Impact of e-Liquid Composition, Coil Temperature, and Puff Topography on the Aerosol Chemistry of Electronic Cigarettes

Chem Res Toxicol. 2021 Jun 21;34(6):1640-1654. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.1c00070. Epub 2021 May 5.


E-cigarette aerosol is a complex mixture of gases and particles with a composition that is dependent on the e-liquid formulation, puffing regimen, and device operational parameters. This work investigated mainstream aerosols from a third generation device, as a function of coil temperature (315-510 °F, or 157-266 °C), puff duration (2-4 s), and the ratio of propylene glycol (PG) to vegetable glycerin (VG) in e-liquid (100:0-0:100). Targeted and untargeted analyses using liquid chromatography high-resolution mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, in situ chemical ionization mass spectrometry, and gravimetry were used for chemical characterizations. PG and VG were found to be the major constituents (>99%) in both phases of the aerosol. Most e-cigarette components were observed to be volatile or semivolatile under the conditions tested. PG was found almost entirely in the gas phase, while VG had a sizable particle component. Nicotine was only observed in the particle phase. The production of aerosol mass and carbonyl degradation products dramatically increased with higher coil temperature and puff duration, but decreased with increasing VG fraction in the e-liquid. An exception is acrolein, which increased with increasing VG. The formation of carbonyls was dominated by the heat-induced dehydration mechanism in the temperature range studied, yet radical reactions also played an important role. The findings from this study identified open questions regarding both pathways. The vaping process consumed PG significantly faster than VG under all tested conditions, suggesting that e-liquids become more enriched in VG and the exposure to acrolein significantly increases as vaping continues. It can be estimated that a 30:70 initial ratio of PG:VG in the e-liquid becomes almost entirely VG when 60-70% of e-liquid remains during the vaping process at 375 °F (191 °C). This work underscores the need for further research on the puffing lifecycle of e-cigarettes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols / chemistry
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Glycerol / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Propylene Glycol / chemistry
  • Temperature*


  • Aerosols
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Glycerol