacco flavor for him as well)? would sincerely appreciate some… Read more »


Start 24mg nic for a month then switch without telling him to 12mg nic for a month then 6 mg nic for a month then 3 then 0mg nic without telling him. After about 3-8 months of no nicotine..then tell him there hasn’t been nic that whole time🤷🏼‍♂️ That’s the way I’d do it

Shane H. Teed
Shane H. Teed

Was a 2 pack habit now vape 12mg/ml and nic salts 50mg/ml, either way cigarette addiction is nicotine plus 500 other chemicals so the transition to vape is a challenge.

Patricia A Williamson
Patricia A Williamson

Wow that’s what I will do for myself. I have been smoking forrreverrrr. I really want to quit without telling anyone because every time you see them I have to be asked, “how you doing on quitting”. This way I don’t have to tell anyone and tell them when I’m done.

Jeff Martin
Jeff Martin

You’d be wiser to reduce the nic in smaller amts more gradually over the same time period. . .the risk of relapse is greatly teduced with a slower tapering svhedule.

So cutting nic weekly would make more sense.

Patricia A Williamson
Patricia A Williamson

When I go to smoke shop I’ll ask how many reductions are but the only thing is one puffer has 500 puffs so that means I have to pay $15.00 a week to taper off like that. I would rather only pay $15.00 a month.

Allan Kvist
Allan Kvist

Im not so impressed with this article. It is not interesting how much nicotine is in a cigarette but rather how much gets in your body when inhaling. Im sure you know this, so I dont understand why this is ignored in the article. This information was printed on the packs untill resently, which is also not mentioned. I would like to know if the nicotine and tar content of the smoke from the various cigarettes are still publicly visible somewhere. Best regards Allan

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