Free-Base and Protonated Nicotine in Electronic Cigarette Liquids and Aerosols

Chem Res Toxicol. 2015 Aug 17;28(8):1532-7. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.5b00107. Epub 2015 Jul 22.


As with other tobacco aerosols, nicotine delivery from e-cigarettes (ECIG) depends on the total nicotine and its partitioning between free-base (Nic) and protonated (NicH(+)) forms. Previous studies of ECIG nicotine emissions have generally reported "nicotine yield" without attention to whether the methods employed resulted in quantification of the total nicotine or only one of its forms, making reported results difficult to compare across studies or to evaluate against reported blood exposure. This study reports a convenient solvent extraction method for determining total nicotine and its partitioning in ECIG liquids and aerosols by gas chromatography. Commercial ECIG liquids and aerosols were analyzed, and it was found that most of the nicotine was in the Nic form, with aerosols exhibiting higher Nic fraction than the parent liquids. Apparent pH was found to correlate with nicotine partitioning and can provide a useful indirect measure when chromatography is unavailable. Finally, labeled ECIG liquid nicotine concentration in commercial products was often inconsistent with measured nicotine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols / chemistry*
  • Chemistry Techniques, Analytical
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Nicotine / analysis*
  • Protons
  • Solvents / chemistry


  • Aerosols
  • Protons
  • Solvents
  • Nicotine