Given the meteoric rise of recreational vaping, especially among young people, it’s easy to forget that e-cigarettes were originally marketed as gadgets for smokers that wanted to kick their cigarette habits. For millions of people around the world, vaping still serves that purpose, which explains why e-cigs contain varying levels of nicotine.
England’s National Health Service (NHS) reports that over 3 million people in the United Kingdom use e-cigs, or nearly 5 percent of the population. “Thousands of people in England have already stopped smoking with the help of an e-cigarette,” the NHS states on its website. “Plus, those who combine an e-cigarette with help from their local Stop Smoking Service have a high chance of success. In 2018-19, two-thirds of smokers who did so managed to stop smoking.”
In other words, e-cigs are remarkably effective at helping people quit traditional cigarettes. Even in the United States, where more people vape just for the sake of vaping, there appears to be a correlation between an increase in e-cig use and a decrease in smoking There are even smart e-cigs with mobile apps that track your usage and help you to follow a cessation plan.
“The use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, is much more prevalent among Americans under 30 than among those who are older, and is as common among these young people as the use of conventional cigarettes,” Gallup wrote in 2018. “Because young people have become much less likely to smoke in recent years, it’s possible that vaping is functioning as a substitute, which, if true, may have positive health implications.”
Vaping vs Smoking
So is vaping safer than smoking? Research indicates that it is. According to the NHS, e-cigs are at least 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes. That’s because, while they contain nicotine, e-cigs are free of tobacco, tar, carbon monoxide, and the thousands of other harmful chemicals present in cigarette smoke.
If you’re someone who has turned to e-cigs as a substitute for cigarettes, it’s crucial that you select the right product and the right level of nicotine. Whether you’re buying off the shelf or making vape juice at home, the amount of nicotine should correspond to the amount you typically ingest through smoking—that way your needs will be fulfilled and you will be less likely to reach for a pack of smokes.
But there is a small issue: e-cigs lag behind traditional cigarettes when it comes to nicotine absorption. A study published in Scientific Reports found that vape devices containing a liquid with 18 mg/ml of nicotine (near the upper limit set by the European Commission) delivered one-third to one-fourth the amount of nicotine that cigarettes deliver.
In terms of nicotine absorption, 35 minutes of vaping was equivalent to 5 minutes of smoking. The good news is that, compared to first generation e-cigs, the newer products delivered 35-72 percent more nicotine. That was in 2014, so it’s safe to assume that today’s devices are even more efficient.
Different devices and nicotine strengths
There are several types of e-cigs. For people requiring heavy doses of nicotine, cigalikes—e-cigs that resemble tobacco cigarettes—aren’t likely to cut it, as they are very limited as to how much nicotine they can deliver. Such people will find more success with rechargeable vape pens or vape mods, particularly ones with high wattage batteries. The more powerful the battery, the more vapor the device will generate; and more vapor means more nicotine.
Take care not to overdo it, however. Too much nicotine can have unpleasant side-effects, from a burning sensation in your throat to more serious things like nausea, dizziness, headache, and dehydration. It is best to begin with a moderate nicotine level (3-6 mg/ml) and adjust up or down from there.
In general, people who smoke less than one pack of cigarettes a day will do well with 6 mg/ml or less of nicotine in their e-cigs. For heavier smokers, vape liquid is available in 12, 18, 24, and sometimes even 36 mg/ml. As a rule of thumb, if you’re still craving cigarettes, you’re not using enough nicotine.