Do you know what you’re breathing?
The e-liquids or ‘juices’ used in electronic vaping devices generally consist of three key components: solvents, flavours and sweetners, with some juices also containing nicotine. When you inhale the aerosol vapour produced by these devices you are also inhaling the fine particles of these ingredients.
Although most of the ingredients present in vape devices are “generally recognised as safe” for consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is important to remember that this statement is only relevant when eating these products – not breathing them.
Little is known about the effects these ingredients have on the human body when inhaled, with research in this area still developing.
However, what we do know is that many of the ingredients commonly found in vaping devices break down to form dangerous compounds when heated, with some ingredients being found to have cancer-causing properties.
There are even instances where vapes have been found to include traces of toxic heavy metals leached from the heating elements themselves!
So what are these vaping ingredients?
The solvent ‘base’ of e-liquids helps to dissolve the ingredients so that these can be inhaled. The solvents found in vaping devices are vegetable glycerine and/or propylene glycol.
Vegetable glycerine is a natural liquid extracted from plant oils, and is a common ingredient in pharmaceutical drugs and the beauty industry. Vegetable glycerine is responsible for producing the visible aerosol or ‘cloud’ we see when someone vapes. Vegetable glycerine produces a thick, high density aerosol which can often result in a heavy buildup of gunk residue.
Alternatively, some vapes contain propylene glycol, which is a synthetic and petroleum-based organic compound. This product is often used in beauty products such as deodorants and fragrances. Due to its synthetic nature, propylene glycol can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Research shows that e-juice containing propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine release cancer-causing formaldehyde – yes the stuff used to preserve dead bodies, yuck! Studies also show that these heated solvents may lead to inflammation of the lungs over a period of time. Hmmm inflamed lung? That doesn’t sound good.
Vape juice and e-liquids are generally sweetened using sucralose and/or ethyl maltol.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener, most recognisable as a zero calorie sugar replacement in many of the foods we eat. Although sucralose poses minimal risk to eat, it is advised to not heat this additive, as at high temperatures, sucralose may break down and generate harmful substances according to a study in the journal of Chemical Research in Toxicology.
Ethyl maltol is another synthetic organic compound used to sweeten vape juice, and is also a common artificial sweetener in lollies. Ethyl maltol has a strong sweet scent and tastes similar to caramelised sugar. Like sucralose, ethyl maltol has not been proven to be safe to inhale.
Vaping products are now manufactured with thousands of different flavour variants such as cinnamon, berry, tropical and menthol. Each of these ingredients also carry their own potential risk and side effects.
For example, a study from Yale University found that vanillin — an extract of the vanilla bean — transforms into chemicals called acetals when aerosolised (heated into vapour). Those chemicals were associated with lung irritation and damage.
Another study found that e-liquid containing cinnamon flavouring transformed into a cancer-causing compound when heated. As a result, it was quickly removed from the market. How much harm had already been done? And how many other harmful additives are there that we don’t even know about yet?
A lot of e-liquids contain this, the same highly addictive drug found in tobacco. It’s also one of the hardest things to give up, with addiction and withdrawal causing both physical and psychological effects. In youth and young adults, nicotine can harm brain development, and it’s also dangerous for pregnant women and their developing babies.
Nicotine produces physical and mood-altering effects in your brain that are temporarily pleasing, but the withdrawal is fast and intense. Insomnia, irritability, and anxiety are just some of the exciting times ahead for those who are addicted to nicotine .That’s not to mention the physical symptoms, like restlessness, increased hunger, constipation or diarrhoea. Gross
Some e-liquids have been found to contain heavy metals such as cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese and nickel. These five heavy metals can be toxic to inhale and contain cancer-causing properties. Researchers believe it is the coil that heats the liquid in vapes that is the main source of these metals.
Can you believe that with all that information above, and the wide ranging list of ingredients that may or may not go into a vape, we still don’t have regulations around e-liquids or e-juice in New Zealand. That means that basically anything could be in them.
Your safest bet is, if you don’t smoke, don’t pick up a vape.
And the flavours? Well, they taste good, but no one knows if they’re safe to inhale. You can eat them, but there are tons of things you can eat but shouldn’t breathe such as fizzy drinks – fun to drink, not so fun when it goes down your nose while laughing – right?!