Carbonyl compounds in electronic cigarette vapors: effects of nicotine solvent and battery output voltage

Nicotine Tob Res. 2014 Oct;16(10):1319-26. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntu078. Epub 2014 May 15.


Introduction: Glycerin (VG) and propylene glycol (PG) are the most common nicotine solvents used in e-cigarettes (ECs). It has been shown that at high temperatures both VG and PG undergo decomposition to low molecular carbonyl compounds, including the carcinogens formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. The aim of this study was to evaluate how various product characteristics, including nicotine solvent and battery output voltage, affect the levels of carbonyls in EC vapor.

Methods: Twelve carbonyl compounds were measured in vapors from 10 commercially available nicotine solutions and from 3 control solutions composed of pure glycerin, pure propylene glycol, or a mixture of both solvents (50:50). EC battery output voltage was gradually modified from 3.2 to 4.8V. Carbonyl compounds were determined using the HPLC/DAD method.

Results: Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde were found in 8 of 13 samples. The amounts of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in vapors from lower voltage EC were on average 13- and 807-fold lower than in tobacco smoke, respectively. The highest levels of carbonyls were observed in vapors generated from PG-based solutions. Increasing voltage from 3.2 to 4.8V resulted in a 4 to more than 200 times increase in formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acetone levels. The levels of formaldehyde in vapors from high-voltage device were in the range of levels reported in tobacco smoke.

Conclusions: Vapors from EC contain toxic and carcinogenic carbonyl compounds. Both solvent and battery output voltage significantly affect levels of carbonyl compounds in EC vapors. High-voltage EC may expose users to high levels of carbonyl compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaldehyde / adverse effects
  • Acetaldehyde / analysis*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / adverse effects*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / standards
  • Formaldehyde / adverse effects
  • Formaldehyde / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / adverse effects
  • Nicotine / analysis*
  • Solvents / adverse effects
  • Solvents / analysis*


  • Solvents
  • Formaldehyde
  • Nicotine
  • Acetaldehyde