Effects of Solvent and Temperature on Free Radical Formation in Electronic Cigarette Aerosols

Zachary T. Bitzer, Reema Goel, Samantha M. Reilly, Jonathan Foulds, Joshua Muscat, Ryan Elias, John Richie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


The ever-evolving market of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) presents a challenge for analyzing and characterizing the harmful products they can produce. Earlier we reported that e-cigarette aerosols can deliver high levels of reactive free radicals; however, there are few data characterizing the production of these potentially harmful oxidants. Thus, we have performed a detailed analysis of the different parameters affecting the production of free radical by e-cigarettes. Using a temperature-controlled e-cigarette device and a novel mechanism for reliably simulating e-cigarette usage conditions, including coil activation and puff flow, we analyzed the effects of temperature, wattage, and e-liquid solvent composition of propylene glycol (PG) and glycerol (GLY) on radical production. Free radicals in e-cigarette aerosols were spin-trapped and analyzed using electron paramagnetic resonance. Free radical production increased in a temperature-dependent manner, showing a nearly 2-fold increase between 100 and 300 °C under constant-temperature conditions. Free radical production under constant wattage showed an even greater increase when going from 10 to 50 W due, in part, to higher coil temperatures compared to constant-temperature conditions. The e-liquid PG content also heavily influenced free radical production, showing a nearly 3-fold increase upon comparison of ratios of 0:100 (PG:GLY) and 100:0 (PG:GLY). Increases in PG content were also associated with increases in aerosol-induced oxidation of biologically relevant lipids. These results demonstrate that the production of reactive free radicals in e-cigarette aerosols is highly solvent dependent and increases with an increase in temperature. Radical production was somewhat dependent on aerosol production at higher temperatures; however, disproportionately high levels of free radicals were observed at ≥100 °C despite limited aerosol production. Overall, these findings suggest that e-cigarettes can be designed to minimize exposure to these potentially harmful products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-12
Number of pages9
JournalChemical research in toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 16 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology


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