Effect of flavoring chemicals on free radical formation in electronic cigarette aerosols

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Flavoring chemicals, or flavorants, have been used in electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) since their inception; however, little is known about their toxicological effects. Free radicals present in e-cigarette aerosols have been shown to induce oxidative stress resulting in damage to proliferation, survival, and inflammation pathways in the cell. Aerosols generated from e-liquid solvents alone contain high levels of free radicals but few studies have looked at how these toxins are modulated by flavorants.


We investigated the effects of different flavorants on free radical production in e-cigarette aerosols.


Free radicals generated from 49 commercially available e-liquid flavors were captured and analyzed using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR). The flavorant composition of each e-liquid was analyzed by gas chromatography mass spectroscopy (GCMS). Radical production was correlated with flavorant abundance. Ten compounds were identified and analyzed for their impact on free radical generation.


Nearly half of the flavors modulated free radical generation. Flavorants with strong correlations included β-damascone, δ-tetradecalactone, γ-decalactone, citral, dipentene, ethyl maltol, ethyl vanillin, ethyl vanillin PG acetal, linalool, and piperonal. Dipentene, ethyl maltol, citral, linalool, and piperonal promoted radical formation in a concentration-dependent manner. Ethyl vanillin inhibited the radical formation in a concentration dependent manner. Free radical production was closely linked with the capacity to oxidize biologically-relevant lipids.


Our results suggest that flavoring agents play an important role in either enhancing or inhibiting the production of free radicals in flavored e-cigarette aerosols. This information is important for developing regulatory strategies aimed at reducing potential harm from e-cigarettes.

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