Real-Time Measurement of Electronic Cigarette Aerosol Size Distribution and Metals Content Analysis

Nicotine Tob Res. 2016 Sep;18(9):1895-1902. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntw128. Epub 2016 May 4.


Introduction: Electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use is increasing worldwide and is highest among both daily and nondaily smokers. E-cigarettes are perceived as a healthier alternative to combustible tobacco products, but their health risk factors have not yet been established, and one of them is lack of data on aerosol size generated by e-cigarettes.

Methods: We applied a real-time, high-resolution aerosol differential mobility spectrometer to monitor the evolution of aerosol size and concentration during puff development. Particles generated by e-cigarettes were immediately delivered for analysis with minimal dilution and therefore with minimal sample distortion, which is critically important given the highly dynamic aerosol/vapor mixture inherent to e-cigarette emissions.

Results: E-cigarette aerosols normally exhibit a bimodal particle size distribution: nanoparticles (11-25nm count median diameter) and submicron particles (96-175nm count median diameter). Each mode has comparable number concentrations (10(7)-10(8) particles/cm(3)). "Dry puff" tests conducted with no e-cigarette liquid (e-liquid) present in the e-cigarette tank demonstrated that under these conditions only nanoparticles were generated. Analysis of the bulk aerosol collected on the filter showed that e-cigarette emissions contained a variety of metals.

Conclusions: E-cigarette aerosol size distribution is different from that of combustible tobacco smoke. E-cigarettes generate high concentrations of nanoparticles and their chemical content requires further investigation. Despite the small mass of nanoparticles, their toxicological impact could be significant. Toxic chemicals that are attached to the small nanoparticles may have greater adverse health effects than when attached to larger submicron particles.

Implications: The e-cigarette aerosol size distribution is different from that of combustible tobacco smoke and typically exhibits a bimodal behavior with comparable number concentrations of nanoparticles and submicron particles. While vaping the e-cigarette, along with submicron particles the user is also inhaling nano-aerosol that consists of nanoparticles with attached chemicals that has not been fully investigated. The presence of high concentrations of nanoparticles requires nanotoxicological consideration in order to assess the potential health impact of e-cigarettes. The toxicological impact of inhaled nanoparticles could be significant, though not necessarily similar to the biomarkers typical of combustible tobacco smoke.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols / analysis*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Flavoring Agents / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis*
  • Nanoparticles
  • Nicotine / analysis*
  • Particle Size


  • Aerosols
  • Flavoring Agents
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Nicotine