Study Finds That Some DIY Juice Flavorings Contain Nicotine

By Lindsay Fox Posted July 29, 2015

Study - DIY E-Juice Nicotine
Photo: God of Steam


A new study takes aim at flavoring mixtures used for DIY e-liquid mixing, finding that some concentrated flavors contain nicotine. As you may expect, Stanton Glantz was quick to jump on the findings, claiming that the authors were “too polite” to point out that, “It is in the interest of e-cigarette sellers to spike their products with the addictive drug nicotine to ensure customer loyalty,” and even goes on to say that “policymakers should not believe claims that some e-cigs do not contain nicotine.”


The extreme (and completely unsubstantiated) statements of Glantz aside, it is genuinely a cause for some concern if concentrated flavors contain nicotine and don’t disclose it, but only an uninformative extract of the study is available if you don’t buy the full study or have access. Thankfully, we do have access, so here’s what they really found.


The Study – Do Concentrated E-Liquid Flavorings Contain Nicotine?


The researchers obtained 30 different e-liquid flavorings from a vendor called Tasty Puff (warning: the site plays horrendous music) and analyzed them for nicotine using high performance liquid chromatography and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The focus on one vendor is an obviously limitation right off the bat – even if all of the tested flavorings contained nicotine, it wouldn’t be applicable to the whole industry. Of course, they could have easily sampled options from numerous flavoring companies to add some weight to the findings, but they didn’t.


Of the 30 flavors, there were four bottles with detectable quantities of nicotine, meaning that over 86 percent of the tested flavorings contained no nicotine whatsoever, as expected. This point isn’t stressed in the paper, though, and two of the flavorings found to contain nicotine were actually versions of the same flavor (Sinful Cinnamon). These two cinnamon flavorings had nicotine, but at levels below the limit of quantification, meaning that there was less than 0.01 mg/ml of nicotine present.


DIY e-liquid mixing study


The remaining two flavorings, Nilly Vanilla and Joosy Fruit, contained 14.2 and 95.4 mg/ml of nicotine, respectively. Diluted to 10 percent of an e-liquid – assuming you wanted to mix one that was nicotine-free – this would lead to concentrations of about 1.4 and 9.5 mg/ml, respectively. The authors point out that the 5 ml bottles the flavors were sold in would contain 71 and 477 mg of nicotine, and that this would make them fatal to children if swallowed, and (for the latter) possibly to adults.


They cite Bernd Mayer’s revised estimate of nicotine’s toxic dose (500 to 1000 mg for adults), but bizarrely claim 10 mg is a toxic dose for children, citing an InChem page that’s inaccessible at time of writing. However, Mayer provides a lower limit for the toxic dose per kg of 6.5 mg, meaning that the authors’ statement would only be true for a child that weighed 1.5 kg or about 3.3 pounds, less than half the average weight of a newborn baby.


Drinking the whole bottle of the flavor concentrate containing the lower amount would be potentially fatal to an infant weighing 11 kg or about 24 pounds. This means this bottle would likely be fatal to children aged under 2 years old if he or she drank it all. However, the Joosy Fruit bottle undeniably contains potentially dangerous amounts of nicotine, and their statements are accurate in this case.


The authors rightfully point out that the products are presented as nicotine free (with the explicit statement, “It does not contain any nicotine” on the site), and this could be problematic for vapers looking to mix an e-liquid that’s nicotine free. They add – and Glantz gleefully repeats – that this could lead to “unwanted addiction, poisoning, or even death,” which is obviously something of an overstatement.


There is evidence from nicotine replacement therapy trials that nicotine, outside of tobacco smoke, doesn’t create addiction in non-smokers (more on this in an upcoming post), and poisoning and death would only result from drinking the whole bottle of flavoring, which would be unusual, to say the least. However, leaving an apparently nicotine-free flavoring within the reach of a child wouldn’t be too negligent an act, so the authors aren’t pushing the implications of the finding too far.


What Does This Mean for DIY Mixers?


DIY E-Liquid Mixing Flavors
Photo: YouTube, user: Home Brewed Vapes


The findings clearly don’t reflect well on Tasty Puff’s quality control, and I’d advise avoiding their flavorings (and products altogether) as a result, unless they submit their flavorings and e-liquids for independent testing in future to demonstrate their reliability. However, the actions of Tasty Puff don’t really mean all that much for other flavoring companies. The key question would be why? Why would a flavoring company purposefully include nicotine when it’s more expensive than flavorings alone? (Although admittedly not by much)


I have no idea why Tasty Puff did it, but unless other companies want to purposefully reduce their earnings per bottle sold and expose their customers to nicotine for no real reason, it seems the results are unlikely to hold for other mixers. Stanton Glantz might like to pretend flavoring companies are out to secretly hook customers onto nicotine, but it’s a hard claim to swallow based on such scant evidence.


