Tapering Down: How to Wean Yourself Off Nicotine Successfully
- 24 Feb, 2021
Last fact-checked 24 February 2021 | Report a factual error in this article
Every year, thousands of us start vaping nicotine-infused e-liquids as a tool to quit smoking. But what do vapers do when it’s time to quit nicotine? How do you break your nicotine addiction on a vape device without relapsing back to cigarettes?
In this vaper-friendly guide to weaning yourself safely off nicotine, we’ll walk you through the tried-and-tested approaches to tapering down your nicotine dosage safely and successfully. We’ll share the official weaning instructions of other NRT tools (like nicotine patches and gum), and we’ll give you some tips on how to make your nicotine weaning process as comfortable as possible.
There’s not a lot of advice out there on how to quit nicotine in vape form yet, but thankfully, Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) has existed in other forms since the 1970s footnote 1. We can see how long the experts say it should take to wean off nicotine by looking at the instructions for nicotine gums, patches and lozenges.
You should expect it to take around 3 months to wean yourself off nicotine successfully. To prepare for this article, we read the patient leaflet of every single NRT medicine approved for use in the UK (patches, sprays, gums and inhalers) footnote 2. Some medicines don’t give any weaning instructions at all, but those that do all expect it to take a minimum of around 3 months. There isn’t a single NRT medicine in the UK that promises a weaning period of less than 10 weeks. footnote 3
When it comes to the actual process of tapering off nicotine, you can tackle it in one of two ways. You can either follow a structured three-step weaning plan, which typically takes 10-12 weeks, or you can gradually taper off your nicotine consumption, which takes at least 3 months.
Using nicotine patches, it takes between 10 and 12 weeks to wean yourself off nicotine. Every nicotine patch brand is slightly different, but they all work in basically the same way: the patch gives you a consistent dose of nicotine throughout the day, then you wean yourself off the patches by applying progressively weaker strengths as the weeks go by:
- Step 1: A ‘full strength’ patch for 4-8 weeks, depending on the brand
- Step 2: A ‘two-thirds strength’ patch for the next 2-4 weeks
- Step 3: A ‘one-third strength’ patch for the final 2-4 weeks
This three-step approach to nicotine weaning is best if you’re already mixing your own shortfill. You don’t have to change the way you vape or count the number of puffs you take every day. All you have to do is mix a progressively weaker nicotine strength (about 33% weaker than where you started) roughly every 4 weeks until you’re down to a 0mg/ml nicotine strength.
Most of the nicotine sprays, inhalers, gums and lozenges on the UK market give little or no advice on how long the weaning process should take. Any gums or lozenges that do give a timeline say that you should use the product for a full 3 month period before you start reducing your consumption, then talk to your doctor if you’re still using the nicotine gum / lozenge after 9 months footnote 4.
We’re not so sure about the safety of trying to wean yourself off nicotine in such a gradual, organic way when you’re using a vape device. It’s easy to count the number of gums or lozenges you consume in a day, but it’s much harder to count the number of times you took a quick puff on your vape. If you want to wean off nicotine in an ad-hoc way like this, consider buying a vape device with a built-in vape counter. Vape counters track the number of puffs you take each day so that you can monitor and control your own nicotine weaning progress.
Nicotine patches give us vapers a great template for how to wean off nicotine in 12 weeks or less. The chart below shows the precise doses and timings for all 3 brands of nicotine patch on the UK market footnote 5:
- NiQuitin Patches: 21mg for 6 weeks, then 14mg for 2 weeks, then 7mg for 2 weeks
- Nicorette Patches: 25mg for 8 weeks, then 15mg for 2 weeks, then 10mg for 2 weeks
- Nicotinell Patches: 30mg for 3-4 weeks, then 20mg for 3-4 weeks, then 10mg for 3-4 weeks
Safety Note: The precise milligram strengths shown above are for nicotine patches and should not be matched in vape form.
Nicotine patches work in a completely different way to nicotine inhaled through a vape device.
Based on the weaning instructions above, if you were to vape your normal ‘full strength’ e-liquid for a month, then drop down to ‘two-thirds strength’ the next month, then ‘one-third strength’ the month after that, you could be completely free of your nicotine addiction by the start of month four.
How to taper your nicotine vape strength safely
You should check with your doctor to make sure this will work for you, but as a rough guide...
- A 6 mg/ml nicotine vaper needs to reduce their nicotine strength by 2 mg/ml per month for 3 months
- A 3 mg/ml vaper needs to reduce by 1 mg/ml per month for 3 months
- A 1.5 mg/ml vaper needs to reduce by 0.5 mg/ml per month for 3 months
It doesn’t really matter which type of nicotine booster you use when you’re quitting nicotine — all that matters is that you don’t switch forms half-way through the weaning process. Just pick one form of nicotine booster and stick with it for the whole 3 month period.
Nicotine salts are a more effective way for your body to ‘get’ nicotine (see our nic salts article), so if you’re used to a 3mg/ml strength freebase nicotine booster and you suddenly switch to a 3mg/ml salt nic booster, your body will be getting more nicotine than it expects, even though the strength on the bottle is technically the same.
