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Nicotine and Carbonyl Emissions From Popular Electronic Cigarette Products

Nicotine and Carbonyl Emissions From Popular Electronic Cigarette Products: Correlation to Liquid Composition and Design Characteristics

Ahmad EL-Hellani, PhD Rola Salman, BS Rachel El-Hage, MS Soha Talih, PhD Nathalie Malek, MS Rima Baalbaki, MS Nareg Karaoghlanian, BE Rima Nakkash, PhD Alan Shihadeh, ScD Najat A. Saliba, PhD



Available in hundreds of device designs and thousands of flavors, electronic cigarette (ECIG) may have differing toxicant emission characteristics. This study assesses nicotine and carbonyl yields in the most popular brands in the U.S. market. These products included disposable, prefilled cartridge, and tank-based ECIGs.


Twenty-seven ECIG products of 10 brands were procured and their power outputs were measured. The e-liquids were characterized for pH, nicotine concentration, propylene glycol/vegetable glycerin (PG/VG) ratio, and water content. Aerosols were generated using a puffing machine and nicotine and carbonyls were, respectively, quantified using gas chromatograph and high-performance liquid chromatography. A multiregression model was used to interpret the data.


Nicotine yields varied from 0.27 to 2.91 mg/15 puffs, a range corresponding to the nicotine yield of less than 1 to more than 3 combustible cigarettes. Nicotine yield was highly correlated with ECIG type and brand, liquid nicotine concentration, and PG/VG ratio, and to a lower significance with electrical power, but not with pH and water content. Carbonyls, including the carcinogen formaldehyde, were detected in all ECIG aerosols, with total carbonyl concentrations ranging from 3.72 to 48.85 µg/15 puffs.

Unlike nicotine, carbonyl concentrations were mainly correlated with power.


In 15 puffs, some ECIG devices emit nicotine quantities that exceed those of tobacco cigarettes. Nicotine emissions vary widely across products but carbonyl emissions showed little variations. In spite of that ECIG users are exposed to toxicologically significant levels of carbonyl compounds, especially formaldehyde. Regression analysis showed the importance of design and e-liquid characteristics as determinants of nicotine and carbonyl emissions.


Periodic surveying of characteristics of ECIG products available in the marketplace is valuable for understanding population-wide changes in ECIG use patterns over time.

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