April 15, 2015
2 min read

Inhaling e-cigarette flavoring chemicals may be hazardous

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High doses of flavor chemicals — which may be safe when ingested — could cause respiratory irritation and be of toxicological concern when inhaled, according to a recently published study in Tobacco Control. 

“Flavor chemicals are present in almost all e-cigarette fluids currently on the market in the U.S.A. and globally. Concerns are arising among public health professionals that flavored e-cigarette products may make e-cigarette use attractive to youth,” James F. Pankow, department of civil and environmental engineering, Portland State University, and colleagues wrote.

James F. Pankow

To analyze the effect of inhalation among ‘food safe’/’generally safe’ ingredients, researchers evaluated two brands of disposable-cartridge e-cigarettes, BLU (Lorillard Technologies, Inc.) and NJOY, in five flavors: tobacco, menthol, vanilla, cherry and coffee. The same flavors were evaluated in refill bottles, along with additional confectionary flavors: chocolate, grape, apple, cotton candy and bubble gum.

The majority of liquids contained between 1% and 4% (10-40 mg/mL) of flavor chemicals, whereas nicotine levels ranged from 0.6%-2.4% (6-24 mg/mL). In 13 of the analyzed liquids, total flavor chemicals were greater than 1% by weight.

One of the top three flavor chemicals, vanillin and/or ethyl vanillin, with greater than or equal to 0.5 mg/mL, was found in 17 of the 30 analyzed liquids.

A recognized primary irritant of mucosal tissue in the respiratory tract, aldehydes, was a common flavor chemical in many of the evaluated liquids.

Researchers noted that flavor chemicals are rarely listed on product labels, and that while these chemicals may be safe for eating, they are not safe for inhalation, especially in the levels found in e-cigarettes.

“Regulatory actions that should be considered include requiring ingredient identification, limiting levels of some individual flavor chemicals and limiting total levels of flavor chemicals,” Pankow and colleagues wrote. 

“If patients present with respiratory problems and self report as being users of e-cigarettes (or any kind of such "vaping" device) and are not willing to stop or decrease their usage, they should consider switching to e-cigarette fluid with lower levels of flavor chemicals, especially if they are fond of vanilla or cherry flavors. Vanillin and ethyl vanillin are main vanilla flavor chemicals, and benzaldehyde is a main cherry flavor chemical. All three chemicals are members of the "aldedhyde" family, and aldehydes are known in general to be respiratory irritants,” Pankow told Healio.com/Family Medicine. – by Casey Hower

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.