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Through the Looking Glass: Abuse of the Evolving Electronic Cigarette and the Impact of Vaping Ethanol in the Evaluation of Impairment

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2022
23 pages

This final report analyzes the problems with evolving e-cigarette and e-liquid formulations and the complication of e-cigarettes with ethanol, and their impacts on field sobriety tests, with the goal of highlighting potential issues with using chemicals with known toxicity to lung tissue under the pretense of being safe for e-liquid formulations.


The authors of this report examine the history and evolution of e-cigarette and e-liquid formulations, noting the complications surrounding rebuildable dripping atomizers (RDAs) and customizable devices that resulted in efficient ways to vape drugs other than nicotine (DOTN) via e-liquids, waxes, dabs, crystals, and plant material. The authors also discuss the complications of e-cigarettes with ethanol, which, even at low concentrations, can impact horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn, and the one-legged stand; and the importance of determining any impact to the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) from vaping ethanol in order to support the confidence of the officer’s observation and determination. The research project had two aims: to characterize the continuously evolving design, use, and abuse of electronic cigarettes and the adulteration and/or production of products to be used in the devices; and to evaluate the impact of vaping ethanol on the preliminary breath test, the evidentiary breath test, and the SFST. The research team has received e-liquids submitted to the laboratory, which were then evaluated by direct analysis in real time time-of-flight mass spectrometry (DART TOF MS) and gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS). By 2019, the researchers had established one of the oldest databases of e-liquid compositions acquired through untargeted analyses, and created a comprehensive table of chemicals to be shared with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Association for Public Health Laboratories (APHL).

Date Published: September 1, 2022