Indexed on: 14 May '16Published on: 14 May '16Published in: Analytical Chemistry
Fast market penetration of electronic cigarettes is leading to an exponentially growing number of electronic refill liquids with different nicotine contents and an endless list of flavors. Therefore, rapid and simple methods allowing a fast screening of these products are necessary to detect harmful substances which can negatively impact health of consumers. In this regard, the present work explores the capabilities of differential ion mobility spectrometry coupled to tandem mass spectrometry for high-throughput analysis of nicotine and eleven related compounds in commercial refill liquids for electronic cigarettes. The influence of main factors affecting the ion mobility separation, such as modifier types and concentration, separation voltage, and temperature, was systematically investigated. Despite small molecular weight differences among the studied compounds, a good separation was achieved in the ion mobility cell under the optimized conditions, which involved the use of ethanol as polar gas-phase chemical modifier. Indeed, differential ion mobility was able to resolve (resolution >4) nicotine from its structural isomer anabasine without the use of any chromatographic separation. The quantitative performance of the proposed method was then evaluated, showing satisfactory precision (RSD ≤16%) and recoveries ranging from 85 to 100% for nicotine, and from 84 to 126% for the rest of the target analytes. Several commercial electronic cigarette refill liquids were analyzed to demonstrate the applicability of the method. In some cases, significant differences were found between labeled and measured levels of nicotine. Anatabine, cotinine, myosmine and nornicotine were also found in some of the analyzed samples.