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HARMFUL CHEMICALS IN VAPES AND E-LIQUIDS YOU SHOULD AVOID

HARMFUL CHEMICALS IN VAPES AND E-LIQUIDS YOU SHOULD AVOID

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HARMFUL CHEMICALS IN VAPES AND E-LIQUIDS YOU SHOULD AVOID

Chemicals you should avoid in e-liquids include diacetyl as it is linked to the condition 'popcorn lung', acetoin is known to react in e-liquid to form diacetyl. Pentanedione is a flavouring linked with inflammation and lung damage. Diethylene glycol was found in some E-Cigarettes in 2009 and is considered a toxic substance, vitamin E acetate has been used to add illicit substances to liquids and is linked to vaping injury.

INTRODUCTION

Electronic cigarettes are known as ‘electronic nicotine delivery systems’ or ENDS in the scientific community. The idea is to deliver nicotine without the harmful chemicals found in traditional cigarettes, satisfying a nicotine addiction but with the harm from smoking significantly reduced!

The toxic chemicals inhaled when smoking cigarettes are well documented, but there are lots of articles claiming a wide range of ‘truths’ regarding the safety of Vape products and e liquid ingredients. A little investigation will yield everything from ‘vaping is 100% safe’ to ‘vaping is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes’. 

The truth lies somewhere between those two statements, and the important question to answer for the layman is: which is closer to the truth, and why? 

IS VAPING BAD FOR YOU?

Vaping isn't entirely risk free, however when you compare the risks from vaping compared to the risks from smoking, vaping is the better option. According to Public Health England, E-Cigarettes are at least 95% less harmful than smoking tobacco cigarettes (1)! 

In the UK, e-liquids are held to the highest standards by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to prevent harmful ingredients in vape juice that is produced in the UK. What chemicals are in vapes from China or other disposable vape manufacturers? We can't be certain of the quality of the flavourings and other ingredients going into disposable vapes, so 

WHAT ARE E-LIQUIDS?

E-liquids are the consumed product in the practice of vaping; it contains the nicotine needed to satisfy the nicotine withdrawal smokers suffer when quitting smoking. 

A vape device works by heating up the e-liquid until it turns into an aerosol, which is a mixture of particles dispersed in air or gas, so it can be inhaled by the user. This gets nicotine into the lungs, to be absorbed into the bloodstream, much like when smoking. 

E-liquids can be purchased in bottles for filling your own device, and in pre-filled e-cigarette and pod refills!

WHAT DO E-LIQUIDS CONTAIN?

The e-liquid mixture, fondly called ‘vape juice’ by many, is made with only 4 ingredients (including nicotine). So, what chemicals are in vaping liquid?

The 4 ingredients are: propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerin (VG) or ‘glycerol’, and flavourings, with a specific amount of nicotine added.

Vegetable glycerine is responsible for the amount of vapour produced by the device, with higher VG liquids producing thick, voluminous clouds - we’ve all passed these conspicuous vapers in the street, and walked through their clouds like a bad boy-band music video! 

Propylene glycol is the other main component of e-liquids and performs several jobs. It is used to carry the flavour and provides a throat hit, helping the vaping experience feel close to a smoking sensation - something SMOKO customers appreciate in the SMOKO E-cigarette!

The flavourings added allow for a huge range of different vape flavours but this does increase the appeal to young people, which is one of the reasons why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA have made fruit, dessert and mint flavours illegal.

Nicotine, the final ingredient, has two different forms that can be added to e-liquids. Free base nicotine, and nicotine salt (often abbreviated to nic salts). Nicotine free e-liquids are an option, and are used to add your own nicotine if you plan to mix your own liquids.

Why would you mix your own liquids? The maximum nicotine strength allowed for sale is 2.0%, or 20mg per ml, for e-liquids and e-cigarette refills in the UK, but I’ve seen blog posts from people who mix up to 5% or 50mg per ml using nicotine shots and e-liquid shortfills!

That’s a bit like using dynamite to start a campfire: overkill!

Before we become inundated with messages from vapers saying ‘hey! Nicotine shots are regulated!’ This is true, however, they are subject to a different set of regulations - the GPSR (General Product Safety Regulations) which assumes they will be used as intended. 

However, you know what people are like - for every nine people that follow the guidelines, one will completely ignore them!

WHAT CHEMICALS SHOULD YOU AVOID IN YOUR E-CIGARETTE?

