Measuring E-Cig Flavour Chemicals with Chromatography
Mar 28 2019
There can be no doubt as to the size and influence of the vape market. Using e-cigarettes is said to be safer than smoking, and that e-cigs are a safe route as part of the process of quitting smoking. But is that the case?
In what is still a largely unregulated market do we know exactly what we are putting in our bodies? One part of the vaping phenomenon that could be drawing younger people into the trend are the vast array of flavours on offer for vapers. But flavouring is unregulated. A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports - High concentrations of flavor chemicals are present in electronic cigarette refill fluids - has set out to analyse flavour chemicals we could be inhaling with every puff.
E-cigs the healthy option?
Electronic cigarettes are a type of nicotine delivery system that hopefully allows smokers the chance to get the nicotine ‘fix’ without the myriad of dangerous chemicals associated with cigarettes. The chemicals involved in an e-cig usually belong to one of three types. A carrier chemical that is typically propylene glycol or glycerol, the nicotine itself, and a flavouring agent that interacts with the flavour receptors in the nose and mouth.
Refills are sold across the counter to be used at full strength, there is no additional diluting of the refill contents. There have been cases of adverse health affects affecting the respiratory system attributed to the use of electronic cigarettes, including bronchiolitis obliterans and acute eosinophilic pneumonia. Animal models and cell experiments have shown that the fluids and aerosols from electronic cigarettes ‘show increased oxidative stress, inflammatory responses, and impaired pulmonary defences that may contribute to adverse health effects.’
Flavours chemicals - safe to inhale?
Researchers have found that it is the flavour chemicals that raise the cytotoxicity - the quality of being toxic to cells - of electronic cigarettes. Many of the flavouring used in electronic cigarettes are regarded as safe - safe for ingestion that is, not inhalation. Strangely, the chemicals classed as flavourings have guidelines for inhalation for workers manufacturing or using them, but there are none currently for inhalation by electronic cigarettes.
In the study referenced above, researchers used gas chromatography - mass spectrometry to analyse the chemicals found in 277 refill fluids. GC-MS is a versatile analytical technique as shown in the article, Detection of molecular markers in aquatic sediments by ion profiles obtained by GC/MS system. They found over 150 different flavour chemicals in the samples tested - manufacturers have access to over 16000 different flavour chemicals.
They state that:
Regulatory agencies could consider limiting the concentrations of flavor chemicals in EC products, requiring a list of flavor ingredients on product labels, restricting use of flavor chemicals that are cytotoxic at low concentrations, such as cinnamaldehyde, or banning the use of flavor chemicals in tobacco products, as suggested by others
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