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.
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.
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.
Discreet clouds, similar to the amount produced by a cigarette. This includes most pod systems on the market, as well as mouth-to-lung (MTL) tanks with a very tight airflow. Nic salts of a high percentage are the most popular choice for this category, as many companies have stopped producing regular nicotine juices over 6 mg/mL.
Clouds, but not of the massive variety. Devices that fall in this category can come from practically any product range. This includes pod systems that take sub ohm coils, airier MTL tanks, and even sub ohm tanks that have a very restricted lung draw.
Big clouds. This includes powerful sub ohm tanks and rebuildable atomizers with large airflow channels. Finding nic salts for this category may not be so easy, and most vapers usually go for regular nicotine juices.
When it comes to quitting smoking, we advise new vapers to try a low vapor device, be it a pod system or an MTL tank. These will emulate the draw of a cigarette, which will help smokers smoothly transition to vaping. But many people prefer a restricted direct-lung draw, or even a fully open draw, and in that case a more powerful pod system or a sub ohm tank might be the best choice.
Let’s assume that you have now tried a couple of nicotine strengths, and settled for the one that satisfies your cravings. Even after you narrow it down, it can still be confusing at times. Sometimes manufacturers list nicotine strength by percentage, like 0.3%, 0.6%, 2.5% and 5%. So, what do you do? What’s the difference between nicotine strengths written as mg/mL and those written as percentages? How do you convert from one to the other?
Most of the time, e-liquid nicotine strengths are shown in mg/mL, which stands for milligrams per milliliter. This means that for every milliliter of e-liquid in the bottle, there is the specified amount of nicotine.
For a 6 mg/mL e-juice, this means every milliliter contains 6 mg of nicotine. If you need to work out the total amount of nicotine in a bottle or in a tank, just multiply the strength in mg/mL by the number of milliliters of it you have.
For example, if you fill up a 5 mL vape tank with 6 mg/mL e-liquid, you have 5 mL × 6 mg/mL = 30 mg of nicotine in your tank. In the same way, a 10 mL bottle of 6 mg/mL e-liquid contains 60 mg of nicotine in total.
Nicotine strengths as percentages are very similar, but a little easier to understand. Instead of combining a mass (in mg) and a volume (in mL), percentages use the volumes of both. In simple terms, figures like 0.3% or 1.8% just tell you how much of the liquid in the bottle is nicotine.
This means that if you have some e-liquid containing 1.2% nicotine, any amount you measure out will be 1.2% nicotine and 98.8% PG, VG and flavorings.
Technically, this measurement is called “nicotine by volume,” in the same way the percentages on a bottle of liquor are “alcohol by volume” or ABV for short. “Nicotine by volume” is sometimes shortened to NBV too.
You could also work out the percentage by mass, if you wanted to, but e-liquid companies usually don’t do this. We work with e-juice in mL, so they do too.
Converting from a nicotine strength in mg/mL to a percentage is really easy. Just divide the amount in mg/mL by 10. So, if you have a 6 mg/mL e-juice, this is equal to a 0.6% e-juice. A 25 mg/mL e-juice is equal to a 2.5% e-juice. And if you had a high-strength nicotine base of 72 mg/mL, this would be 7.2% .
The conversion couldn’t be any simpler. To convert back from percentages to mg/mL, just multiply it by 10. That’s all there is to it!
If you aren’t too traumatized by the impromptu math, you can now confidently navigate the e-liquid market, and buy juice in the strength range that will most likely satisfy your nicotine cravings. You can also explain what mg/mL means, what the percentage values on e-liquids mean and convert between them easily. No matter where you’re ordering from, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. But if you don’t nail it on the first try, don’t give up! With so many nicotine levels available, you will eventually find the e-liquid strength that works best for you.
Share your thoughts with us! Have you tried e-juice that felt too strong or too weak to you? What was the nicotine strength that helped you quit smoking?