When vapers ask how much nicotine is in a cigarette, then often because they try to calculate what nicotine concentration they want in E-Liquid. The idea is to mimic the shock 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 contained in a cigarette does not necessarily mean that one is vaping. This is because the type of delivery is very different, and even an equivalent amount of nicotine will not give the same kick when delivered in vape versus a cigarette.
Nicotine is a complex issue. Vaping360 is a nicotine article and our nicotine articles are geared towards vaping, but since most vapers were once smokers and many smokers are looking for low-risk alternatives to cigarettes, we want to investigate all aspects of nicotine use. This is also a rather interesting issue, and if the FDA manages to lower nicotine in cigarettes below the addiction level, it will soon be even more interesting!
So how much nicotine is in a cigarette? It's a simple question, isn't it?
Well, no. There are between 0.65 and 1 gram of tobacco in an average unlit cigarette containing somewhere between 7.5 and 13.4 milligrams of nicotine, according to tests conducted at the Behavioral Endocrinology Laboratory of Penn State University. Newport cigarettes had tested the most nicotine of any American brand, at 13.4 mg per cigarette.
One Marlboro Red contains 10.9 mg nicotine, and the median of all 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 average nicotine content for all brands tested by the CDC was 19.2 mg per gram of tobacco.
This certainly refutes the claim that a JUUL-Pod contains "as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes". A JUUL-Pad contains 41 mg nicotine (0.7 mL X 59 mg/ml), but an average cigarette pack contains 204 mg nicotine (20 cigarettes X 10.2 mg) - and some brands contain considerably more.
But the question should not be how many milligrams of nicotine are in a cigarette, but rather how much nicotine is absorbed by the smoker from a cigarette. It is complicated.
According to Prof. Bernd Mayer from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Karl-Franzens University of Graz (Austria) "Smoking a cigarette leads to an intake of about 2 mg nicotine and results in an average arterial plasma concentration of about 0.03 mg/L (30 ng/ml)". Mayer is a well-known expert on nicotine, but other researchers have slightly different answers. UCLA professor Arthur Brody says that typical "light" cigarettes yield 0.6-1.0 mg and regularly smoke 1.2-1.4 mg per cigarette.
The difference may seem big, but in reality it may not matter. This is because smokers (and vapers) largely control their nicotine intake, and because other factors make up a large part of a cigarette's strong nicotine intake.
Nicotine is nicotine, right?
When we take nicotine, we decide for ourselves how much nicotine we take – by smoking more or less, faster or slower, more or less often. This is called self-titration, and all nicotine users do it.
You know what it feels like to have too much nicotine, don't you? Whether you get the medicine from cigarettes or a vape, the effect is the same:
- Cold sweat
- Racing Heart
- Fearful or nervous
- Ringing ears
But because our body knows when we have enough, we stop or slow it down. For experienced nicotine users, the process is almost unconscious. Self-titration is our brain telling us when our body needs more or less. And these warning signs are what prevent overdose of nicotine. Nobody has an overdose on cigarettes or videos. You would have to keep inhaling while you vomit and worry about splitting headaches!
But getting nicotine from a cigarette is a bit more complicated. Between the tobacco itself and the tobacco companies, cigarettes are built to deliver a charged dose of nicotine to the brain.
Apart from nicotine, cigarettes contain other chemicals that enhance the nicotine release of smoke. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI’s) combine with nicotine to produce a brain enhancing effect that makes users more likely to demand more nicotine.
And tobacco companies have long ago discovered that adding ammonia to cigarette tobacco has produced a form of nicotine that is more desirable and addictive for the consumer. By altering the chemistry of nicotine, the smoker absorbs ammonia, overcharging the nicotine when it hits the brain.
These are all reasons why we cannot simply compare the nicotine content of a cigarette with an equivalent amount of nicotine in E-Liquid or a nicotine patch. Vapes have neither ammonia nor MAOI’s. Therefore, scientists say that nicotine in E-cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products are not as addictive as cigarettes.
How much nicotine is in a cigar?
The CDC research team, which measured the nicotine content per gram of dozens of cigarette brands, also examined cigars. While none of the cigar types tested by the CDC came close to the average nicotine content of cigarettes, large cigars (premium, sometimes hand-rolled) were the closest. Here are the cigar types with the average 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
Small 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 almost as much nicotine as cigarettes probably don't deliver it as effectively to the smoker. Cigar smokers usually don't breathe deeply (or not at all), and cigars aren't treated with ammonia to increase addictive power. This doesn't mean that cigars can't be addictive – but no nicotine release mechanism offers the addictive bang of a cigarette.
In July 2017, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced that the agency would begin research into a plan to reduce nicotine in cigarettes to levels so low that they would not be addictive at all.
The theory is that by eliminating the addictive potential of cigarettes while maintaining nicotine-rich alternatives such as e-cigarettes and NRT products, many smokers would switch to low-risk alternatives. And supporters of the plan say that new smokers would never become dependent on cigarettes.
It is not a new idea. Tobacco control scientists have been discussing the reduction of nicotine in cigarettes since at least 1994, and recently clinical trials have been conducted with so-called very nicotine-poor cigarettes (VLNC’s), sometimes referred to as nicotine-poor cigarettes.
What would prevent a massive black market for 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 implemented by future governments and FDA regulators. And to make it possible, the FDA would have to show that it can enforce the rule. What would prevent a massive black market for nicotine-filled cigarettes?
Finally, Congress could evade pressure from the cigarette industry and amend the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to remove the FDA's authority to change nicotine levels.
But if Gottlieb succeeds in making it – if the FDA is able to eliminate 90 percent or more of nicotine from cigarettes – it would be one of the most significant political and health events in decades.