There are many variables you can change to create the perfect vaping experience, but nicotine is the first thing to consider when transitioning from cigarettes. More specifically, should you choose Freebase or Nicotine Salt? And which is the right nicotine strength for you?
It’s important to note that everyone is different and listening to your body is the best way to know if a particular style or strength of nicotine is working effectively. With that said, looking at some commonly used guidelines is a great place to start.
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Many transitioning smokers wonder whether they should use nicotine in their vapes at all. Though eliminating the use of nicotine is the end goal for most new vapers, getting away from the extremely harmful combustion of cigarettes is the most important health benefit of quitting smoking. This transition is much more manageable when using the appropriate amount of nicotine at first.
Freebase nicotine vs. nicotine salt
There are two main categories of nicotine used in vaping, which are made in different ways and produce different effects when inhaled.
Freebase nicotine is the simplest form of nicotine in vaping and was the only option available when vaping first became popular. Freebase nicotine is created by adding ammonia to pure nicotine. This process is required because pure nicotine is not absorbed well by the body. Freebase is still the most commonly used nicotine in vaping.
Freebase nicotine enters the bloodstream more slowly through vapour than you may be used to with cigarettes, delivering the dose over a longer period of time.
Due to the pH level of freebase nicotine, it produces a noticeable sensation on the throat in higher concentrations, which some people enjoy. This can take some getting used to, but most people adjust to the sensation quickly once they have found an appropriate strength.
Nicotine salt (sometimes referred to as salt nicotine, “nic salt” or “salt nic”) is a more recent
innovation in the vaping industry, though it is also found naturally in the tobacco plant. Nicotine salts are available in several formulations, created by adding organic acids to freebase nicotine, which can produce different properties when inhaled.
The most common forms of nicotine salt are nicotine salicylate and nicotine benzoate. Nicotine benzoate was the first nicotine salt to be introduced to the vaping industry, providing more rapid delivery to the bloodstream and a greatly reduced throat sensation when compared with freebase nicotine. Nicotine salicylate is gaining popularity and many users find that it produces even less of a throat sensation than nicotine benzoate.
These properties make nicotine salts excellent for rapidly reducing cravings and can feel quite like the nicotine delivery of a cigarette. The decreased throat sensation means even higher strengths of nicotine salt can provide a “smooth” experience for those who find vaping harsh. As an added bonus, nicotine salt is more chemically stable, which results in longer shelf life.
Which is the right nicotine strength for me?
Nicotine strength in e-liquid is usually expressed in mg/ml or as a percentage. For example, 3mg/ml is considered a low strength, and might also be expressed as 0.3%.
There are two things to consider when choosing a nicotine strength: your device and your smoking habits.
Devices that are set up for mouth-to-lung (MTL) vaping produce small amounts of vapour, so are typically intended to be used with higher-strength nicotine e-liquids. Examples of Innokin MTL devices include the Endura T22 Pro, Endura T18II, GO S and EQ FLTR.
Devices that are set up for direct-to-lung vaping (DL or RDL) produce larger amounts of vapour, so are typically intended to be used with lower-strength nicotine e-liquids. Examples of Innokin DL or RDL devices include the GOMAX, PLEX, and AJAX.
Many Innokin devices can be set up for both MTL and RDL vaping, depending on which coil is chosen.
Examples include the Sensis, Kroma-Z, Sceptre, Zenith and Zlide. Your Innokin device will always indicate which style(s) of vaping it is designed for.
Once you’ve taken your device into account, it’s time to consider your smoking habits and you need to be honest with yourself if you want the best chance of success.
The following is a rough guide to start with.
|Cigarettes smoked per day||MTL nicotine strength mg/ml (%)||RDL/DL nicotine strength mg/ml (%)|
|1-5||6mg/ml (0.6%)||3mg/ml (0.3%)|
|5-10||12mg/ml (1.2%)||6mg/ml (0.6%)|
|10-15||18mg/ml (1.8%)||We recommend MTL devices|
|15+||20mg/ml (2%)||We recommend MTL devices|
These figures are only estimates and everyone has different needs. If you find the vapour too harsh or feel nauseous, you should lower your nicotine level, to a point that it satisfies cravings and feels comfortable. If you find that you are vaping too frequently and don’t feel satisfied, consider increasing your nicotine level.
Even with a good starting point, the best way to find your ideal type of nicotine and nicotine strength is through trial and error. Some heavy smokers may be satisfied by the low concentrations of nicotine, while other light smokers may require a high strength to avoid cigarettes. The main thing is that you stop smoking. The “correct” strength and type of nicotine is the one that allows you to achieve this.
I quit smoking in 2013 through vaping and this opened my eyes to the life changing potential of next-generation nicotine. Since 2016, I've been working in the vapour products industry as a writer and marketer, specialised in consumer culture, product development and industry news.