Characterisation of mainstream and passive vapours emitted by selected electronic cigarettes

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2015 Jan;218(1):169-80. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2014.10.001. Epub 2014 Oct 13.


Electronic cigarettes have achieved growing popularity since their introduction onto the European market. They are promoted by manufacturers as healthier alternatives to tobacco cigarettes, however debate among scientists and public health experts about their possible impact on health and indoor air quality means further research into the product is required to ensure decisions of policymakers, health care providers and consumers are based on sound science. This study investigated and characterised the impact of 'vaping' (using electronic cigarettes) on indoor environments under controlled conditions using a 30m(3) emission chamber. The study determined the composition of e-cigarette mainstream vapour in terms of propylene glycol, glycerol, carbonyls and nicotine emissions using a smoking machine with adapted smoking parameters. Two different base recipes for refill liquids, with three different amounts of nicotine each, were tested using two models of e-cigarettes. Refill liquids were analysed on their content of propylene glycol, glycerol, nicotine and qualitatively on their principal flavourings. Possible health effects of e-cigarette use are not discussed in this work. Electronic cigarettes tested in this study proved to be sources for propylene glycol, glycerol, nicotine, carbonyls and aerosol particulates. The extent of exposure differs significantly for active and passive 'vapers' (users of electronic cigarettes). Extrapolating from the average amounts of propylene glycol and glycerol condensed on the smoking machine filter pad to the resulting lung-concentration, estimated lung concentrations of 160 and 220mgm(-3) for propylene glycol and glycerol were obtained, respectively. Vaping refill liquids with nicotine concentrations of 9mgmL(-1) led to vapour condensate nicotine amounts comparable to those of low-nicotine regular cigarettes (0.15-0.2mg). In chamber studies, peak concentrations of 2200μgm(-3) for propylene glycol, 136μgm(-3) for glycerol and 0.6μgm(-3) for nicotine were reached. Carbonyls were not detected above the detection limits in chamber studies. Particles in the size range of 20nm to 300nm constantly increased during vaping activity and reached final peak concentrations of 7×10(6)particlesL(-1). Moreover, the tested products showed design flaws such as leakages from the cartridge reservoirs. Possible long term effects of e-cigarettes on health are not yet known. E-cigarettes, the impact of vaping on health and the composition of refill liquids require therefore further research into the product characteristics. The consumers would benefit from harmonised quality and safety improvements of e-cigarettes and refill liquids.

Keywords: Electronic cigarettes; Mainstream vapour; Passive vaping; Refill liquids.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Glycerol / analysis
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / analysis
  • Propylene Glycol / analysis


  • Air Pollutants
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Nicotine
  • Glycerol