Use of electronic cigarettes has grown exponentially over the past few years, raising concerns about harmful emissions. This study quantified potentially toxic compounds in the vapor and identified key parameters affecting emissions.
Six principal constituents in three different refill “e-liquids” were propylene glycol (PG), glycerin, nicotine, ethanol, acetol, and propylene oxide. The latter, with mass concentrations of 0.4–0.6%, is a possible carcinogen and respiratory irritant. Aerosols generated with vaporizers contained up to 31 compounds, including nicotine, nicotyrine, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, glycidol, acrolein, acetol, and diacetyl.
Glycidol is a probable carcinogen not previously identified in the vapor, and acrolein is a powerful irritant. Emission rates ranged from tens to thousands of nanograms of toxicants per milligram of e-liquid vaporized, and they were significantly higher for a single-coil vs a double-coil vaporizer (by up to an order of magnitude for aldehydes).
By increasing the voltage applied to a single-coil device from 3.3 to 4.8 V, the mass of e-liquid consumed doubled from 3.7 to 7.5 mg puff–1 and the total aldehyde emission rates tripled from 53 to 165 μg puff–1, with acrolein rates growing by a factor of 10.
Aldehyde emissions increased by more than 60% after the device was reused several times, likely due to the buildup of polymerization byproducts that degraded upon heating.
These findings suggest that thermal degradation byproducts are formed during vapor generation.
Glycidol and acrolein were primarily produced by glycerin degradation. Acetol and 2-propen-1-ol were produced mostly from PG, while other compounds (e.g., formaldehyde) originated from both.
Because emissions originate from reaction of the most common e-liquid constituents (solvents), harmful emissions are expected to be ubiquitous when e-cigarette vapor is present.