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Acute electronic cigarette use: nicotine delivery and subjective effects in regular users



Electronic cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular among smokers worldwide. Commonly reported reasons for use include the following: to quit smoking, to avoid relapse, to reduce urge to smoke, or as a perceived lower-risk alternative to smoking. Few studies, however, have explored whether electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) deliver measurable levels of nicotine to the blood.


This study aims to explore in experienced users the effect of using an 18-mg/ml nicotine first-generation e-cigarette on blood nicotine, tobacco withdrawal symptoms, and urge to smoke.


Fourteen regular e-cigarette users (three females), who are abstinent from smoking and e-cigarette use for 12 h, each completed a 2.5 h testing session. Blood was sampled, and questionnaires were completed (tobacco-related withdrawal symptoms, urge to smoke, positive and negative subjective effects) at four stages: baseline, 10 puffs, 60 min of ad lib use and a 60-min rest period.


Complete sets of blood were obtained from seven participants. Plasma nicotine concentration rose significantly from a mean of 0.74 ng/ml at baseline to 6.77 ng/ml 10 min after 10 puffs, reaching a mean maximum of 13.91 ng/ml by the end of the ad lib puffing period. Tobacco-related withdrawal symptoms and urge to smoke were significantly reduced; direct positive effects were strongly endorsed, and there was very low reporting of adverse effects.


These findings demonstrate reliable blood nicotine delivery after the acute use of this brand/model of e-cigarette in a sample of regular users. Future studies might usefully quantify nicotine delivery in relation to inhalation technique and the relationship with successful smoking cessation/harm reduction.

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This study was funded and supported by SKYCIG Ltd. Thanks are due to Paula Booth (Psychology), Alexander Lyons, Angela Ng, Susan Harrison, Mark Newsum (Health, Sport and Bioscience) and Samila Payaniandy for their assistance with the study; to Dr. Mira Doig (ABS Labs) for the bioanalysis of nicotine from plasma; and to the participants for their time.

Conflict of interest

Dr. Lynne Dawkins has received funding to speak at research conferences and benefits in kind from e-cigarette companies. Professor Olivia Corcoran has no conflict of interests to declare. The sponsor had no role in the design and conduct of the study or in the preparation, review or approval of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lynne Dawkins.

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Dawkins, L., Corcoran, O. Acute electronic cigarette use: nicotine delivery and subjective effects in regular users. Psychopharmacology 231, 401–407 (2014).

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  • Nicotine delivery
  • Electronic cigarette
  • Acute use
  • Urge to smoke
  • Tobacco withdrawal symptoms
  • Abstinent smokers
  • Smoking cessation
  • Nicotine addiction