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Electronic cigarettes have gained popularity in recent years. Electronic cigarettes operate by vaporizing flavored solutions, called e-liquids, for inhalation by the user. No method is currently available for analysis of e-liquids in the field, making regulation of electronic cigarettes difficult and inefficient. Some regulatory issues related to e-liquids include mislabeling of e-liquids by providers to avoid taxes on nicotine, the sale of nicotine-containing e-liquids to minors, and the mixing of drugs of abuse into e-liquids. Regulatory and law enforcement agencies have a need for an accurate field test capable of analyzing e-liquids for nicotine. Proposed are two devices for the rapid detection of nicotine in e-liquids in a safe and straightforward manner.

The first device is a cheap, disposable test strip which detects the pH shift caused when nicotine is present in an e-liquid. The strip uses the reagent bromocresol purple, which changes color from yellow to purple over the pH shift caused by nicotine. This approach is an indirect test for nicotine and has the possibility of false-positive results.

The second device is a portable ultraviolet-visible light spectrophotometer programmed to detect the presence of nicotine in small samples of e-liquids. The device is designed and programmed for simple operation and straightforward results that do not require advanced training or interpretation. The device detects nicotine in e-liquids by analyzing an absorbance spectra for the wavelengths specific to nicotine. The device is also able to be reprogrammed for detection of other drugs of abuse in e-liquids.

Publication Date



Nicotine, e-liquids, electronic cigarettes, field tests



Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Dr. Bennett Ward

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Dr. Michelle Peace

VCU Capstone Design Expo Posters


© The Author(s)

Date of Submission

May 2018

Rapid Detection of Nicotine in E-Liquids

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Engineering Commons