Free-Base Nicotine Fraction Alpha(fb) in Non-Aqueous Versus Aqueous Solutions: Electronic Cigarette Fluids Without Versus with Dilution with Water

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Chemical Research in Toxicology

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An important design aspect of electronic cigarettes (“e-cigarettes”) is the nature of the acid/base chemistry in the e-liquid phase. E-liquids having formulations similar to those of early products are mixes of propylene glycol/glycerol (PG/GL) plus free-base (fb) nicotine and (usually) flavor chemicals that are either rather weak or non-acid/base actors in PG/GL. The fraction of nicotine in the fb form is denoted (αfb)e-liquid, with a possible range of 0 < (αfb)e-liquid < 1. For e-liquids of an early design, (αfb)e-liquid ≈ 1. Because e-cigarette aerosols high in fb nicotine are harsh upon inhalation, many commercial e-liquids now also contain variable levels of an acid additive (e.g., benzoic acid, levulinic acid, etc.) to protonate the nicotine and form dissolved “nicotine salts”: (αfb)e-liquid values significantly less than 1 are now common. A framework is developed for predicting αfb values in a given medium based on the following: (1) acid/nicotine ratios and (2) overall acid + nicotine protonation constant (Koa) values. This framework is required for understanding (1) e-liquid design in regard to how acid additives affect (αfb)e-liquid values, and (2) why (αfb)e-liquid values cannot, in general, be measured by any method that involves significant dilution with water.


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