Send to

Choose Destination
Nicotine Tob Res. 2018 Jul 9;20(8):998-1003. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntx162.

Compensatory Puffing With Lower Nicotine Concentration E-liquids Increases Carbonyl Exposure in E-cigarette Aerosols.

Author information

School of Pharmacy with the Division of Laboratory Medicine in Sosnowiec, Department of General and Inorganic Chemistry, Medical University of Silesia, Sosnowiec, Poland.
Drugs and Addictive Behaviours Research Group, School of Psychology, University of East London, London, UK.
Department of Chemical Hazard and Genetic Toxicology, Institute of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, Sosnowiec, Poland.
Medicines Research Group, School of Health, Sport and Bioscience, University of East London, London, UK.
Division of Psychology, School of Applied Sciences, London South Bank University, London, UK.



Article 20 of the European Tobacco Products Directive (EU-TPD) specifies that e-liquids should not contain nicotine in excess of 20 mg/mL, thus many vapers may be compelled to switch to lower concentrations and in so doing, may engage in more intensive puffing. This study aimed to establish whether more intensive puffing produces higher levels of carbonyl compounds in e-cigarette aerosols.


Using the HPLC-UV diode array method, four carbonyl compounds (formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acetone, and acrolein) were measured in liquids and aerosols from nicotine solutions of 24 and 6 mg/mL. Aerosols were generated using a smoking machine configured to replicate puffing topography data previously obtained from 12 experienced e-cigarette users.


Carbonyl levels in aerosols from the puffing regimen of 6 mg/mL were significantly higher (p < .05 using independent samples t tests) compared with those of 24 mg/mL nicotine. For the 6 and 24 mg/mL nicotine aerosols respectively, means ± SD for formaldehyde levels were 3.41 ± 0.94, and 1.49 ± 0.30 µg per hour (µg/h) of e-cigarette use. Means ± SD for acetaldehyde levels were 2.17 ± 0.36 and 1.04 ± 0.13 µg/h. Means ± SD for acetone levels were 0.73 ± 0.20 and 0.28 ± 0.14 µg/h. Acrolein was not detected.


Higher levels of carbonyls associated with more intensive puffing suggest that vapers switching to lower nicotine concentrations (either due to the EU-TPD implementation or personal choice), may increase their exposure to these compounds. Based on real human puffing topography data, this study suggests that limiting nicotine concentrations to 20 mg/mL may not result in the desired harm minimalization effect.


More intensive puffing regimens associated with the use of low nicotine concentration e-liquids can lead to higher levels of carbonyl generation in the aerosol. Although in need of replication in a larger sample outside a laboratory, this study provides pragmatic empirical data on the potential risks of compensatory puffing behaviors in vapers, and can help to inform future regulatory decisions on nicotine e-liquid concentrations. The cap on nicotine concentration at 20 mg/mL set by the EU-TPD may therefore have the unintended consequence of encouraging use of lower nicotine concentration e-liquid, in turn increasing exposure to carbonyl compounds through compensatory puffing.


Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Silverchair Information Systems
Loading ...
Support Center