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Electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) were designed as a healthier alternative nicotine delivery system, and involve the heating of e-liquids. These are composed of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavoring agents, and nicotine. Recently, ethanol has been identified as an unlabeled ingredient. The health consequences are currently unknown.
The purpose of this study is to quantify the amount of ethanol present in an aerosol cloud and to determine the size of the ethanol particles. A SubOx Mini-C e-cig was used. For ethanol quantification, the e-cig was attached to a Buchner Flask containing 150mL of deionized water, The system was attached to a vacuum pump operating at 2.3 L/min. Each sample consisted of four 4-second aerosolization pulls. The tubing was rinsed with 100mL of deionized water and collected for analysis. Five e-liquids were created at set ethanol concentrations (0-20%) and five samples were collected for each e-liquid. Samples were analyzed using a Shimadzu Nexis GC- 2030 with HS-20 headspace sampler. Particle size analysis was achieved using a Micro-Orifice Uniform Deposit Impactor (MOUDI) with samples consisting of ten 10-second pulls.
The average calculated ethanol concentration was 0, 13.20, 44.12, 69.42, and 96.05 mg/L for each of the e-liquids respectively. Particle size results showed that on average over 80% of the aerosol fell within the mean mass aerodynamic diameter of 0.172-0.31 μm.
The inhaled ethanol content is below what would normally be considered an intoxicating concentration, but its particle size allows it to be inhaled into the deep lung tissue and absorbed into the bloodstream.
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VCU Master of Science in Forensic Science Directed Research Projects
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Available for download on Saturday, May 02, 2026