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Yingst JM, Hrabovsky S, Hobkirk A, Trushin N, Richie JP, Foulds J. Nicotine Absorption Profile Among Regular Users of a Pod-Based Electronic Nicotine Delivery System. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(11):e1915494. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.15494
JUUL is a popular electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS)1 that contains a liquid with a high nicotine concentration (59 mg/mL). While there are concerns about the rapid increase in use of this potentially addictive product,2 there are no independent published data, to our knowledge, on its blood nicotine absorption profile. This case series aimed to characterize nicotine absorption among regular adult users of this product and to evaluate subjective effects associated with use.
Current adult users of pod-based ENDS (n = 6), recruited via community flyers from November 2018 to May 2019, abstained from cigarette smoking for 4 days (carbon monoxide concentration verified as <8 ppm) and from any nicotine-containing product for at least 14 hours prior to attending a 1-day laboratory visit. Users completed baseline demographic and device questionnaires, including the Penn State Electronic Cigarette Dependence Index (PSECDI).3 Users were then instructed to puff on their own pod-based ENDS (nicotine concentration 59 mg/mL) every 20 seconds for 10 minutes. Blood was collected via catheter at baseline, while vaping (1, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 minutes), and after vaping (2 and 5 minutes after the last puff). Users rated withdrawal symptoms and subjective effects (scale of 0-100, with 100 indicating greatest effect) before and after vaping. Serum samples were analyzed for nicotine, cotinine, and 3-hydroxycotinine concentrations by liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry.4 Outcomes included the maximal concentration, time to maximal concentration, and nicotine boost (maximal concentration minus the baseline nicotine level). Paired t tests were used to evaluate within-participants differences in subjective measures from before vaping to after vaping. Statistical significance was set at 2-sided P < .05. Statistical analysis was performed using SAS version 9.4 (SAS Institute Inc).
This study was approved by the Penn State College of Medicine institutional review board, and all participants provided written informed consent. Data are reported using the reporting guideline for case series.
Participants were 83.3% white, 33.3% male, and had a mean (SD) age of 37.8 (15.8) years (Table). The mean (SD) PSECDI score was 14 (3.7). The mean (SD) maximal concentration of nicotine was 31.1 (13.2) ng/mL, the mean (SD) time to maximal concentration was 8.7 (1.6) minutes, and the mean (SD) nicotine boost obtained was 28.6 (9.8) ng/mL. The mean (SD) nicotine boost at 4 minutes was 12.9 (9.8) ng/mL. The nicotine absorption profile for each participant is displayed in the Figure. After use, participants reported lower anxiety (mean [SD] score, 52.7 [38.4] before use to 7.5 [14.6] after use; t = 2.76; P = .04) and lower craving (mean [SD] score, 74.7 [36.7] before use to 11.2 [19.6] after use; t = 3.53; P = .02).
One participant (participant 4) who used a non-JUUL pod obtained the lowest nicotine boost (16.3 ng/mL). Additionally, participant 5 had a greater baseline nicotine level and obtained a greater nicotine boost compared with other participants. This could be due to the participant’s low nicotine metabolite ratio (0.011 [calculated by the dividing the baseline 3-hydroxycotinine level by the baseline cotinine level]), suggesting that this participant metabolizes nicotine at a very slow rate.
Among experienced users who took 30 puffs in 10 minutes, the pod-based ENDS delivered a mean nicotine boost of 28.6 ng/mL in a mean of 8.7 minutes. This is higher and faster than the mean nicotine boost obtained from “cigalike” ENDS devices (puff activated and similar size and shape as a traditional tobacco cigarette; 1.8 ng/mL, 10 minutes) and advanced ENDS devices (button-activated with larger battery; 10.8 ng/mL, 12.1 minutes) using the same puffing schedule.4 These users also self-reported higher nicotine dependence on the PSECDI, compared with 3609 experienced long-term users of other ENDS devices (mean PSECDI score, 8.1).3
This study is the first, to our knowledge, to show that JUUL delivers a higher and faster boost in blood nicotine than has been reported for most other ENDS devices.4-6 Limitations are the small sample size and that ENDS users may not typically take 30 puffs in 10 minutes. However, its use produced a mean (SD) nicotine boost of 12.9 (9.8) ng/mL after only 12 puffs in 4 minutes, a rate suggestive of pulmonary absorption. Compared with studies reporting the nicotine boost obtained after smoking 1 cigarette, this product’s nicotine delivery was similar.4,6 The nicotine delivery capabilities of this ENDS device may contribute to its addictiveness as well as its ability to compete with cigarettes for market share.
Accepted for Publication: September 26, 2019.
Published: November 15, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.15494
Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2019 Yingst JM et al. JAMA Network Open.
Corresponding Author: Jessica M. Yingst, DrPH, Department of Public Health Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine, 500 University Dr, Mail Code CH69, Room T3406, Hershey, PA 17033 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Author Contributions: Dr Yingst had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: Yingst, Richie, Foulds.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Yingst, Hrabovsky, Hobkirk, Trushin, Foulds.
Drafting of the manuscript: Yingst.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.
Statistical analysis: Yingst.
Obtained funding: Foulds.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Hrabovsky, Foulds.
Supervision: Hrabovsky, Richie, Foulds.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Foulds reported receiving grants from the National Institutes of Health during the conduct of the study; receiving grants, personal fees, and nonfinancial support from Pfizer Inc outside the submitted work; and in the past (>3 years ago), having done paid consulting for pharmaceutical companies involved in manufacturing smoking cessation medications (eg, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson) and having acted as a deposed and compensated expert witness on behalf of plaintiffs suing cigarette manufacturers. No other disclosures were reported.
Funding/Support: This work was supported in part by the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, Penn State Social Science Research Institute, and Penn State Clinical & Translational Science Institute supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, through grant UL1 TR002014. The authors were supported by grant P50DA036107 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Tobacco Products, US Food and Drug Administration.
Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funders had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.