Electronic cigarettes and nicotine dependence: evolving products, evolving problems

BMC Med. 2015 May 21:13:119. doi: 10.1186/s12916-015-0355-y.


Electronic cigarettes (ECIGs) use an electric heater to aerosolize a liquid that usually contains propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavorants, and the dependence-producing drug nicotine. ECIG-induced nicotine dependence has become an important concern, as some ECIGs deliver very little nicotine while some may exceed the nicotine delivery profile of a tobacco cigarette. This variability is relevant to tobacco cigarette smokers who try to switch to ECIGs. Products with very low nicotine delivery may not substitute for tobacco cigarettes, so that ECIG use is accompanied by little reduced risk of cigarette-caused disease. Products with very high nicotine delivery may make quitting ECIGs particularly difficult should users decide to try. For non-smokers, the wide variability of ECIGs on the market is especially troublesome: low nicotine products may lead them to initiate nicotine self-administration and progress to higher dosing ECIGs or other products, and those that deliver more nicotine may produce nicotine dependence where it was not otherwise present. External regulatory action, guided by strong science, may be required to ensure that population-level nicotine dependence does not rise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / adverse effects*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / instrumentation*
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage*
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Tobacco Use Disorder*


  • Nicotine