Part of the reason that vaping came to prominence way to try and fill the void that cigarettes does for smokers without many of the health concerns that have been proven with prolonged cigarette use. These devices, that do not use tobacco but instead a nicotine-laced liquid called E juice that is vaporized with heat, have grown from a novelty upon their inception in the mid-2000s to a $6 billion industry worldwide. With this success, though, is coming questions, particularly whether or not the E juice that is central to these devices is actually safe. Understanding this requires a bit of investigation and some myth-busting about e-cigarettes and vaping in general.
The Safety Concerns
One of the central headlines that made people skittish about vaping was a 2009 study from the FDA finding trace levels of diethylene glycol in some e-liquids, a component also present in anti-freeze. However, 2009 to today is a large time when technology moves this quick, so it’s important to keep a variety of things in mind. For one, when it comes to the vast majority of e juices, there are four main components:
Vegetable Glycerol: This clear odorless liquid is derived from several plant liquids, including palm oil, soy, or coconut oil. These products have had several uses, including in cosmetic products and foods.
Propylene Glycol: This is where much of the concern is regarding e juice and health, mainly because uninformed people mix it up with the diethylene glycol we mentioned earlier. Note that this chemical is approved by the FDA, and is in several common household items.
Natural/Artificial Flavorings: These are what gives e juice its various tastes, scents, and visuals, and all of them meet FDA generally recognized as safe standards.
Nicotine: While technically optional, the presence of nicotine without tobacco draws many to e-cigarettes. This compound is naturally occurring, but has its own set of health concerns, as we will get into in a second.
The majority of health concerns we have about nicotine regard its believed addictive properties. In addition, levels of compounds like formaldehyde are produced during the e juice burning process. However, there are two main issues regarding these concerns.
1: All tests regarding nicotine in its pure form have been done on animals, as doing so on humans would be unethical. As a result, while we can infer some things from the results of them, we can’t treat them as equivalent when it comes to humans.
2: When it comes to the chemicals produced by e-cigarettes, we can’t really get much of a scientific look because vaping is in its relative infancy. In the future, we will have the ability to look at long-term data of e-cigarette users to determine any added or similar risk to that of regular smoking.
Ultimately, many experts, on the pro- and anti- side of vaping, can come to the agreement that there isn’t enough data to make a final conclusion on vaping’s risk. However, there are some things you can to be careful.
Weighing Your Options
While the question of e-juice’s safety is too loaded and too new to have an answer, the best thing you can do now is treat them like you should any consumer product, from electronics to food: do your homework and know the companies you patronize. If you’re planning on buying e juice, here are some things to look out for:
- Does the e-juice company have a website identifying where it’s made and mixed?
- Are all e-juice ingredients extracted and produced in an ISO7 clean room?
- Does the website provide pictures of the facility and who is behind the scenes or is it just a generic stock photo?
Why is this important? If an e juice is mixed in an uncontrolled environment, there is the potential for contaminants to get in it that change the nature of what you are lighting and inhaling. There are current questions about the chemicals already in e juice by nature—you don’t need to add things to the mix that could potentially be confirmed already as dangerous. In addition, when it comes to nicotine, realize that all juice makers provide different levels of nicotine, ranging from amounts similar to the strongest cigarettes to nicotine-free. Be sure to see how much there is to make sure its matches your needs and tastes.
At the moment, our knowledge of e juice and vaping is still growing. This means that there’s a level of uncertainty, but the majority of “proven” concerns are more misinterpretations than anything else. Your best asset will be general good consumer practices until the scientific community gets the data they need to make an informed conclusion.