One question new vapers always seem to have is “How fast should I cut down my nicotine levels?” The correct answer to that is that there’s no very good reason why you should bother. Nicotine, at the levels you’ll get from vaping, simply isn’t anything to worry about. If giving up nicotine is something you want to do then it’s easy to get advice on how to taper it down slowly, but if you simply want an alternative to smoking and nicotine doesn’t bother you, there’s no need to reduce your levels.

That’s the theory anyway. The reality is that, if you like to try all the latest premium e-liquids, you’re probably going to have to cut down your nicotine level whether you want to or not. A lot of the most popular juices don’t come in high strengths any more. It used to be that just about every e-liquid was available in the whole range from zero nic up to 24mg/ml; now, many of them don’t offer any higher than 6mg – and some only go up to 3.

Shoreditch e-liquid nicotine strength
Shoreditch Holborn Hero E-Liquid

What’s behind the trend?

Of course we can blame the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive for the disappearance of 24mg/ml; the highest it’s legal to sell is now 20mg, and most manufacturers stick to 18mg just to be on the safe side. The trend towards very low levels has nothing to do with bad laws, though; it’s all the industry’s fault.

A few years ago almost everyone who vaped just wanted something that would replace cigarettes, but recently cloud-chasing, dripping and other forms of sub-ohm vaping have become a lot more mainstream. That’s pushed up the demand for low-nicotine e-liquids, and the result is that higher strengths are being neglected.

Sub-ohm gear can throw out a lot more vapour than most of the setups people were vaping a couple of years ago. If you’re creating more vapour you obviously get through much more e-liquid, too. If you’re vaping an eGo and CE4 a 10ml bottle might last you close to a week, but with a sub-ohm tank on a high-powered mod it’s easy to run through that much in a day.

Shoreditch e-liquid
Shoreditch e-liquid is available in 4 different nicotine strengths and zero nicotine.

Getting the balance right

One of the things about vaping that makes it such a good substitute for smoking is the way you can tailor your nicotine intake. All you need to do is adjust either the strength you’re vaping or the amount you use until you hit your personal sweet spot. So, if you go from vaping 2ml a day to five times that, all you have to do is switch to a lower-strength e-liquid and you’re still getting as much nicotine.

At least that’s the theory. In practice, it’s only partly true. Replacing smoking isn’t as simple as just getting the same amount of nicotine; if it was, patches and gum would work. What makes vaping so effective is that it doesn’t just give you the nicotine; it also recreates the other sensations of smoking. Doing something with your hands is an important part of it; so is the act of inhaling and exhaling. And, of course, there’s the throat hit that mimics the effects of smoke.

The problem is that modern vape gear works best with high-VG e-liquids, and VG is very bad at producing throat hit. PG gives a much better effect, but high-PG juices don’t work so well in sub-ohm tanks; they’re thinner, and a lot more prone to leaking. So, if you can’t use PG to give a decent throat hit, the only other way to achieve it is nicotine – and that only works if you can get a reasonably high level. For most vapers who aren’t running insane cloud setups, 3mg just isn’t going to do the job.

What’s the best seller?

Market research shows that the top-selling nicotine strength is 18mg/ml; you won’t get that impression if you just talk to cloud chasers and sub-ohm fans, but that’s what sales figures say. The fact is, most vapers aren’t running extreme sub-ohm cloud gear; the most common setup is still an eGo battery with a CE4 on it, and that isn’t going to be very satisfying with a tankful of 3mg juice.

Even among vapers who do use sub-ohm gear there are still plenty who prefer stronger e-liquids. If you don’t want to be vaping constantly while you work, filling the tank with 12 or 18mg is a great solution – a couple of puffs every few minutes will do the job. There are people who vape 24mg at 50 watts, and even if that seems a bit weird they’re quite happy with it.

If you make e-liquid and the strongest you do is 6mg, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of your potential market – at least half, and probably more like three-quarters. That’s how many vapers are looking for a higher strength, and if you don’t sell it they’re going to look for someone who does.

Shoreditch e-liquid

Bad news for smokers

There’s a more serious issue with the low-nicotine trend, too. If there’s one thing everyone agrees on, it’s that people who’ve recently switched from lit tobacco need a high-nicotine e-liquid to get started with. Until you’re used to using an e-cigarette it’s basically impossible to get a satisfying vape with a low strength. If smokers try vaping and it doesn’t satisfy them they’re going to go straight back to cigarettes, which is a bit annoying – because it’s completely unnecessary.