Chemical hazards present in liquids and vapors of electronic cigarettes

Arch Toxicol. 2014 Jul;88(7):1295-308. doi: 10.1007/s00204-014-1294-7. Epub 2014 Jun 11.


Electronic (e-)cigarettes have emerged in recent years as putative alternative to conventional tobacco cigarettes. These products do not contain typical carcinogens that are present in tobacco smoke, due to the lack of combustion. However, besides nicotine, hazards can also arise from other constituents of liquids, such as solvents, flavors, additives and contaminants. In this study, we have analyzed 28 liquids of seven manufacturers purchased in Germany. We confirm the presence of a wide range of flavors to enhance palatability. Although glycerol and propylene glycol were detected in all samples, these solvents had been replaced by ethylene glycol as dominant compound in five products. Ethylene glycol is associated with markedly enhanced toxicological hazards when compared to conventionally used glycerol and propylene glycol. Additional additives, such as coumarin and acetamide, that raise concerns for human health were detected in certain samples. Ten out of 28 products had been declared "free-of-nicotine" by the manufacturer. Among these ten, seven liquids were identified containing nicotine in the range of 0.1-15 µg/ml. This suggests that "carry over" of ingredients may occur during the production of cartridges. We have further analyzed the formation of carbonylic compounds in one widely distributed nicotine-free brand. Significant amounts of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and propionaldehyde were only found at 150 °C by headspace GC-MS analysis. In addition, an enhanced formation of aldehydes was found in defined puff fractions, using an adopted machine smoking protocol. However, this effect was delayed and only observed during the last third of the smoking procedure. In the emissions of these fractions, which represent up to 40 % of total vapor volume, similar levels of formaldehyde were detected when compared to conventional tobacco cigarettes. By contrast, carbonylic compounds were hardly detectable in earlier collected fractions. Our data demonstrate the necessity of standardized machine smoking protocols to reliably address putative risks of e-cigarettes for consumers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems* / adverse effects
  • Ethylene Glycol / chemistry
  • Flavoring Agents / chemistry*
  • Formaldehyde / chemistry
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / chemistry
  • Solvents / chemistry*


  • Flavoring Agents
  • Solvents
  • Formaldehyde
  • Nicotine
  • Ethylene Glycol