E-cigarettes: Impact of E-Liquid Components and Device Characteristics on Nicotine Exposure

Curr Neuropharmacol. 2018;16(4):438-459. doi: 10.2174/1570159X15666171016164430.


Background: Electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use has increased substantially in recent years. While e-cigarettes have been proposed as a potentially effective smoking cessation tool, dualuse in smokers is common and e-cigarettes are widely used by non-smokers, including youth and young-adult non-smokers. Nicotine, the primary addictive component in cigarettes, is present at varying levels in many e-liquids. E-cigarettes may lead to initiation of nicotine use in adult and youth non-smokers, re-initiation of nicotine dependence in ex-smokers or increased severity of nicotine dependence in dual-users of cigarettes and e-cigarettes. As such, there are important clinical and policy implications to understanding factors impacting nicotine exposure from e-cigarettes. However, the broad and rapidly changing range of e-liquid constituents and e-cigarette hardware which could impact nicotine exposure presents a challenge. Recent changes in regulatory oversight of e-cigarettes underscore the importance of synthesizing current knowledge on common factors which may impact nicotine exposure.

Methods: This review focuses on factors which may impact nicotine exposure by changing e-cigarette use behavior, puff topography, altering the nicotine yield (amount of nicotine exiting the e-cigarette mouth piece including nicotine exhaled as vapor) or more directly by altering nicotine absorption and bioavailability.

Results: Topics reviewed include e-liquid components or characteristics including flavor additives (e.g., menthol), base e-liquid ingredients (propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin), components commonly used to dissolve flavorants (e.g., ethanol), and resulting properties of the e-liquid (e.g., pH), e-cigarette device characteristics (e.g., wattage, temperature, model) and user behavior (e.g., puff topography) which may impact nicotine exposure.

Conclusion: E-liquid characteristics and components, e-cigarette hardware and settings, and user behavior can all contribute substantially to nicotine exposure from e-cigarettes.

Keywords: E-cigarette; e-liquid; electronic cigarette; flavor; nicotine; vaping..

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / instrumentation*
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / administration & dosage*
  • Tobacco Smoking / physiopathology


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine