Not only smoking is deadly: fatal ingestion of e-juice—a case report

Svenja Bartschat, Katja Mercer-Chalmers-Bender, Justus Beike, Markus A. Rothschild, Martin Jübner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


A fatal case of nicotine intoxication by oral intake of a nicotine solution, sold via the Internet, is reported. The concentrated nicotine solution (72 mg/mL) is usually diluted with polypropylene, polyethylene glycol or glycerine, respectively, in order to allow the user to generate their own solution for vaporisation in electronic cigarettes (e-juice). A 34-year-old man was found lifeless by his parents, who reported that their son had been in good health and had shown no hints of suicidal behaviour. The medicolegal autopsy revealed unspecific findings. Toxicological analysis revealed nicotine concentrations of 5.5 mg/L in femoral venous blood, 136 mg/L in heart blood, 12.0 mg/kg in brain tissue, 42.6 mg/kg in kidney tissue, 89.5 mg/kg in lung tissue and a total amount of 3,950 mg in the gastric contents. Cotinine concentrations were 0.9 mg/L in femoral venous blood, 7.6 mg/L in heart blood, 0.4 mg/kg in brain tissue, 0.9 mg/kg in kidney tissue and 0.8 mg/kg in lung tissue. No cotinine was detected in the gastric contents. The nicotine level measured in the femoral blood was in good accordance with the levels reported in other fatal cases caused by oral or patch application of nicotine. Moreover, the high level of nicotine in lung and kidney tissue, compared to that within femoral blood, strikingly emphasises the strong effect of post-mortem redistribution, underlined by the comparably low concentration of nicotine in the brain. The extremely high level of nicotine in the heart blood is more likely due to the high concentration in the gastric contents, due to oral intake, and by accumulation of the basic substance in the acidic gastric contents. This further highlights the effect of post-mortem redistribution. The mother of the deceased later admitted that her son had been suffering from psychosis and that she found a package containing five nicotine solution vials of the brand “Titanium Ice” (of 50 mL each). Three of the vials were empty. The nicotine concentration in the e-juice Titanium Ice was confirmed by HPLC analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-486
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Legal Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • E-cigarette
  • Intoxication
  • Nicotine
  • Organ distribution
  • Post-mortem redistribution
  • Suicide


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