Chemical Composition of Aerosol from an E-Cigarette: A Quantitative Comparison with Cigarette Smoke

Chem Res Toxicol. 2016 Oct 17;29(10):1662-1678. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.6b00188. Epub 2016 Sep 18.


There is interest in the relative toxicities of emissions from electronic cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes. Lists of cigarette smoke priority toxicants have been developed to focus regulatory initiatives. However, a comprehensive assessment of e-cigarette chemical emissions including all tobacco smoke Harmful and Potentially Harmful Constituents, and additional toxic species reportedly present in e-cigarette emissions, is lacking. We examined 150 chemical emissions from an e-cigarette (Vype ePen), a reference tobacco cigarette (Ky3R4F), and laboratory air/method blanks. All measurements were conducted by a contract research laboratory using ISO 17025 accredited methods. The data show that it is essential to conduct laboratory air/method measurements when measuring e-cigarette emissions, owing to the combination of low emissions and the associated impact of laboratory background that can lead to false-positive results and overestimates. Of the 150 measurands examined in the e-cigarette aerosol, 104 were not detected and 21 were present due to laboratory background. Of the 25 detected aerosol constituents, 9 were present at levels too low to be quantified and 16 were generated in whole or in part by the e-cigarette. These comprised major e-liquid constituents (nicotine, propylene glycol, and glycerol), recognized impurities in Pharmacopoeia-quality nicotine, and eight thermal decomposition products of propylene glycol or glycerol. By contrast, approximately 100 measurands were detected in mainstream cigarette smoke. Depending on the regulatory list considered and the puffing regime used, the emissions of toxicants identified for regulation were from 82 to >99% lower on a per-puff basis from the e-cigarette compared with those from Ky3R4F. Thus, the aerosol from the e-cigarette is compositionally less complex than cigarette smoke and contains significantly lower levels of toxicants. These data demonstrate that e-cigarettes can be developed that offer the potential for substantially reduced exposure to cigarette toxicants. Further studies are required to establish whether the potential lower consumer exposure to these toxicants will result in tangible public health benefits.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols / analysis
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Smoking*
  • Tobacco Products*


  • Aerosols