An Unrecognized Hazard in E-Cigarette Vapor: Preliminary Quantification of Methylglyoxal Formation from Propylene Glycol in E-Cigarettes

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 6;18(2):385. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18020385.


Up to 95% of the liquid volume in an e-cigarette consists of propylene glycol. Previous research has shown that propylene glycol can generate diacetyl and formaldehyde when heated. New research shows that propylene glycol can also generate methylglyoxal, an alpha di-carbonyl compound recently shown to cause epithelial necrosis at even lower concentrations than diacetyl, the flavoring chemical associated with bronchiolitis obliterans ("Popcorn Lung"). We analyzed chemical emissions from 13 JUUL pod flavors. Diacetyl and methylglyoxal was detected in 100% of samples with median concentration (range) of 20 µg/m3 (less than limit of quantification: 54 µg/m3) and 4219 µg/m3 (677-15,342 µg/m3), respectively. We also detected acetaldehyde (median concentration: 341 µg/m3) and propionaldehyde (median concentration: 87 µg/m3) in all samples. The recent evidence that methylglyoxal is more cytotoxic to airway epithelial cells than diacetyl makes this an urgent public health concern. Current smokers considering e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool, and never users, who may be under the impression that e-cigarettes are harmless, need information on emissions and potential risks to make informed decisions.

Keywords: e-cigarette; hazardous exposure; methylglyoxal; propylene glycol.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • E-Cigarette Vapor*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Flavoring Agents / toxicity
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Pyruvaldehyde


  • E-Cigarette Vapor
  • Flavoring Agents
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Pyruvaldehyde