The role of E-liquid vegetable glycerin and exhaled aerosol on cue reactivity to tank-based electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2019 Jul;236(7):2083-2092. doi: 10.1007/s00213-019-05202-6. Epub 2019 Feb 22.


Rationale: Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS or e-cigarettes) share salient features of combustible smoking, such as inhalation and exhalation behaviors, and evidence indicates that first- and second-generation ENDS generalize as smoking cues. The present study examined whether newer, tank-based third-generation ENDS ("mods") also evoke smoking urges, and whether enhancing the visibility of exhaled aerosol clouds-by increasing the e-liquid vegetable glycerin (VG) content-strengthens the cue salience of ENDS.

Objectives: The objective was to assess the role of exhaled aerosol clouds on ENDS cue potency using a standardized laboratory paradigm designed to mimic real-world exposures.

Methods: Using a mixed design, young adult smokers (n = 50; mean age 26.5 years; ≥ 5 cigarettes/day) observed a study confederate drinking bottled water (control cue) and vaping an ENDS mod containing e-liquid with either high (73%) or low (0%) VG. Participants completed the Brief Questionnaire on Smoking Urges (BQSU) and visual analog scales (VAS) assessing cigarette and e-cigarette desire pre- and post-cue exposure.

Results: Increasing the e-liquid content of VG enhanced the size and visibility of the exhaled aerosol clouds and evoked a greater increase in smoking desire and a more sustained increase in e-cigarette desire relative to the low VG cue. Both cues elicited increases in smoking urges. These results remained after controlling for sex, prior ENDS experience, recent smoking behavior, and menthol preference.

Conclusions: Observation of tank-based ENDS use generalizes as a smoking cue and its cue salience is strengthened by increasing the e-liquid content of VG to enhance the visibility of the exhaled aerosol cloud.

Keywords: Cues; Electronic cigarettes; Electronic nicotine delivery systems; Mods; Urge; Vaping; Vegetable glycerin.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aerosols
  • Craving / drug effects
  • Craving / physiology
  • Cues*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Exhalation / drug effects
  • Exhalation / physiology
  • Female
  • Glycerol / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Smokers / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vaping / psychology*
  • Vegetables*
  • Young Adult


  • Aerosols
  • Glycerol