With nearly 3 million people vaping, it is encouraging to know that far fewer people will ultimately succumb to cancer, emphysema, or heart disease that smoking regular cigarettes causes. As the e-cigarette market explodes over the next 5 years, we will see a lot more people that are as happy with making the switch as the current vaping community is. When people are trying to figure out whether or not vaping might be a good cigarette substitute for them, the most common questions that they ask are usually about three things:
- How realistic is the “vaping experience”?
- How will using e cigarettes make them feel?
- How long is the adjustment period?
To make it easier for folks to understand and make the comparison between regular tobacco cigarettes vs electronic cigarettes, I decided to break it all down for you – in a clear and easy to understand way. We will begin by taking a look at how electronic cigarettes compare to real cigarettes in nicotine delivery and experience, and why they are at least worth trying if you haven’t already. Since most folks already know that e-cigarettes will save you a bundle each month, we won’t go into that in this article.
Why the “Lower Levels of Nicotine” Claims are Usually Invalid
With mounting evidence in the medical community that e-cigarettes don’t have all of the associated health risks that smoking has, the research is turning up some interesting information about nicotine delivery with e-cigs. They deliver the nicotine, that much is clear. In fact, some folks that occasionally use real cigarettes, or that smoke very light amounts each day – have even complained of nicotine overdose symptoms if they have used eliquid with too much nicotine in it.
When you are comparing the nicotine levels of electronic cigarettes vs real cigarettes, what matters the most is the cotinine levels in the blood. Many people, including so called “health experts”, often get this flat out wrong when they are making comparisons between the two – and this exposes their fundamental lack of understanding of how nicotine is absorbed, and what levels between e-cigarettes and real cigarettes provide a realistic comparison.
You see, cotinine is a metabolite of nicotine. This means that when the body metabolizes, or breaks down, nicotine – it creates cotinine. Cotinine is the stimulant that remains at elevated levels for up to a week in the bloodstream after taking in nicotine, and is what drug tests detect if you are applying for a job where you have to be tested for smoking. It is also what makes you more alert after smoking, and is even being tested as a brain-enhancing drug.
Nicotine is metabolized and stays in the bloodstream for much shorter periods of time than cotinine. This is because it is rapidly broken down – nearly 10 times faster – and this is also the main difference between smoking and vaping. When you smoke, nicotine levels rise and fall within just a couple of hours. If you go to sleep for 7 or 8 hours, blood nicotine levels can fall to nearly zero by the time you wake up. Cotinine levels remain more level than nicotine, since it is broken down much more slowly. When you wake up after not having smoked all night, your cotinine levels are still very high and will remain that way for about a day or two.
This is one of the biggest problems with most of the research studies that have been conducted – many of them are comparing nicotine levels with cotinine levels. The other big problem that makes most of the conclusions invalid is that they are not comparing similar amounts of nicotine being administered in real cigarettes vs electronic cigarettes. In most of the studies, they use a real cigarette with 1mg of nicotine, and an e-cigarette with 16mg of nicotine in the ejuice.
For the studies to be valid and conclusions to be legitimate, they need to compare electronic cigarettes that have at least 36mg of nicotine in the eliquid – to real cigarettes with 1mg of nicotine. This is because the concentrations and absorption rate of nicotine between the two is much different.
How Nicotine Levels in Studies Are Not Comparable Because of Absorption
Let’s take an example, and show you what I mean. In a lot of these “research studies”, they compare 5 minutes of vaping with an e-cigarette that typically has a 16mg to 20mg nicotine cartridge – to a real cigarette that usually has 1mg of nicotine. Someone vaping will normally take 5 or 6 drags a minute, so that is 25 to 30 vapes every 5 minutes.
You have to also consider that when someone is vaping, they absorb the nicotine not only in the lungs like with real cigarettes – but also in the mouth, the throat, and in the lungs. This means that absorption of nicotine with e-cigs will be slower on average than through the lungs with real cigarettes.
A typical vape will use about 2 or 3 mcl of eliquid, so with 30 vapes, you will take in about 90 mcl of eliquid. This equates to about 1.5 mg of nicotine. Now, the nicotine is not all infused into the vapor. Some of it is wasted in the atomizer and is burnt up and not absorbed. The studies show that absorption of nicotine from eliquid is about 40%. So, we have only .6 of the 1.5mg (40%) of nicotine getting to the lungs in vapor.
Given the assumptions above, which are conservative, a true head to head comparison for a real cigarette containing 1mg of nicotine would be an e-cigarette with 36mg eliquid. Since the comparison is using eliquid with less than half of that amount, it is obvious that the electronic cigarette will deliver less than half of the nicotine, and it will also be absorbed slower than a regular cigarette.
What does all of this mean? It means that regular cigarettes provide faster peak levels of nicotine than electronic cigarettes do, but electronic cigarettes provide a more steady dosage over the course of a day.
Comparing Other Elements Of the “Vaping Experience”
Is it really important to smokers – to get the so called “nicotine rush”? I don’t think so. I think that you might get a “nicotine rush” of some sort if you haven’t smoked in a half a day, and then it would be limited to just the first regular cigarette, but I smoked for nearly 20 years and never got a rush on any subsequent smokes. If you need that rush, or maybe you are an ultra-lite smoker that gets that rush more often than once a day or week, e-cigarettes may not be for you.
If you are a heavy smoker, you might need to go with 60mg eliquid, and that should deliver the nicotine you need to curb the cravings and keep you alert throughout the day.
If you are smoking regular cigarettes to feel the burn in your lungs and throat, you will not find that in e-cigarettes.
As far as the other elements of what makes for a good “vaping experience” – I would say that e-cigarettes deliver. You can control how thick the vapor is by using a different base for your eliquid (use propylene glycol for thicker, vegetable glycerin for thinner), and you can even dilute it further if you like. You can control the amount of nicotine – again by using a different eliquid with a different concentration.
The Adjustment Period When You Make The Switch
In general, a smoker should anticipate going through an adjustment period when making the switch to vaping. It really is a different experience using an electronic cigarette vs real cigarette, and usually takes about 4 days to a week to really get comfortable with the different sensation of vaping. It may take an additional week or two to adjust the e-liquid base and nicotine levels to your preferences, so in general, it may take 3 or 4 weeks to fully adjust if you have been a long-time tobacco smoker.
If you have been smoking for longer than 5 years, you may feel lethargic during this “adjustment period”, as you try different nicotine concentrations and vapor e-liquid bases. You may even want to make the switch by alternating between vaping and smoking several times each day, to get those nicotine spikes during key times of the day. I did this myself, and started to make the switch by vaping every 4th time I reached for a puff. I simply had to have the nicotine spikes in the morning and after lunch each day, or I could not function at my highest levels at work.
I was able to taper successfully to vaping only over the course of 4 weeks, and within another 2 or 3 weeks, felt like I coughed up a lung – so much tar and phlegm came up. After that change, I can breathe so much better now, and don’t have the regular coughing fits throughout the week like I used to.