In the United States, the FDA made many flavoured e-liquids illegal because of the potential damage done by flavourings and additives that were finding their way into some flavoured e-liquids in the USA. 

PULEGONE

Pulegone is found in oils extracted from mint plants and is known to cause cancer. It is found in mint and menthol flavouring and has been detected in e-cigarette vapour. 

One study that focused on the levels of pulegone in five e-liquids and one smokeless tobacco product found that pulegone levels were not only higher than the acceptable levels of intake of synthetic pulegone deemed by the FDA, but higher than levels in menthol cigarettes (2).

DIACETYL, ACETOIN OR PENTANEDIONE

Diacetyl is a flavouring that was used in popcorn factories, where workers began suffering from a lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans, commonly known as ‘popcorn lung’. This condition causes the small airways to become inflamed, leading to breathing issues. It is an irreversible condition that needs to be treated to slow its progression; however the median survival time is two and a half years. 

While diacetyl is safe as a food ingredient, it is linked to the condition ‘popcorn lung’ when inhaled - so it is already banned for flavourings in e-liquids in Europe and the UK. 

Acetoin is another chemical to watch out for - while it is less toxic, acetoin reacts over time in the e-liquid to form diacetyl, and this is sped up in the presence of nicotine (3). 

Thirdly, watch out for the inclusion of acetyl propionyl, also called ‘pentanedione’, in vape juice. It is another flavouring that is used in sweet and creamy e-liquid flavours. It is known to cause inflammation of the respiratory tract, lung damage and even death in rats. 

POPCORN LUNG SYMPTOMS

What is popcorn lung? It is a condition that was named for the popcorn factories where diacetyl was used as flavouring. Inhaled by the factory workers, many of whom began to suffer coughing and shortness of breath. The medical term, 'bronchiolitis obliterans', refers to the damage done to the smallest airways in the lungs, which makes the airways swollen and leads to scarring that makes them narrower.

This all leads to making it hard to get enough air, leaving sufferers short of breath. Sadly, the damage done is lasting and can be severe. Treatment is required to stave off the inflammation and encourage the airways to open, or in the worst cases a lung transplant may be the only option.

HEAVY METALS

Vape juice itself doesn’t contain heavy metals, but a consequence of heating the e-liquid in contact with metal is the leaching of metal particles into the liquid, which are then present in the aerosol produced. 

The more powerful style vape devices produce more of these potentially harmful byproducts, due to the higher temperatures that they can reach, with higher voltages increasing the concentration of some elements, like lead, in the aerosol produced by the vape oil ingredients.

This is where cigalike and pre-filled pod systems could be ahead of the curve - the pre-filled cartridges ensure that the coils are only being used for a short time as they are in the refill, so the coil doesn’t have much of a chance to degrade before the refill is finished. 

Add to that the fixed, low power output - the SMOKO E-cigarette battery puts out about 3.5 watts, compared to a box mod that puts out about 40 watts - indicating that the coils in the low powered devices are put under much less strain and heat, reducing the potential for degradation. 

VITAMIN E ACETATE

Vitamin E acetate is being used by vapers to add illicit substances like THC, the psychoactive component found in cannabis, to their vape juice. Vitamin E acetate is linked to instances of EVALI (e-cigarettes vaping associated lung injury) in the US (4).

DIETHYLENE GLYCOL

Diethylene glycol is another compound that has a multitude of uses, from antifreeze and brake fluid to use in dyes, but also tastes sweet - don’t find out for yourself! It was found to be present in some e-cigarettes in 2009 by the FDA, but it is considered a toxic substance.

SMOKO e-liquids are made in the UK

HOW DO E-LIQUID FLAVOUR COMBINATIONS AFFECT YOU?

Mixing flavours can seem like a fun idea, but one study from Oxford Academic, conducted in 2018, examined the stability of e cig ingredients within the context of e-liquids. The study indicates that flavourings react with the propylene glycol in e-liquid over time, leading to the formation of acetals (5), which can trigger an inflammatory response in the airways.

CINNAMON

Considered one of the ‘most toxic’ flavours, cinnamaldehyde is the chemical used for cinnamon flavouring - it can cause lung issues if inhaled, and is known to damage white blood cells and should not be used as an e cig juice ingredients.

VANILLA

Vanilla flavours are made using vanillin, which has been shown to increase numbers of inflammatory white blood cells.

STRAWBERRY AND BANANA

Dimethylpyrazine is the flavouring used for strawberry, and can impact the regulation of liquid on the surfaces of the airways. Isoamyl acetate is the chemical used for banana flavouring, and can cause irritation of the nose, throat and lungs. 

