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High-Nicotine Electronic Cigarette Products: Toxicity of JUUL Fluids and Aerosols Correlates Strongly with Nicotine and Some Flavor Chemical Concentrations

  • Esther E. Omaiye
    Esther E. Omaiye
    Environmental Toxicology Graduate Program, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, California 92521, United States
    Department of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, California 92521, United States
  • Kevin J. McWhirter
    Kevin J. McWhirter
    Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon 97207, United States
  • Wentai Luo
    Wentai Luo
    Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon 97207, United States
    Department of Chemistry, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon 97207, United States
    More by Wentai Luo
  • James F. Pankow
    James F. Pankow
    Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon 97207, United States
    Department of Chemistry, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon 97207, United States
  • , and 
  • Prue Talbot*
    Prue Talbot
    Department of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, California 92521, United States
    *Tel: 951-850-7783. Fax: 951-827-4206. E-mail: [email protected]
    More by Prue Talbot
Cite this: Chem. Res. Toxicol. 2019, 32, 6, 1058–1069
Publication Date (Web):March 21, 2019
Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

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    Abstract Image

    Whereas JUUL electronic cigarettes (ECs) have captured the majority of the EC market, with a large fraction of their sales going to adolescents, little is known about their cytotoxicity and potential effects on health. The purpose of this study was to determine flavor chemical and nicotine concentrations in the eight currently marketed prefilled JUUL EC cartridges (“pods”) and to evaluate the cytotoxicity of the different variants (e.g., “Cool Mint” and “Crème Brulee”) using in vitro assays. Nicotine and flavor chemicals were analyzed using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry in pod fluid before and after vaping and in the corresponding aerosols. 59 flavor chemicals were identified in JUUL pod fluids, and 3 were >1 mg/mL. Duplicate pods were similar in flavor chemical composition and concentration. Nicotine concentrations (average 60.9 mg/mL) were significantly higher than those of any EC products we have previously analyzed. The transfer efficiency of individual flavor chemicals that were >1 mg/mL and nicotine from the pod fluid into aerosols was generally 35–80%. All pod fluids were cytotoxic at a 1:10 dilution (10%) in the MTT and neutral red uptake assays when tested with BEAS-2B lung epithelial cells. Most aerosols were cytotoxic in these assays at concentrations between 0.2 and 1.8%. The cytotoxicity of collected aerosol materials was highly correlated with nicotine and ethyl maltol concentrations and moderately to weakly correlated with total flavor chemical concentration and menthol concentration. Our study demonstrates that (1) some JUUL flavor pods have sufficiently high concentrations of flavor chemicals that may make them attractive to youth and (2) the concentrations of nicotine and some flavor chemicals (e.g., ethyl maltol) are high enough to be cytotoxic in acute in vitro assays, emphasizing the need to determine if JUUL products will lead to adverse health effects with chronic use.

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    The Supporting Information is available free of charge on the ACS Publications website at DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.8b00381.

    • Figure S1. Images of the eight JUUL pod flavors evaluated in this study. Table S1. Brand/manufacturer and product names of 83 EC refill fluid products. Figure S2. Relationship between the cytoxicity of vaped pod fluids and concentrations of nicotine and the flavor chemicals (PDF).

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