From the 1st of October onwards, it is prohibited to purchase nicotine-containing e-liquids without a doctor’s approval across Australia, except in South Australia.
Vaping e-liquids without nicotine is not prohibited for use in Australia (though in some states, the devices themselves are considered illegal).
Vaping is growing in popularity in Australia, particularly with young people.
I was part of a research group that sought to discover what nicotine-free liquids smokers inhale and the potential health risks they could have.
Our study, published on the 14th of this month in The Medical Journal of Australia, found that most e-liquids contained substances that can cause respiratory irritation or lung injury when breathed in. The Australian drug regulator, The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), later banned most ingredients.
Additionally, we found that every e-liquid contained chemicals that have health risks of inhalation exposure that are not known.
Vaping is not secure. E-cigarettes are not recognized as smoking cessation devices.
What did we study?
In the past, we conducted a tiny study that involved chemically analyzing the ten e-liquids we purchased from Australia. They were all labeled “nicotine free”.
Our study, reported in The Medical Journal of Australia in 2019, was awe-inspiring and alarming. We discovered that 60 percent of the liquids we tested contained nicotine. In some cases, it was at high levels that it was not just trace contamination.
The ten e-liquids had a chemical known as “2-chlorophenol”, frequently used in pesticides and disinfectants. It is also a known irritant for the lung and skin.
Most e-liquids, including “2-amino octanoic acid, ” can be described as amino acids found in mammals’ biological products such as urine, feces, and blood. Its presence could be caused by contamination by one of these substances in packaging or manufacturing.
Our findings inspired us to extend our previous research.
We have analyzed 65 Australian E-liquids and used an approach to understand how heating the e-liquids used for vaping can alter their chemical constituents.
It was the most comprehensive study of Australian electronic liquids to date. It was conducted by Curtin University and the Wal-yan Respiratory Research Centre in partnership with Lung Foundation Australia, the Minderoo Foundation, and Cancer Council Western Australia.
The e-liquids we examined were purchased online or from brick-and-mortar shops across Australia. They all were advertised as “best-sellers,” Australian-made, and nicotine-free, So they are probably representative of what Australian vapers are using.
All the e-liquids we tested were identified with a complete ingredient list, making it difficult for consumers to determine what chemicals they were breathing. Also, all of the e-liquids we test do not comply with European Union labeling regulations.
What else did we find?
The majority of flavoring chemicals that we identified The flavoring chemicals we found are “generally regarded as safe” by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when they are used in beverages and foods. However, there is a distinct difference between a substance safe to consume and one safe to breathe in for long periods.
We also found nicotine in several e-liquids, but it was detected in much lesser quantities and at significantly lower levels than in our previous research. This could be a sign of an improved manufacturing process.
We tested only to determine “freebase” nicotine, commonly used in traditional cigarettes and nicotine replacement treatments. Therefore, e-liquids could contain a different form of nicotine called nicotine salts. They are more frequently used in the present than only a few years ago.
We also discovered 2-chlorophenol; however, it was found in a small portion of the e-liquids that were tested. Whatever the case, the fact that e-liquids are contaminated with this harmful chemical, which is not a legitimate justification for its presence, is a significant issue.
Other concerning chemicals were frequently identified, including benzaldehyde trans-cinnamaldehyde and menthol. These chemicals enhance their cinnamon, almond, and mint flavors, respectively.
Benzaldehyde is present in all e-liquids except four, and menthol and trans-cinnamaldehyde were detected in around three-quarters of the E-liquids. This presence of chemicals in flavorings is a problem due to a variety of reasons.
First of all, they are all believed to modify how nicotine works. Menthol makes nicotine more addictive.
The benzaldehyde derivative and the trans-cinnamaldehyde block an enzyme known as “CYP2A6”. It is responsible for metabolizing and detoxifying a wide range of drugs we come in contact with, which includes nicotine.
When the function of nicotine is impaired due to these flavoring chemicals, it means that a user who uses e-liquids that contain nicotine will be able to experience nicotine in their system for a longer time before it is taken up in the human body.
Benzaldehyde is also a respiratory irritating agent that can decrease an individual’s capacity to fight lung diseases. Trans-cinnamaldehyde can have even more severe impacts on the lung’s immune cells.
These two chemicals have been included in the TGA’s list of ingredients prohibited in e-liquids which means they are not allowed from Australian electronic liquids. The TGA does not prohibit menthol, but it is banned in cigarettes from tobacco in certain countries. In this study, E-liquids were examined before the ban was implemented.
This study demonstrates that Australian E-liquids are a mix of chemicals recognized to have adverse health effects or for which potential health risks of inhalation exposure are unknown.
Much research is required in this area to make informed choices about whether nicotine-free and nicotine-free electronic cigarettes can be taken and also to understand the effects of vaping on our health.