A young woman blowing smoke into the air from an electronic cigarette that likely contains nicotine. Share on Pinterest

Nicotine is a stimulant that’s found in almost all tobacco products as well as e-cigarettes. It’s well known for the effects it can have on your brain, which is what makes smoking or vaping so addictive.

In this article, we’ll take a look at just how much nicotine is in the average cigarette, as well as in other tobacco or vaping products. We’ll also explain how nicotine works and why this stimulant makes it so hard to kick a smoking habit.

  • The nicotine content in a cigarette can vary greatly from one brand to the next.
  • On the low end, a single cigarette may contain about 6 milligrams (mg) of nicotine. On the high end, about 28 mg.
  • The average cigarette contains about 10 to 12 mg of nicotine.
  • You don’t inhale every milligram of nicotine as it burns. You’ll probably inhale about 1.1 to 1.8 mg of nicotine by the end of each cigarette.
  • This means that for a pack of 20 cigarettes, you’ll likely inhale between 22 to 36 mg of nicotine.

Your body absorbs nicotine very quickly. Once you inhale, the nicotine goes from your lungs into your bloodstream and right to your brain in a matter of seconds.

Nicotine isn’t the only ingredient in a cigarette. In fact, according to the American Lung Association, the average unlit cigarette can contain up to 600 different substances.

As it burns, though, a cigarette may produce 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of them have been linked to cancer.

Here are just a few of the chemicals and substances you’ll find in the average cigarette:

  • Acetone. It’s a relative of propane that’s a common ingredient in nail polish remover.
  • Ammonia. This compound comprises nitrogen and hydrogen. It’s used in many cleaning supplies.
  • Arsenic. A naturally occurring chemical, it’s used in many bug killers and weed killers.
  • Benzene. This compound is used in fuels. It’s known to cause cancer.
  • Butane. A flammable compound, it’s found in crude oil and is commonly used to light fires.
  • Carbon monoxide. It’s an odorless gas also found in car exhaust fumes that’s toxic at high levels.
  • Formaldehyde. Commonly used as an industrial germicide and fungicide, it’s been directly linked to cancer.
  • Lead. This toxic chemical is known for its damaging effects on the brain and nervous system, especially in children.
  • Tar. This is a thick liquid produced from burning carbon-based matter. It’s often used to pave roads.

Here’s how much nicotine, on average, is typically found in other tobacco products.

ProductAmount of nicotine (average)
Cigar13.3–15.4 mg (large cigars)
E-cigarette0.5–15.4 mg (15 puffs)
Pipe (tobacco)30.08–50.89 mg
Chewing tobacco144 mg (whole can)
Hookah1.04 mg (per puff)

Not many people realize that e-cigarettes, like JUUL, also contain nicotine. Nicotine levels in e-cigarettes can vary greatly from one brand to the next.

Your brain is a hive of activity with billions of neurons processing, storing, and sending information all the time.

The way that messages get from one neuron to another is through special chemical messengers the neurons produce, called neurotransmitters.

Nicotine is shaped similarly to a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. It can mimic it when you absorb nicotine into your body. This can cause signaling activity in your brain to increase when you smoke, making you feel more energized.

Over time, the neurons in your brain start to compensate for this increased activity by making fewer acetylcholine receptors. When you stop smoking and your nicotine levels go down, your body craves it because your brain isn’t making enough acetylcholine on its own.

Nicotine also has the ability to mimic dopamine. This “feel-good” chemical is released when you’re in rewarding situations.

Basically, to sum it all up, nicotine alters the chemical functions in your brain. This is what concerns public health organizations and the medical community alike.

Beyond being a potentially addictive substance and changing your brain chemistry, nicotine can affect your health in many different ways. Some other health effects of nicotine include:

  • constricted blood vessels, which restricts the flow of blood throughout your body and may cause damage to your blood vessels
  • higher blood pressure from constricted blood vessels
  • increased risk of stroke and heart attack from higher blood pressure and damaged blood vessels
  • increased risk of lung diseases, such as COPD and chronic bronchitis due to damage to lung tissue and airways
  • DNA damage throughout your body that can increase the risk of many cancers, including cancer of the lungs, mouth, throat, bladder, kidneys, and cervix, as well as the blood (leukemia)
  • persistent coughing from damage to the airways
  • hearing loss from lack of blood flow to the ear
  • vision loss and an increased risk of eye problems, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts
  • loss of skin elasticity due to reduced blood flow, which can cause skin to age prematurely
  • increased risk of miscarriage for pregnant women and a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in newborns whose mother’s smoked

Nicotine is an addictive stimulant that’s found in cigarettes, cigars, and most vaping products.

Different products have different levels of nicotine. The average amount of nicotine in a single cigarette is around 10 to 12 mg. This can vary widely from one brand to the next.

Besides nicotine, cigarettes contain hundreds of other substances, many of which can be harmful to your health. While e-cigarettes contain a lower number of harmful substances, they still contain chemicals that have been associated with cancer.

Quitting smoking or vaping can be hard due to the addictive effects of nicotine, but it’s not impossible. Reach out to your doctor for help. They can put together a quit plan for you and help you stay quit for good.