Nicotine levels and presence of selected tobacco-derived toxins in tobacco flavoured electronic cigarette refill liquids

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 Mar 24;12(4):3439-52. doi: 10.3390/ijerph120403439.


Background: Some electronic cigarette (EC) liquids of tobacco flavour contain extracts of cured tobacco leaves produced by a process of solvent extraction and steeping. These are commonly called Natural Extract of Tobacco (NET) liquids. The purpose of the study was to evaluate nicotine levels and the presence of tobacco-derived toxins in tobacco-flavoured conventional and NET liquids.

Methods: Twenty-one samples (10 conventional and 11 NET liquids) were obtained from the US and Greek market. Nicotine levels were measured and compared with labelled values. The levels of tobacco-derived chemicals were compared with literature data on tobacco products.

Results: Twelve samples had nicotine levels within 10% of the labelled value. Inconsistency ranged from -21% to 22.1%, with no difference observed between conventional and NET liquids. Tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) were present in all samples at ng/mL levels. Nitrates were present almost exclusively in NET liquids. Acetaldehyde was present predominantly in conventional liquids while formaldehyde was detected in almost all EC liquids at trace levels. Phenols were present in trace amounts, mostly in NET liquids. Total TSNAs and nitrate, which are derived from the tobacco plant, were present at levels 200-300 times lower in 1 mL of NET liquids compared to 1 gram of tobacco products.

Conclusions: NET liquids contained higher levels of phenols and nitrates, but lower levels of acetaldehyde compared to conventional EC liquids. The lower levels of tobacco-derived toxins found in NET liquids compared to tobacco products indicate that the extraction process used to make these products did not transfer a significant amount of toxins to the NET. Overall, all EC liquids contained far lower (by 2-3 orders of magnitude) levels of the tobacco-derived toxins compared to tobacco products.

MeSH terms

  • Acetaldehyde / analysis
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Formaldehyde / analysis
  • Nicotine / analysis*
  • Nitrates / analysis
  • Nitrosamines / analysis
  • Phenols / analysis
  • Plant Extracts / analysis*
  • Tobacco / chemistry*
  • Tobacco / toxicity


  • Nitrates
  • Nitrosamines
  • Phenols
  • Plant Extracts
  • Formaldehyde
  • Nicotine
  • Acetaldehyde