Conclusion – Unacceptable, But Hopefully Uncommon


It goes without saying that flavoring companies including nicotine in their products when they explicitly state that they don’t is completely unacceptable. However, it’s important to maintain perspective when thinking about this study: the vast majority of flavors were nicotine-free, as advertised, and only one contained nicotine in an amount that would even be noticeable when diluted. With this in mind, it would be nice to see further tests on flavorings offered by different companies, if only to confirm that this illogical action isn’t being taken by flavor concentrate companies overall. If you’re a DIY mixer on no-nicotine juices, it might be worth picking up a test kit to confirm that your mix is indeed nicotine free, but realistically I can’t see much reason to be worried.

  • Jim McDonald

    Why would they design a study around one company’s flavorings? I’m curious as to whether they tested others, but only reported the one that showed positive for nicotine.

    • The numbering system for the bottles (on the picture and the table of results) goes up to at least 107, and the company only has 32 flavorings, so you could easily be right. Or they may have tested more than one of each but just selectively reported the “hits.”

      • Jim McDonald

        If a flavoring company is capable of making a mistake like that, we should know about it. But how UC scientists came up with the idea for the study, and just happened to find flavorings with nicotine content, raises a lot of interesting questions about the whole enterprise.

  • Cindy Schreck

    Tasty Puff sells both Flavoring concentrates and the finished eliquid product. I can’t think of another Flavoring company that does.

  • Cousin Puff

    Tasty Puff is a family owned business and we have been making flavoring for 16 years. It has come to our attention that a study was done on our flavors. The authors claim that two of our flavors contain nicotine. The full study is not available unless you are willing to pay $200 for it. We would never do something so irresponsible and ridiculous as add nicotine to our flavoring. The thought of this is outrageous to us. Why would we alter something that sells so well? There is no reason. Adding nicotine to our flavoring would not be cost effective. Nicotine is expensive and difficult to handle. There is simply
    no motive. I’m sure this thought is crazy to anyone in the flavoring business.
    We have way too much to lose to purposefully do something so foolish. We have plenty of loyal flavoring customers because of our amazing products and great customer service, so there is no reason to add nicotine to our flavors. Also, why add nicotine to our nicotine-free flavors, when we sell clearly-labeled products that do contain nicotine?

    We care more about quality control and the safety of our employees and customers
    and their families than any company I know of.
    The entire study and their supposed findings are absurd. It is physically impossible for this to even happen. As soon as our nicotine is received in our facility, it goes directly into the air dilution section of our e-liquid clean room before the seal is broken.
    Nothing containing nicotine leaves our clean room until it is bottled and
    capped in our tamper evident and child safety bottles. Our flavors and e-juice are mixed and bottled in two different rooms, with two completely different filling systems to insure
    there is absolutely no chance for cross contamination. These steps make it
    physically impossible for nicotine to find its way into our flavoring. Then, the two finished products are stored in different rooms. Our e-liquid is stored in our climate controlled room at 60 degrees behind a closed and locked door until it is shipped.

    The writer of the article has been on a war path against our industry for some time
    now, publishing many junk science articles which bash our industry. We aren’t sure where they came up with the idea of searching for nicotine in flavoring.
    They would have a better chance finding a zombie virus in our flavoring!
    And it’s a mystery why they decided to target our company. Many things may have
    happened to skew the authors findings. There is a picture of a bottle with a very tattered label that doesn’t look right. We have tried to reach out to the author to
    ask when and where they got the bottles, how many hands they were in, and when
    and who did the test. We have not received a response. The entire thing is
    very strange to us. They should stick to hating tobacco companies and leave our industry alone.

    Nothing has changed. We still sell the best quality, nicotine-free flavoring. And all
    of our products that include nicotine are clearly labeled. Because we care and our customers are so important to us, we will not leave it at this. Of course we do our own in house testing, and when we heard of the study we tested our products again. Of course
    they don’t contain nicotine. But, we realize people may be skeptical of our in-house results! Therefore, we are hiring an outside, unbiased, reputable company to purchase these flavors from a random vendor and do further testing.

    Thank you to all of our loyal customers that have supported us for 16 great years. We look forward to many more to come and we appreciate all of the people backing us up in this matter. And by the way, we love our theme song, as many people do! However,
    we are aware that it may not appeal to everyone so we have a mute option on our

    • Vape John

      You are more than welcome to open a lawsuit and sue :) Wish you luck

    • Thanks very much for the comment! I wouldn’t expect you to have intentionally included nicotine in your flavorings, no, which makes the whole thing very puzzling.

      Sorry for being a little harsh about your company in this post – I just do my best to follow the evidence, and with no proof of tampering to work with, it’s a little hard to accuse the researchers of foul play. Although I stand by the comment about the theme song :p As you say, at least you’ve included a mute button.

      If you’d be happy to, let me know the results of the independent tests you’re having conducted and I’ll write a post about them! And I’ll update this post accordingly too! You can reach me at

      • Cousin Puff

        Thank you Lindsay

  • Interesting article with interesting information..