By: Jody Hopkinson

Those smoking e-cigarettes thinking they are the healthier alternative to tobacco cigarettes may need to look closely at their e-cigarette flavours, says a recently released research study.

US researchers who developed a new testing method have found some ‘e-cig’ liquids are more toxic than nicotine alone.

The authors also found small doses of the main ingredients in e-liquids were highly toxic – even without nicotine or flavourings – and that flavours that included cinnamon and vanilla were among the worst.

The authors hope their efforts will help the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate e-liquid ingredients.

They also found that e-liquids were potentially far from harmless and contain ingredients that could vary wildly from one type of e-cigarette to another.

The study, published in PLOS Biology, by UNC School of Medicine scientists created a new screening technique to deduce the different toxicity levels of the more than 7,700 types of e-liquid flavours available to consumers.

Currently e-cigarette ingredients are unregulated both here in New Zealand and in America.

In New Zealand the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation New Zealand (ARFNZ) and the Thoracic Society are keen to understand where exactly e-cigarettes and vaping products fit into the Ministry of Health’s Smokefree 2025 policy as a smoking cessation tool.

Dr Stuart Jones, President of the Thoracic Society of New Zealand and Medical Director of ARFNZ, said that if e-cigarettes were to be therapeutic products to aid people quitting traditional tobacco cigarettes then perhaps they should be classified as therapeutic devices and regulated through Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Medsafe and Pharmac.

“The position of the Thoracic Society is that these products are likely to be harmful to the lungs long-term. We cannot think of any other product which is manufactured to be inhaled, that has not been through stringent regulatory controls. This is vitally important and e-cigarettes should not be given a free ride. We have seen the damage caused by letting cigarettes escape regulation and New Zealand can ill afford to make the same mistake again.”

The release of the American research comes on the back of another US review released late last year which rather sat on the fence when it came to the toxicity of e-cigarettes, saying e-cigarettes aren’t able to be easily categorised as “either beneficial or harmful”.

The report, sponsored by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and carried out by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, found switching from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes can reduce smoking-related illness.

But it also found that while e-cigarettes were likely to be far less harmful than conventional cigarettes they were not without health risks and that e-cigarette use by youth increased the risk of youth transitioning to smoking cigarettes.

The Ministry of Health’s policy on e-cigarettes is very much one of cigarettes have been proven to kill and that e-cigarettes can be used as part of harm reduction. The Smokefree 2025 plan has incorporated the use of e-cigarettes to help people move from smoking through to using e-cigarettes to not smoking anything at all.

While the debate continues in health and scientific circles, Progressive Enterprises has been trialling the sale of non-nicotine e-cigarette products in 20 of its supermarkets around the country since just before Christmas.

A spokesperson for e-cigarette retailer said the company had seen a “huge spike in sales through these channels” over the New Year period.

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