Guide to Finding the Right Nicotine Level: Part One

A man obscured behind his cloud of vape smoke.

When buying e-liquid, you’ll notice that they come in a variety of nicotine strengths. There is a wide range available, from nicotine-free juices to high-strength nicotine salt options. A strength too high for you will leave you coughing and spluttering, while one that’s too weak will leave you unsatisfied—or maybe reaching for the pack of cigarettes. Even if you know the right strength for you, you could get tripped up depending on whether it’s listed as a concentration or a percentage.


Navigating the world of e juices is easier with a bit of sage advice, so we’ve put together this guide to buying e-liquids in NZ. The first step to getting the correct e-juice is knowing what your needs are. Not everyone needs the same nicotine strength—it’s all about finding the right nicotine level for you.

Do you want to go nicotine-free?

The very first question to ask is whether you need nicotine in your e-juice at all. Usually, nicotine-containing juices are for those who are using vaping as a substitute for smoking. The nicotine in e-juices satisfies the cravings that result from quitting cigarettes, much like a nicotine-containing gum or patch would. If you’re not a smoker but are simply looking to take up vaping, you might not need nicotine at all. Pick up a 0% or nicotine-free labelled juice and appreciate how easy it was to find your nicotine level.

What are your goals?

Most vapers will be looking to replace the nicotine from cigarettes with their e-juice, and finding the right nicotine level for you can be tricky. It can help to consider what your vaping goals are. Are you aiming to quit smoking entirely, and slowly phase down the level of nicotine in your juice? Or, are you just looking to cut back on cigarettes and want a strength that is equivalent to that in your smokes?


If you’re looking to phase out your nicotine habit entirely, you’ll want to find your ideal concentration and then choose one slightly lower. This will help you to slowly get used to smaller amounts of nicotine, while still mostly satisfying your cravings. Otherwise, you can simply rock and roll with the concentration you decide on.

How does nicotine work?

In lower concentrations, nicotine causes a pleasant stimulatory effect by mimicking the activity of a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, in the brain. Vaping or smoking too much nicotine causes overstimulation of these acetylcholine systems, causing undesirable side effects such as dizziness, anxiety, and a quickened heart rate.

If you continue to consume nicotine regularly, your brain will adjust to the higher activity in the acetylcholine systems by decreasing the concentration of acetylcholine-type receptors. This is the physiological basis of nicotine addiction. When you remove the nicotine, the remaining native acetylcholine in your brain is not enough to stimulate the lower concentration of receptors.

The long and short of this is that people who smoke more already have a physiological need for more nicotine in their e-juice. So, it’s important to start with where you’re already at with your smoking.

How much nicotine do you already smoke?

The right nicotine level for you depends on how much you already inhale on a daily basis. From brand to brand, the amount of nicotine in a cigarette can vary wildly, but on average one cigarette contains 10-12 mg of the stuff. You only inhale about 10% of that, or 1-1.2 mg per cigarette.

When you vape, the absorption of nicotine into your bloodstream depends on the kind of e-juice you use. Certain kinds of e-juices, like nicotine salts, absorb faster than normal e-juices, so more of the nicotine listed on the bottle will end up in your bloodstream. For regular e-juices, the nicotine absorption is lower than with cigarette smoke, so keep that in mind.

How to navigate the numbers

Most e-juices give their nicotine concentrations in mass per volume measurements, or milligrams per millilitre. To find out the total amount of nicotine in a bottle, simply multiply the mg/mL concentration by the volume of the bottle in mL. So, a 14 mg/mL liquid in a 30mL bottle contains 14 x 30 = 420mg of nicotine total.

Other liquids might give their concentrations in percentages. Converting from a percentage to a mg/mL figure is very easy. Simply multiply the percentage by 10 to give the mg/mL and divide the mg/mL by 10 to give percentage. For example, a 14mg/mL liquid is 1.4% nicotine.


It’s all about your own level

So, there is no universal nicotine level that will always be right for you. Not only are there physiological differences in the brain systems stimulated by nicotine between different people, but everyone’s goals and aims also affect what kind of level you should be looking at. In the second part of this guide, we’ll be going over how to narrow down your choices and actually choose a specific strength.

If you can’t wait to buy yourself premium e-liquid products, contact us and we’ll be happy to help guide your choice.