MIXING FLAVOURS

Where it seems many flavoring chemicals when inhaled have the potential to trigger an inflammatory response, mixing flavours results in greater levels of free radicals being produced, potentially leading to more tissue damage (6). 

SMOKO Customers are often looking for tobacco flavour E-cigarette refills when they first make the switch, which tells us that mixing liquids is not where their priorities lie! Finding one or two flavours that work for you appears to generate long term success!

IS VAPING BETTER THAN SMOKING?

In the UK, there is no doubt that vaping is better than smoking! As we mentioned earlier, Public Health England regularly review the evidence on vaping and stand by their assessment that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking. 

It is worth noting that the UK and the EU are industry leaders when it comes to vaping regulations, so products made in the UK and EU are going to be superior to those found elsewhere in terms of their safety. Things like disposable vapes out of Asia are sealed units and so often skirt around the regulatory process that UK producers of vape juice adhere to, which is why it took investigations by the Daily Mail and British American Tobacco to find that many of the disposable vapes on UK shelves contained illegal levels of e-liquid. If the legal limit for the volume of e-liquid was ignored on such a grand scale, what other rules have they chosen to ignore?

With this in mind, there are a few rules to follow for the utmost safety when you vape.

1) Firstly, buy UK-made e-liquid for vape juice that contains high quality ingredients.

2) Secondly, choosing a low powered device reduces the already-small amount of harmful particulates that vaping does produce, so low power vaping is safer than using a high powered vape mod.

3) Thirdly, buy from a retailer you can trust. Check out customer reviews, speak to them if you can, and any other research like how long they have been in business will give you some clues as to how well they serve their customers! 

 

WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING E-CIGARETTE REFILLS AND E-LIQUIDS?

With a lot of problematic flavourings in use on the global vaping market, taking some care over which e-liquids to purchase is a good idea. The variation of regulation between countries means that vapers are well protected in some places and not others.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins, Maryland USA, recently examined chemicals in e-liquid aerosols from five e-cigarette products in the US, and found the inclusion of tributylphosphine oxide, a solvent, and caffeine, a stimulant. This bolsters the claims that vaping is as harmful as smoking, but remember that the regulation in the USA is not as stringent as here in the UK!

Be sure to look at product reviews on websites, or forums, to get an idea of how cigarette users are responding to a brand. If you are concerned about certain flavourings or ingredients in e-liquids, then see if the brand provides any details regarding the ingredients, either on their website or by request. Transparency is always an encouraging quality in a company!

HARMFUL CHEMICALS YOU SHOULD AVOID IN E-LIQUIDS: CONCLUSION

Public Health England, along with the Royal College of Physicians, estimate that the damage from e-cigarettes will not exceed 5% of the damage done from smoking traditional cigarettes, suggesting that vaping is 95% safer than smoking tobacco products

This means that despite the presence of certain harmful chemicals, the volumes of these chemicals in electronic cigarette are generally in much lower concentrations than those found in tobacco cigarettes.

Being careful where you buy your liquids and buy from the safest e liquid brand, and using a less powerful device, are the best ways to minimise the harmful chemicals produced by e-cigarettes

If you are looking for lower powered vaping devices, with e-liquids made in the UK, then check out one of SMOKO’s E-cigarette Starter Kits today!

REFERENCES

(1) E-Cigarettes around 95% less harmful than tobacco estimates landmark review

(2) Risk Analysis for the Carcinogen Pulegone in Mint- and Menthol-Flavored e-Cigarettes and Smokeless Tobacco Products

(3) Acetoin is a precursor to diacetyl in e-cigarettes liquids

(4) Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products

(5) Formation of flavorant - propylene Glycol Adducts With Novel Toxicological Properties in Chemically Unstable E-Cigarette Liquids

(6) Inflammatory and Oxidative Responses Induced by Exposure to Commonly Used e-Cigarette Flavoring Chemicals and Flavored e-liquids without Nicotine

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Written by Dan Overgage

Dan Overgage is a former smoker of 10 years until he became a client of SMOKO E-Cigarettes.  Dan started working with SMOKO 5 years ago after successfully quitting using our e-cigarettes and works across our Customer Service and heads up our content creation and research with a strong focus on all things quitting smoking.  During his tenure with SMOKO, Dan has written countless blogs and consults with countless clients every day to help them to stay smoke-free.

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