Last updated on December 13th, 2021
Are Chemicals in E-Cigarettes Good or Bad?
If you have been wondering about the chemicals in e-cigarettes, this article will answer many of your questions and concerns. I've compiled a list of the chemical ingredients along with the percentages. I also explain the properties of those chemicals, outline the reasons why they are used in the product and give you an idea of whether they are harmful.
All information was obtained from reputable sources including scientific reports.
Do You Have E-Cig-Phobia?
Hundreds of thousands of smokers think about trying an alternative to smoking regular tobacco cigarettes but they're scared of dangerous “chemicals” or oils. The fact is, the most “dangerous” chemical in an electronic cigarette is nicotine… unless you choose a zero nicotine e-liquid. Nicotine is known to be an addictive substance, but it's the tar in tobacco cigararettes, not the nicotine that will kill you.
If you're really worried about ingesting dangerous chemicals, don't drink beer, wine or water; or eat tuna, sardines or brussels sprouts because they contain arsenic, but that's not the trending story.
Vapers have lots of questions about e-cigarette e-liquid chemicals oils, and supposed carcinogens.
Electronic cigarettes purchased from reputable sellers contain both Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerine. Neither of them are oils. Both are harmless, water soluble FDA approved ingredients. That's important information, if you are worried about inhaling PG or Vitamin E oil.
Propylene Glycol was first approved in 1950 and then again in 1959 by the FDA for use in hospitals as an air disinfectant because it was believed to have curative properties when inhaled.
Today, despite the fearful misinformation being broadcast about Propylene Glycol, we still happily ingest it in hundreds of foods, (including beer); use it in cosmetics and feed it to our children in the form of Gummy Bears.
Most of the misinformation about PG and other chemicals believed to be in e-cigarettes, originates directly (or indirectly) from those who stand to lose from the success of a revolutionary product that replicates the smoking experience without the smoke, smell or thousands of chemicals found in tobacco cigarettes.
If you guessed that those groups include the pharmaceutical industry and the tobacco industry you're sharp. But then you chose to read this article, so there you go.
It's also interesting to note that members of many health organizations (as well as some elected officials) sit on the board of Big Pharma companies or have stakes in the tobacco industry.
The Truth About E-Cigarette Chemicals
There's now public information that leads to proof of obvious deceptions by health agencies who performed tests for dangerous chemicals in electronic cigarettes.
“FDA methods have been lambasted in journals by some medical and health research experts who noted that potentially harmful chemicals were measured at about one million times lower concentrations than are conceivably related to human health.”
The good news is that the FDA has now admitted that regulations should encourage, rather than inhibit the development of innovative tobacco products, such as ecigs, “that may be less dangerous than cigarettes.”
So lets move on to answer the question…“What Chemicals are in E-Cigarettes?”
Here are a few examples of the harmful chemicals suspected to be found in electronic cigarettes.
- Diethylene glycol
Early FDA testing showed that the above chemicals may or may not be present in e-cigarette vapor. But don't go tearing your hair out just yet. Those chemical ingredients are listed below along with reasons why they are potentially, harmful.
#1- Nitrosamine – Defined as a chemical compound produced from Nitrates and secondary Amines, Nitrosamines often occur in the form of proteins. They are not good proteins as they are highly acidic, and the human body doesn’t react well to anything highly acidic… but read on.
In large quantities Nitrosamine can cause cancer. Beside e-cigarette filters, Nitrosamines also occur in wine, beer, meat, cheese, tobacco, balloons and condoms. Happily, the risk of cancer is far less from the last two on the list.
Wine and beer (which both contain a lot of nitrates) usually have soft “warning” on the label which plainly states, “contains nitrates”.
It's interesting to note that tobacco products contain Nitrosamines, although the FDA did not make mention of it in the earliest reports against electronic cigarettes.
Some e-cigarettes do contain microscopic amounts of Nitrosamine; however, reputable e-cigarette companies including VaporFi , and South Beach Smoke do not contain Nitrosamines. The above companies have undergone safety tests and do not contain any carcinogenic ingredients. Most list their ingredients on their websites.
Moving on to #2 on the list – Diethylene Glycol.
