The role of nicotine and flavor in the abuse potential and appeal of electronic cigarettes for adult current and former cigarette and electronic cigarette users: A systematic review


Many adult cigarette smokers use electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) to cut down on or quit smoking cigarettes. E-cigarettes with higher abuse potential and appeal might facilitate complete switching. 

E-liquid nicotine concentration and flavor are two of the characteristics that may affect the abuse potential and appeal of e-cigarettes.

The objective of this systematic review was to compile results from survey, animal, human laboratory, and clinical studies to understand the possible effects of nicotine concentration and flavor on abuse potential and appeal of e-cigarettes in adult current and former cigarette and e-cigarette users.


A comprehensive literature search was conducted in Ovid Medline and PsycINFO followed by citation tracking in Web of Science Core Collection. Peer-reviewed studies published in English between 2007 and August 2020 were selected that analyzed differences between e-liquid nicotine concentration and/or flavors, had outcome measures related to abuse potential and/or appeal, and included adult humans (18+) or animals. 1624 studies were identified and screened. A qualitative synthesis of results was performed.


Results from 104 studies included in this review suggest that higher nicotine concentration and access to a variety of flavors are likely to be associated with higher abuse potential and appeal of e-cigarettes for adult current and former cigarette and e-cigarette users.


Higher nicotine concentrations and the availability of a variety of flavors in e-cigarettes might facilitate complete substitution for cigarettes. Future e-cigarette regulations should take into account their impact on smokers, for whom e-cigarettes may be a cessation tool or reduced-harm alternative.


E-cigarettes may provide a reduced-harm alternative to cigarettes for smokers unwilling/unable to quit or serve as a path for quitting all nicotine products. Higher nicotine concentrations and flavor variety are associated with higher abuse potential and appeal of e-cigarettes. Higher abuse potential and appeal products may help facilitate complete switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes. Regulation of nicotine concentration and flavors aimed at decreasing naïve uptake may inadvertently decrease uptake and complete switching among smokers, reducing the harm reduction potential of e-cigarettes. Evidence-based effects of regulating nicotine concentration and flavors must be considered for the population as a whole, including smokers.

Read full article here.

Mari S. Gades et al., – Nicotine & Tobacco Research – 2022-03-19.

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