Tob Control doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2012-050859
  • Research paper

Levels of selected carcinogens and toxicants in vapour from electronic cigarettes

  1. Neal Benowitz6
  1. 1Department of Health Behavior, Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York, USA
  2. 2Tobacco Dependence Research Unit, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
  3. 3Department of General and Analytical Chemistry, Medical University of Silesia, Sosnowiec, Poland
  4. 4Department of Chemical Hazards, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health, Sosnowiec, Poland
  5. 5Polish Academy of Science, Institute of Environmental Engineering, Zabrze, Poland
  6. 6Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Departments of Medicine and Bioengineering & Therapeutic Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Maciej L Goniewicz,  Department of Health Behavior, Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Elm & Carlton Streets / Carlton House A320, Buffalo, NY 14263, USA; maciej.goniewicz{at}
  • Received 24 October 2012
  • Accepted 31 January 2013
  • Published Online First 6 March 2013


Significance Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are devices designed to imitate regular cigarettes and deliver nicotine via inhalation without combusting tobacco. They are purported to deliver nicotine without other toxicants and to be a safer alternative to regular cigarettes. However, little toxicity testing has been performed to evaluate the chemical nature of vapour generated from e–cigarettes. The aim of this study was to screen e-cigarette vapours for content of four groups of potentially toxic and carcinogenic compounds: carbonyls, volatile organic compounds, nitrosamines and heavy metals.

Materials and methods Vapours were generated from 12 brands of e-cigarettes and the reference product, the medicinal nicotine inhaler, in controlled conditions using a modified smoking machine. The selected toxic compounds were extracted from vapours into a solid or liquid phase and analysed with chromatographic and spectroscopy methods.

Results We found that the e-cigarette vapours contained some toxic substances. The levels of the toxicants were 9–450 times lower than in cigarette smoke and were, in many cases, comparable with trace amounts found in the reference product.

Conclusions Our findings are consistent with the idea that substituting tobacco cigarettes with e-cigarettes may substantially reduce exposure to selected tobacco-specific toxicants. E-cigarettes as a harm reduction strategy among smokers unwilling to quit, warrants further study. (To view this abstract in Polish and German, please see the supplementary files online.)

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