Compared to nitrosamine, dietylene glycol is far more lethal, but there's a lot more to the story. First….here’s the definition:
Dietylene glycol is an organic compound. It is a colorless, practically odorless, poisonous, viscous liquid with a sweetish taste. The original taste-tester of dietyline glycol must have had the digestive constitution of Andrew Zimmern. This noxious ingredient is widely used as a solvent and a humectant (meaning it keeps things moist). Dietylene glycol is used in making many chemical products including anti-freeze.
Several years ago, when the FDA conducted tests on electronic cigarettes, they found minute traces of diethylene glycol, in 1 of the 18 e-cigarette cartridges tested and they revealed that it was at a concentration of much less than 1%.
When the report was released, it fueled Pro-tobacco and pharmaceutical interest groups. They encouraged the media to give the report wide coverage.
The FDA’s “findings” resulted in banning sales by two electronic cigarette manufacturers. Similar testing was not performed on tobacco cigarettes even though there's more Diethylene glycol in tobacco products than in electronic cigarettes .
#3 on the list is Diacetyl
A 2015 study made sensational headlines when it was reported that some e-liquids contained diacetyl, a chemical that could cause bronchitis obliterans, or “popcorn lung”.
The now notorious study did not find diacetyl at harmful levels in e-cigarettes and has since been debunked by research scientists including one of the world’s most renowned, Dr. Konstantinos E. Farsalinos.
The tests were NOT performed using standard e-cigarettes; they were using modified high wattage devices designed to be more like miniature stage-type fog machines.
Diacetyl has been known to cause bronchitis obliterans (popcorn lung) in microwave popcorn factory workers; hence the name. Out of the thousands of factory workers who were tested, only a tiny fraction of 1% (eight people to be precise) were alleged to have come down with bronchitis obliterans.
In other words, even if you breathe massive amounts of airborne diacetyl (thousands of times more than any vapor product could expose you to), all day every day for a decade or more, it's still overwhelmingly unlikely you're going to get “popcorn lung.”
The study never mentioned that tobacco has more than 100 times the diacetyl then the absolute worst e-cig (750 times the average one). Tobacco isn't considered a risk factor for popcorn lung.
The Vapor Industry's Response
There was an extremely fast reaction on the part of e-liquid companies when the issues with flavorings containing diacetyl came to light. All companies either pulled the line that had that flavoring or reformulated those e-liquids.
#4 on the list, Anti-Freeze has been said to be present in electronic cigarettes, but it is totally unfounded. Clever wording by the media linked diethylene glycol with Anti-Freeze because Anti-Freeze contains diethylene glycol. It’s far easier for people to substitute the word “anti-freeze” for the ingredient dietylene glycol when discussing the safety of electronic cigarettes and that’s exactly what happened.
#5 Nicotine was another supposedly dangerous ingredient found in the cartridge filters of the electronic cigarettes. Although many e-cigarette companies allow e-smokers to choose whether or not they wish to inhale nicotine along with the water vapor “smoke”, the FDA only tested filters that contained this stimulant.
It is a nitrogen-containing chemical made by the lovely flowering tobacco plant, Nicotiana tabacum. It may also be produced synthetically.
In the plant kingdom, the tobacco plant belongs to the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and red peppers. They all contain nicotine but you're not likely to get jittery after a bowlful of mashed potatoes.
Nicotine can cause physical effects including increased heart rate and oxygen consumption by the heart muscle as well as powerful psychodynamic effects such as euphoria, increased alertness, and a sense of relaxation; however, I was surprise to learn that nicotine is highly addictive only when combined with burning tobacco.
The nicotine found in smoking cessation products is produced synthetically.
What nicotine is not:
Nicotine is not a carcinogen, meaning it has not been proven to cause cancer. Nicotine is not a poison. Nicotine alone is not a highly addictive substance.
People think nicotine is a dangerous drug because it is associated with tobacco cigarette smoking which is dangerous to your health.
Other Than Nicotine, What Chemicals Are In the Most Popular E-Cigarette Cartridges or E-Liquids?
Listed below, for your reading pleasure are the many flavoring chemicals found in e-cigarette cartridges and e-liquids. (if you've read this far I'm either a fascinating writer or you're seriously into e-cigarette chemicals).
Please note; the e-cigarette filter or e-liquid you choose will only contain the respective chemical for that particular flavor. Some e-liquids, like Kind Juice have only organic ingredients.
Acetylpyrazine 3%– A commonly used food flavoring used in beef, coffee, popcorn, potato chips, sesame seed, almond, wheat bread, cocoa, pork and beef.
