In vitro particle size distributions in electronic and conventional cigarette aerosols suggest comparable deposition patterns

Nicotine Tob Res. 2013 Feb;15(2):501-8. doi: 10.1093/ntr/nts165. Epub 2012 Oct 4.


Introduction: Electronic cigarette users ("vapers") inhale aerosols of water, nicotine, and propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG). Aerosol particle sizes should affect deposition patterns in vapers and bystanders.

Methods: Aerosols were generated by a smoking machine and an electronic cigarette filled with 16mg/ml nicotine in aqueous PG or VG solution. A scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS) counted particles of 10-1,000 nm diameters. A single puff experiment counted particles immediately and after aging 10 and 40 s. A steady-state experiment counted particles emitted from a collection chamber, untreated and after desiccation or organic vapor removal. The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) human respiratory tract model was used to estimate deposition. Results were compared to similar data from reference cigarettes.

Results: Puffs generated peak particle counts at (VG) 180 nm and (PG) 120 nm. Steady-state peaks occurred around 400 nm. Organic vapor removal eliminated small particles and reduced the size and number of large particles. Desiccation reduced the total volume of particles by 70% (VG, small PG) to 88% (large PG). The ICRP model predicted 7%-18% alveolar delivery; 9%-19% venous delivery, mostly in the head; and 73%-80% losses by exhalation. Reference cigarettes generated more particles initially, but were otherwise similar; however, in vivo smoke particle deposition is higher than the model predicts.

Conclusions: Nicotine delivery may depend on vaping technique, particle evolution, and cloud effects. Predicted 10% arterial and 15% venous delivery may describe bystander exposure better than vapers exposure.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage*
  • Nicotine / pharmacokinetics
  • Particle Size
  • Tobacco*


  • Aerosols
  • Nicotine