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Smoking without tar: Looking inside e-cigarette

Posted: 28 Oct 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:e-cigarette  personal vaporiser  atomiser 

Most e-cigarette liquids contain nicotine, but the level of nicotine is chosen by the consumer. The consumer can even purchase e-liquid that has no nicotine. There is variability in the purity, kinds, and concentrations of chemicals used in liquids, and there is significant variability between labelled content and concentration and actual content and concentration. There is inconsistency in labelling of the actual nicotine content on e-liquid cartridges from some brands.

The solution is often sold in bottles or pre-filled disposable cartridges, or as a kit for consumers to make their own e-juices. Components are also available individually and consumers may choose to modify or boost their flavour, nicotine strength, or concentration. The standard notation "mg/ml" is often used in labelling for denoting nicotine concentration, and is sometimes shortened to a simple "mg." The most popular e-liquids have a nicotine content of 18 mg/ml, and largely the favourite flavours are tobacco, mint, and fruit.


Sales of e-cigarettes are heading for $10 billion by 2017. (Source:

A brief history

Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik is credited with the invention of the electronic cigarette. In 2003, he came up with the idea of using a piezoelectric ultrasound-emitting element to vaporise a pressurized jet of liquid containing nicotine diluted in a propylene glycol solution. This design produces a smoke-like vapor that can be inhaled and provides a vehicle for nicotine delivery into the bloodstream via the lungs. He also proposed using propylene glycol to dilute nicotine and came up with the idea of placing the vaporizer in a disposable plastic cartridge that serves as a liquid reservoir and mouthpiece.

Are e-cigarettes safe?

The benefits and risks of electronic cigarette remain uncertain. Not surprisingly, evidence suggests e-cigarettes may be safer than smoking tobacco products. They may be as safe as other nicotine replacement products, but there is not sufficient data to draw conclusions. E-cigarettes may carry a risk of addiction for those who do not already smoke, but there is no evidence of widespread use among those who have never smoked.

Emissions from e-cigarettes contain flavours, aroma transporters, glycerol, propylene glycol, nicotine, carcinogens, heavy metals, ultrafine particles, and other chemicals. The levels of contaminants so far have not prompted health concerns. E-cigarette aerosol has fewer toxicants than cigarette smoke. They are likely to be less harmful to users and bystanders. Complaints from some e-cigarette users have included throat and mouth inflammation, vomiting, nausea, and coughing.

- Rob Spiegel
  Design News

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