When vapers ask how much nicotine is in a cigarette, it’s often because they’re trying to calculate what nicotine strength 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. We’re a vaping publication, and most of 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 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 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 Professor 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 decide ourselves how much we take in—by smoking more or less, faster or slower, and with greater or lesser frequency. 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: