One of the most annoying (rhetorical) questions we hear has got to be, “Oh my gawd, you know you’re inhaling antifreeze with that stuff, raaaaight?". While we may have imagined that the 2009 FDA findings of trace amounts of diethylene glycol in a couple of e-liquids was old news, this is one that remains a common concern with regards to e-cigarette liquid safety and the health risks associated with vaping. This is especially the case among those new to e-cigarettes and e-liquid safety, and those who have heard misconstrued e-cigarette safety warnings. The answer to the anti-freeze question, by the way, is NO, our e-liquid does not contain diethylene glycol. It does, however, contain propylene glycol, which is something entirely different - more about that in a bit. Indeed, in 2017, the highly competitive vape industry is taking incredible strides to ensure high quality products in order to stay relevant.
Question 1: Vape juice - is it REALLY safe?
E-liquids have come a long way in the last decade, but it is only sensible and reasonable to take vape juice safety seriously. With electronic cigarettes' popularity and safety concerns on the rise, it is important to do one’s own e-cigarette safety research.
You need to ask the questions: “Why is vaping bad?”; “Is vaping bad?”; “Is vaping dangerous?”; “Is vaping harmful?”; “Is vaping safe?” Before simply accepting the first (mis?)information you might come across. To get you started, in addition to this post, we’ve put together our Ultimate Guide to E-Liquids for you to download for FREE. When exploring e-cigarette safety concerns, two main categories emerge: e-liquid health hazards and device-specific concerns. While the FDA warns that e-cigarettes pose a health hazard, the Administration’s worries are orientated around e-liquid health risks. The following are the FDA’s primary concerns:
"The agency is concerned that
- e-cigarettes can increase nicotine addiction among young people and may lead kids to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death
- the products may contain ingredients that are known to be toxic to humans
- because clinical studies about the safety and efficacy of these products for their intended use have not been submitted to FDA, consumers currently have no way of knowing 1) whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use, or 2) about what types or concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals or what dose of nicotine they are inhaling when they use these products."
To address the first point – ethical vape juice companies are creating products designed for smokers who are looking for an alternative to traditional analogcigarettes. They have no interest in getting young people addicted to nicotine.
Question 2: Are e-liquids toxic?
The FDA's second concern of toxicity makes perfect sense: nicotine, the main ingredient in most e-liquids, is an addictive and toxic substance. This means that vape juice without nicotine is safe (assuming there are no nasty chemicals added to the mix). There’s just no way getting around this one, e-liquid nicotine health risks are real because the nicotine alkaloid is not a healthy chemical for human beings, even though it occurs naturally in the Solanaceae family of plants. Remember, the tobacco plant and the extremely toxic Deadly Nightshade plant are closely related. This is why part of us addressing electronic cigarettes safety concerns and regulatory issues is making it a priority to adequately label our products with e-cigarette safety warnings.
The nicotine used in e-liquids is extracted from the tobacco plant and the standard pharmaceutical grade nicotine used in most e-liquids is USP nicotine - USP stands for United States Pharmacopeia Convention, “a scientific nonprofit organization that sets standards for the identity, strength, quality, and purity of medicines, food ingredients, and dietary supplements manufactured, distributed and consumed worldwide.” When vaping, you usually tend to consume much less nicotine than what you do with analog cigs, so the e-cigarette health side effects that you might experience are in fact withdrawal symptoms.
Question 3: E-liquids - what are the harmful ingredients?
The issue of other harmful ingredients and e-liquid safety, such as that of antifreeze mentioned at the top of the page, is valid. However, with the incredible advancements and improvements the vape industry is constantly making in terms of both quality and safety, it is increasingly difficult to find harmful ingredients in reputable e-juice.
To understand what other harmful ingredients might occur in vape juice, you need to have an idea of the makeup of e-liquids. Our free Ultimate Guide to E-Liquids explains this really well, but to summarize here’s a quick breakdown: in e-liquids, the nicotine is carried by a base liquid, which is also responsible for carrying the flavor. The base is the body of the e-liquid. Thus, there are three main components of e-juice: nicotine, base, and flavor.
Question 4: E-liquids - what's in the base?
The base of a vape juice can consist of propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin(VG), or a combination of the two. Companies focussing on high quality use a combination of 70% VG and 30% PG. This allows for a full, fluffy cloud from the thick VG, balanced with rich, delicious flavor carried to best effect by the PG. Where it comes to vape juice safety and the base ingredients, if you were wondering about vegetable glycerin e-liquid safety, VG has been established as one of the most benign substances known to man. "Vegetable glycerin, or glycerol, is a clear, doorless liquid produced from plant oils, typically palm oil, soy, or coconut oil”, the main characteristics of gloopy, colourless VG are its moisturizing quality and its slightly sweet taste. VG is used in anything from food to pharmaceuticals to cosmetics.
Propylene glycol, not to be confused with diethylene glycol, is a synthetic organic compound that is in essence a byproduct of oil refining and natural gas processing. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), PG is used to absorb extra water and maintain moisture in certain medicines, cosmetics, or food products. Propylene glycol has a syrupy viscosity and is clear, tasteless and odorless, making it an excellent solvent for food colors and flavors. PG is identified by the code E1520 in food processing. (Thanks Wikipedia!).
Question 5: E-liquids - are the flavors safe?
When the base of an e-juice is aerosolized in the atomizer it carries with it not only the nicotine ingredient, but whatever flavor ingredients are added to the e-liquid too. Flavors can either be natural extractions from raw natural ingredients, or synthetic chemical compounds that copy the flavors naturally found in plants and fruit. An example of a natural flavor is Tobacco Absolute, the essential oil of tobacco used to create tobacco-flavored vapor juice, as we mention in our free Ultimate Guide to E-Liquids.
Whether natural or synthetic, the flavors that you taste are the esters added to e-liquids. According to Wikipedia “(m)any esters have distinctive fruit-like odors, and many occur naturally in the essential oils of plants. This has also led to their commonplace use in artificial flavorings and fragrances when those odors aim to be mimicked.”
Generally, the flavor component is not considered to be an e-liquid health hazard. Everyone is different, has their own likes and dislikes, as well as their own sensitivities, so where it comes to health effects, it is a good idea to stay mindful of how you feel when trying a new flavor. Just as you might have a food sensitivity to citrus fruits, let’s say, you might have a sensitivity to the natural extraction of orange, as well as the artificial flavor, since they would both contain octyl acetate, the ester which imparts a grape-fruity, orangey flavor.
Although we all differ, we’re all human beings (I hope?), and we’re all vulnerable to harmful substances. One such group of substances is diketones, which includes diacetyl, acetyl propionyl and acetoin. Although diacetyl occurs naturally in alcoholic beverages and is added to some foods to impart its buttery flavor, but when it is inhaled over a long period it can cause respiratory problems including a condition known as Popcorn Lung, Popcorn Workers’ Lung or bronchiolitis obliterans. It is for this reason that premium companies make certain not to include any diketones in their creamy flavors.
That said, the nature of chemistry is that even if all of the ingredients are as safe as possible, harmful substances can be emitted when the ingredients react with one another, especially when exposed to high temperatures. This is why it's so important to have every one of the premium flavors tested for the presence of harmful chemicals upon aerosolization. All of Umba's products are confirmed diketone and nitrosamine free. Check out the test results here and here.
Question 6: Are nitrosamines carcinogenic?
Basically, nitrosamines - or Tobacco-Specific Nitrosamines (TSNAs) - are what allows cigarettes to cause cancer. These highly carcinogenic chemical compounds “are formed from nicotine and related compounds by a nitrosation reaction that occurs during the curing and processing of tobacco”. Although the nitrosamines N′-nitrosoanatabine (NAT) and N-nitrosoanabasine (NAB) exist in cigarettes, these chemical compounds are not found in high-quality WTA. This WTA contains the alkaloids anatabine and anabasine with virtually none of the TSNAs. In fact, they are considered to carry similar health effects to that of USP nicotine. Thus, with both USP and WTA ranges, where it comes to are e-cigarette safety, second hand vapor is not considered an issue.
Although the health hazards of e-cigarettes are actively being studied by top universities in various e-cigarette safety studies and no-one can give the final judgement, at this moment, on vapor juice safety, premium e-liquid companies are all about sharing the best possible alternative to cigarettes - an alternative that can improve the quality of our lives.