Clinical Pharmacology of Electronic Cigarettes

Investigator: Neal L. Benowitz, MD
Sponsor: NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse

Location(s): United States


Electronic cigarettes (EC) are nicotine delivery devices that create a nicotine-containing aerosol which is inhaled by the user. There is currently no consistent regulation of the manufacture and marketing of EC, but because of the increased popularity of EC, in particular among minors, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon move to regulate these products. While it is generally assumed that the delivery of nicotine from EC and its effects on smoking behavior and addiction are similar to those of conventional tobacco cigarettes, there is little clinical data to validate these assumptions. Our proposal thus seeks to study the human clinical pharmacology of EC as nicotine delivery devices in order to establish a scientific base for product regulation.

Electronic cigarettes (EC) are nicotine delivery devices that generate a nicotine-containing aerosol which is inhaled by the user. EC are perceived by users to be useful in helping quitting smoking of conventional tobacco cigarettes (TC) as well as having a presumed lower risk of adverse health effects compared to TC, the potential for use in public places, reduced cost, and lack of the noxious clinging odors associated with TC use. The use of EC has dramatically grown in recent years and is currently estimated to be a billion dollar industry, with over 400 existing brands of EC and the three major U.S. tobacco companies now marketing their own brands. The FDA has announced the intention to regulate EC. Key questions relevant to FDA regulation include the addictiveness and safety of EC. Many believe that EC function as nicotine delivery devices in the same way as TC, and that EC will prove to be just as addictive as TC, but this may not be the case because of fundamental differences in the design and method of use of these products. For example, we hypothesize that systemic nicotine exposure will be lower with EC compared to TC; that despite lower nicotine intake EC users will experience similar reward and no greater withdrawal symptoms or craving compared to TC; and that dual EC/ TC users will not titrate their daily intake of nicotine in the same way that TC smokers of high- vs low-yield nicotine TC do. Our proposal specifically focuses on the areas that are thought to most closely relate to the addictive potential of EC, namely: (1) EC as nicotine delivery devices, covering issues of nicotine intake and pharmacokinetics, temporal patterns of use and titration of nicotine; and (2) subjective effects of EC use, including relationship of use to reward, withdrawal and craving. We will also examine aspects of safety of EC use (by assessment of cardiovascular and hormonal effects of use and of biomarkers of exposure to potentially toxic constituents) and explore the identification and validation of biomarkers that may be useful in distinguishing EC from TC use. Study subjects will be dual users of TC and EC so that we may compare both modalities of use in experienced users in a within-subject design. The study will consist of two 1-week blocks (EC-only or TC-only conditions) with 4 days of outpatient ad libitum product use followed by 3 days in a clinical research ward to include a single-use pharmacokinetic study, monitoring of product use, subjective assessments, blood and urine collections to assess biomarkers, and a 24-hour period of cardiovascular monitoring. Two additional days at the end of the 2nd block will assess similar measurements during a period of nicotine-product abstention.