Less nicotine may be more harmful for vapers

Posted by DrMendelsohn on 25 July, 2017

e-juice 4 single.jpgA study published this week found that lowering the nicotine level in e-liquid can increase the toxins in the vapour.

Smokers and vapers regulate (titrate) their smoking/vaping habit to deliver just the right amount of nicotine. When less nicotine is available, users puff more intensely to get the dose of nicotine they need.

This is why switching to a ‘light’ cigarette may not reduce harm as smokers puff more intensively – more puffs, longer and deeper puffs – to extract the desired amount of nicotine (compensatory puffing). However, this also increases the intake of tars, carbon monoxide and other toxins.

When vapers switch from a high nicotine e-liquid to a lower concentration eg from 24 to 6mg/ml, previous studies have demonstrated that they puff more intensely, having more puffs, inhale more deeply and use considerably more e-liquid.

More intense puffing can lead to overheating of the atomiser coil and increase the production of carbonyls in the aerosol. Carbonyls are chemicals that are present in tobacco smoke which can cause cancer and cardiovascular disease. They include formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acetone. The authors stress that the levels from vaping were still much lower than those in tobacco smoke.

This study found that when nicotine concentration is reduced from 24mg/ml to 6mg/ml, more carbonyls are produced.

What does this mean for you?

If you reduce the concentration of nicotine when vaping without going on to quit, you may unconsciously puff more intensely and increase the carbonyls (and perhaps other toxins) in the aerosol.

On the other hand, if you are reducing slowly as a way of quitting, there may be temporary increases at each new level, but the overall benefit from quitting will far outweigh any risk.

If in doubt, it is better to have a higher strength nicotine e-liquid as puffing on a weaker solution may increase your toxin intake. You will also use less juice.

Senate Inquiry into vaping

A Senate Inquiry is currently considering a Bill to exempt low concentrations of nicotine (<20mg/ml) for legal use in vaping. The authors of this study argue that this encouraging lower nicotine containing liquid may have the unintended consequence of increasing carbonyl levels in vapur through compensatory puffing.

If you are making a submission to the Inquiry, you may wish to suggest a higher limit on the concentration of nicotine available for vaping. Some devices use up to 50mg/ml nicotine.


Kosmider L et al. Compensatory puffing with lower nicotine concentration e-liquids increases carbonyl exposure in e-cigarette aerosols. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. July 2017

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