Identification of flavouring chemicals and potential toxicants in e-cigarette products in Ontario, Canada

  • Christine D. Czoli
  • Maciej L. Goniewicz
  • Mary Palumbo
  • Noel Leigh
  • Christine M. White
  • David HammondEmail author
Quantitative Research



The current study examined constituents of e-cigarette products on the Canadian market, with a focus on the province of Ontario.


E-cigarettes were systematically purchased at 80 retail outlets across 4 cities in Ontario, Canada, in January–February 2015. Product constituents were identified using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Additionally, tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) were quantified in tested products using liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry.


A total of 166 e-cigarette products were purchased, including disposable products (33%), refillable products (14%), and e-liquids (53%). Overall, e-cigarette products had an average of 6.2 (SD = 3.6) flavouring chemicals. E-cigarettes with sweet flavours (e.g., desserts, alcoholic drinks) had a significantly greater number of flavouring chemicals when compared with tobacco- and menthol-flavoured products (p < 0.05). Approximately one fifth (21%) of products contained flavouring chemicals with potential risk of inhalation toxicity (benzyl alcohol, benzaldehyde, vanillin). An additional 8 toxicants (e.g., acrolein, diacetyl) were detected in a total of 14 e-cigarette products. Measurable levels of TSNAs were detected in 70% of tested products.


E-cigarettes purchased in Ontario, Canada, contained several constituents that may present excess risk, including some flavouring chemicals and carcinogenic nitrosamines. Further research is needed to determine whether the levels of these constituents have implications for the magnitude of risk to users. The findings reveal several policy gaps that may be addressed by developing regulatory product standards and labelling practices for e-cigarettes.


Electronic nicotine delivery systems Nitrosamines Health policy 



Examiner les ingrédients des produits de cigarette électronique en vente sur le marché canadien, en particulier dans la province de l’Ontario.


Des cigarettes électroniques ont été systématiquement achetées dans 80 points de vente au détail de 4 villes de l’Ontario, au Canada, en janvier-février 2015. Les ingrédients de ces produits ont été identifiés par chromatographie en phase gazeuse et par spectrométrie de masse. De plus, les nitrosamines spécifiques du tabac (NAST) ont été quantifiées par chromatographie en phase liquide avec spectrométrie de masse en tandem dans les produits testés.


En tout, 166 produits de cigarette électronique ont été achetés, dont des produits jetables (33 %), des produits rechargeables (14 %) et des e-liquides (53 %). Dans l’ensemble, les produits de cigarette électronique contenaient en moyenne 6,2 (écart-type = 3,6) arômes chimiques. Les cigarettes électroniques aux arômes sucrés (desserts, boissons alcoolisées) comptaient un nombre significativement plus important d’arômes chimiques que les produits aromatisés au tabac et au menthol (p < 0,05). Environ un cinquième (21 %) des produits contenaient des arômes chimiques comportant un risque potentiel de toxicité par inhalation (alcool benzylique, benzaldéhyde, vanilline). Huit autres substances toxiques (p. ex. acroléine, diacétyle) ont été détectées dans 14 produits de cigarette électronique. Des niveaux mesurables de NAST ont été détectés dans 70 % des produits testés.


Des cigarettes électroniques achetées en Ontario, au Canada, contenaient plusieurs ingrédients pouvant présenter un risque excédentaire, dont des arômes chimiques et des nitrosamines cancérogènes. Il faudrait pousser la recherche pour déterminer si les niveaux de ces ingrédients ont des conséquences sur l’ampleur du risque pour les utilisateurs. Ces constatations mettent au jour plusieurs lacunes dans les politiques, qui pourraient être comblées par l’élaboration de normes réglementaires sur les produits et de pratiques d’étiquetage pour les cigarettes électroniques.


Dispositifs électroniques d’administration de nicotine Nitrosamines Politique de santé 



The authors would like to thank Christina Martin for her assistance conducting the product purchases.


This research was supported by an Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Health Systems Research Fund grant (#06697; awarded to DH). Additional support was provided by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (CDC), a National Cancer Institute Award (Number P30 CA016056; MLG), as well as a CIHR New Investigator Award (DH), and a CIHR PHAC Chair in Applied Public Health (DH).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

DH has provided paid testimony in tobacco litigation on behalf of governments and class-action plaintiffs on issues related to tobacco product science and regulation. MLG reports grants from and served as an advisory board member to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture smoking cessation drugs. The other authors have no competing interests to declare.


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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine D. Czoli
    • 1
  • Maciej L. Goniewicz
    • 2
  • Mary Palumbo
    • 2
  • Noel Leigh
    • 2
  • Christine M. White
    • 1
  • David Hammond
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Public Health and Health SystemsUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  2. 2.Department of Health Behavior, Division of Cancer Prevention and Population SciencesRoswell Park Comprehensive Cancer CenterBuffaloUSA

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