Beta-Ionone 5% – A food-grade fragrance used to give the vapors their fragrance and flavor. The chemical iscurrently being tested for prevention and treatment of colon cancer.
Dimethylpyrazine 2% – Used in the creation and/or manufacturing of flavor concentrates of all types. Used in biological, drug, flavouring and perfumery industry .
Ethylpyrazine 4% – A flavoring concentrate used in food products such as pork and soups.
Glycerol 2% a/k/a/ Glycerine – Widely used in pharmaceutical formulations such as eyedrops and cough syrups and in foods such as cookies and liqueurs. Very low toxicity. Serves as a humectant. solvent, thickener and sweetener, and may help preserve foods. Glycerol is also used for an evaporative fogging agent as an alternative to Propylene Glycol in some solutions for electronic cigarettes.
Linalool 5% – a naturally-occurring chemical found in many flowers and spice plants used in many commercial applications.
Flavoring essence from tobacco 15% – an extracted essential oil found in tobacco. (toxins in cigarette smoke come from the actual burning of the plant material).
Propylene glycol 1% – Used as a solvent in many pharmaceuticals and as a moisturizer in cosmetics and tobacco products.
Rose oil- 4% A natural extract of the flower used for it’s scent.
Orient tobacco absolute 30% – A food-grade fragrance.
Tobacco essential oil 5% – A food-grade fragrant oil extracted from the tobacco plant.
Trimethylcyclohex – 2 – butene – 4 – one 1% – Another food-grade fragrance used in combination to give the vapors an authentic tobacco flavor.
Trimethylpyrazine 2% – An approved flavoring used in caramel chocolate cocoa and coffee 2%
Vanilla extract 2% – An approved food flavor additive.
Pure water 13%
Recent Tests Regarding Inhalation of Ecig Vapor
In numerous scientific studies led by the aforementioned Dr. Farsalinos, it was shown that electronic cigarette use has “no immediate adverse effects on coronary circulation (blood and oxygen supply to the heart)”.
According to Farsalinos,
“No scientist has ever said that e-cigarettes are absolutely safe; however; current evidence overwhelmingly supports that they are by far less harmful that tobacco cigarettes. This is the most crucial issue and the most important information that every smoker needs and deserves to know.”
Test Shows Vaping No More Harmful Than Breathing
In September 2015, British American Tobacco teamed up with the MatTek Corporation scientists to test e-cigarette vapor and determine whether it was safer on human lungs than tobacco smoke. The results were not only in favor of e-cigarette vapor, they indicated that vaping is no more harmful to human lungs than air.
Former US Surgeon General Says Ecig Hysteria is Hazardous to Your Health
Also in September, 2015, The New York Post published an article by former US Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona. The anti-tobacco advocate boldly cut through the controversy over e-cigarette safety by supporting Public Health England’s position that e-cigarettes are about 95% safer than tobacco. PHE is the first public body to declare its support for vaping.
In October 2017 former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb made this statement in a Washington Post interview:
New products and innovations have the potential to be a lot less harmful than combustable tobacco. We need to provide an alternative for adults who still want to get access to nicotine and electronic nicotine delivery systems of which e-cigarettes are a primary component.”
So…Are Electronic Cigarettes Safe?
The bottom line is that vaping is a far safer way to ingest nicotine and to satisfy the “hand to mouth” habit associated with smoking without the ingestion of the other 4000+ toxins, chemicals and carcinogens found in regular tobacco cigarettes. Are e-cigarettes a valid smoking cessation product? The FDA says not. Actually, to date, there has not been enough serious control testing to show that the product merits such a claim. There have, however been tests that show e-cigarettes are more effective at helping smokers quit than nicotine patches.
When we begin to analyze the safety of smoking an electronic cigarette, we should ask ourselves not whether they are safe but whether they are safer than tobacco cigarettes. What you need to do is to compare an electronic cigarette to a Marlboro cigarette.
If you're ready to try an electronic cigarette, I suggest you begin with one of the more reputable on-line companies. You can check out this e-cigarette comparison chart if you want to find the brand that suits your style and taste. They all have been independently tested for safety.
The scientific consensus behind vaping continues to strengthen with two separate studies – one in England and one in India – confirming that the devices are an effective tool for smokers who want to quit. Meanwhile other researchers found that despite previous alarmist claims, e-cig vapor causes no detectable damage to lung cells.