The same rule applies if you’re already using salt nic and you switch to freebase nicotine. Your withdrawal symptoms will be much stronger than they need to be when you reduce your dose and you’ll run the risk of relapsing.
The good news is that, if you’re tapering down using an unflavoured nicotine booster, the flavour of your e-liquid will improve as your weaning journey progresses. With less booster diluting your shortfill, the rich flavours of your e-liquid will come through more clearly. Your vaping experience will actually get better as you become less addicted — it’s a win-win!
Everyone’s quitting journey is different, but no matter who you are or what stage you are at there are 5 common-sense steps that you should take to improve your chances of quitting nicotine successfully.
- Quit cigarettes first. This is so important. If you are still smoking every now and then, or if you have only recently switched from cigarettes to vaping, don’t try cutting your vape’s nicotine dosage yet. As soon as you start reducing your nicotine dosage, you’re going to experience withdrawal symptoms, and the last thing you want to do is be tempted to relapse and pick up another cigarette.
- Talk to your doctor. Nicotine is a very addictive substance, so it’s worth seeking expert medical advice at the start of your quitting journey. We’ve researched this article carefully, but only your doctor can tell you what to do when it comes to a health-related issue like dealing with a nicotine addiction. Your doctor knows your unique medical circumstances better than anyone, and they can help you come up with a winning quit strategy — all you have to do is ask.
- Tell friends and family. Quitting anything addictive is hard, and you need support. Even though you’re tapering off your nicotine consumption rather than going ‘cold turkey’, you’re still going to experience some withdrawal symptoms. Talk to your loved ones and explain what you’re planning to do. That way, you can count on the support of the people closest to you when you hit a tough day.
- Get the right kit. You’ll need some empty unicorn bottles to mix progressively weaker e-liquids if you’re following a structured three-part weaning plan. You may also want to invest in a vape device with a built-in vape counter, especially if you’re planning to wean yourself off in an ad-hoc way.
- Take your time. Based on all of the medical research and expert advice out there, quitting nicotine is a process that takes about 3 months. There are no shortcuts. Follow a gradual, structured quit plan and take each day as it comes — it’s the only way to break free of your nicotine dependency.
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can be unbearable if you try to quit ‘cold turkey’. The good news is — by weaning off nicotine slowly — the nicotine withdrawal symptoms become easier to manage. You’ll still need to watch out for withdrawal symptoms when you’re tapering down your nicotine dosage. Symptoms to watch out for include: footnote 6
- A strong desire to vape more than usual
- Restlessness and irritability
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
If you feel this way when tapering down, try to remember that this is a temporary feeling. Your nicotine withdrawal symptoms should be gone forever in 3 months’ time if you just stick to your plan.
If you still have some cravings even after you’ve vaped, coping strategies include drinking a glass of water, distracting yourself, getting outside for a walk and hunting down a healthy snack. The NHS website has some great advice on coping with cravings at the link below:
If the cravings become unbearable, then talk to your doctor. Explain what you’ve been trying to do and what stage you’re at in the weaning process. Your doctor may recommend a different weaning schedule based on your unique physiology (and may even recommend adding another NRT product).
If you’re ready to quit nicotine on your vape, then you’ve probably already quit cigarettes. That’s something to be very proud of. Just remember that, when you feel a few withdrawal pangs over the coming three months, the worst part of the quitting process is over. You have already stopped smoking. Just stick to your quit plan, take it one day at a time, and you’ll be free of your nicotine addiction before you know it.
Stay safe and happy vaping!
- John Boughey
Links & Citations
Nicotine replacement therapy was invented in the 1970s by a Swedish scientist named Ove Fernö. His research paper, titled, “A substitute for tobacco smoking”, can be read at the link below:
We used the UK’s e medicines compendium (emc) website to get our list of every NRT medicine available in the UK today. We used the SmPC (Summary of Product Characteristics — it’s a version of a medicine’s patient leaflet written for medical professionals) to get advice on weaning timelines. You can see a full list of the medicines we researched for this article at the link below:
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) say that “the duration of treatment with NRT is 8–12 weeks (depending on which form of NRT is used and which dose is initiated)”, but we couldn’t find a single NRT medicine where it takes just 8 weeks to finish the course. The NICE’s web page on Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) can be found at the link below:
Some examples of NRT products that recommend three months of constant use prior to starting your weaning can be found below:
- “After three months, the user should gradually cut down the number of pieces chewed each day until they have stopped using the product.” - Nicotinell Gum
- “...up to three months of treatment is recommended. The nicotine dose should then be gradually reduced, by decreasing the total number of tablets used per day.” - Nicorette Microtab Lozenge
The SmPC documents (Summary of Product Characteristics) and dosage timelines for Nicorette, Nicotinell and NiQuitin patches can be found at the links below:
“You may still have the urge to smoke or feel a bit restless, irritable, frustrated or tired. Some people find it difficult to sleep or concentrate. Remember the symptoms will pass and there are lots of things you can do to manage them in the meantime.” - this advice from the British Lung Foundation talks about quitting smoking rather than quitting nicotine, but the symptoms are the same. Read more at the link below: