Chemicals Used in E-Cig Flavors Are Toxic and We’ve Known for Decades

Banana Pudding, Caramel Corn Crunch, Rainbow Candy, Glazed Donut, Sub Zero Watermelon, Hawaiian Punch — the list goes on and on; names like treats from some imaginary dessert menu. Electronic cigarettes owe much of their appeal to a continually growing list of flavored e-liquids, the nicotine-containing solution that is electronically vaporized and inhaled through the devices.
Flavored e-liquids, or e-juices, have also proved to be one of the most contentious concerns about electronic cigarettes. They also may be more hazardous to our health than previously thought.
Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has pointed out that the variety of flavors that makes vaping appealing from a cessation perspective — getting a long-time smoker to stop traditional cigarettes — are the same reason why teens and adolescents are now using electronic cigarettes in record numbers.
How to regulate these flavored e-liquids has been a sticking point between the FDA and advocacy groups including the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association.
On multiple occasions these groups have rebuked the federal government for its apparent lethargy in taking action to stem a growing tide of young tobacco users.
However, on Thursday, the FDA unveiled a new plan to fight underage tobacco use, targeting electronic cigarettes, flavored cigars, and menthol cigarettes.
The agency is moving to limit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes to brick-and-mortar locations that are age-restricted retailers, such as smoke shops, or areas within stores that can only be accessed by individuals 18 or older.
The FDA is also increasing scrutiny on online sales of flavored e-cigarettes by seeking “heightened age verification processes.”
Yet, these steps only address the issue of adolescent e-cigarette-use and not the larger health risks e-juice flavors may cause.
What’s even in this stuff?
“From the beginning the e-cigarette industry has been trying to peddle that their products are safe, that they don’t contain the nasty chemicals that you find in cigarettes,” Erika Sward, assistant vice president of national advocacy for the American Lung Association told Healthline. “As more and more research comes out, I think that we’re not surprised to find that the e-cigarette industry has not been truthful and forthcoming about the chemicals that their products do contain.”
Sward is referring to a growing body of evidence that the supposedly safe chemicals used regularly to make e-liquids are likely unhealthy.
New research further suggests the chemical components in e-liquids are toxic and harmful to the body.
Also, it’s unlikely that manufacturers of these products are even fully aware of their chemical properties and their potential for harm.
Fogging up the facts
The selling points of the “safety” of e-liquids have been that the products contain relatively few ingredients and, of the ingredients used, many are on the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list.
E-liquids are generally made from a combination of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. This forms the liquid base to which additional additives such as flavorings and nicotine are added.
And the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the pudding-flavored vape juice.
Aldehydes, organic components often associated with aromas (such as those of berries), and other additives used for flavoring on the GRAS list are understood to be safe for food — not smoking or vaping.
Yet e-liquids are rife with them: cinnamaldehyde imparts the sweet spicy taste of cinnamon; vanillin for vanilla notes; and benzaldehyde is the unmistakable taste of almonds. Other common flavoring elements such as diacetyl give a creamy or buttery depth to e-liquids.
Previous studies have looked at the effects of these ingredients when subjected to heat or vaporization and found that they can cause the formation of formaldehyde and other cancer-causing chemicals, in addition to causing irritation and inflammation of the lungs.
Now new research says that the chemicals could begin to react, forming unknown byproducts as soon as the e-liquid is mixed.