High concentrations of flavor chemicals are present in electronic cigarette refill fluids

Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 21;9(1):2468. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-39550-2.


We characterized the flavor chemicals in a broad sample of commercially available electronic cigarette (EC) refill fluids that were purchased in four different countries. Flavor chemicals in 277 refill fluids were identified and quantified by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and two commonly used flavor chemicals were tested for cytotoxicity with the MTT assay using human lung fibroblasts and epithelial cells. About 85% of the refill fluids had total flavor concentrations >1 mg/ml, and 37% were >10 mg/ml (1% by weight). Of the 155 flavor chemicals identified in the 277 refill fluids, 50 were present at ≥1 mg/ml in at least one sample and 11 were ≥10 mg/ml in 54 of the refill fluids. Sixty-one% (170 out of 277) of the samples contained nicotine, and of these, 56% had a total flavor chemical/nicotine ratio >2. Four chemicals were present in 50% (menthol, triacetin, and cinnamaldehyde) to 80% (ethyl maltol) of the samples. Some products had concentrations of menthol ("Menthol Arctic") and ethyl maltol ("No. 64") that were 30 times (menthol) and 100 times (ethyl maltol) their cytotoxic concentration. One refill fluid contained cinnamaldehyde at ~34% (343 mg/ml), more than 100,000 times its cytotoxic level. High concentrations of some flavor chemicals in EC refill fluids are potentially harmful to users, and continued absence of any regulations regarding flavor chemicals in EC fluids will likely be detrimental to human health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acrolein / analogs & derivatives
  • Acrolein / toxicity
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Flavoring Agents / analysis*
  • Flavoring Agents / toxicity
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Lung / cytology*
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Menthol / toxicity*
  • Nicotine / toxicity
  • Pyrones / toxicity*


  • Flavoring Agents
  • Pyrones
  • Menthol
  • Nicotine
  • Acrolein
  • ethyl maltol
  • cinnamaldehyde