Flavor - a Public Enemy?

Posted 17th April 2015 by Dave Cross
The European-based Elda juice company discovered from market research that differing nations have different juice tastes. While Europeans prefer rich tobacco tastes, customers from the United States opt for sweet and fruit flavours in the main. The researchers from Portland believe that what goes into making these liquid flavours is important enough to be concerned about.

The research analysed thirty eliquids and discovered a list of ingredients that “might” affect vapers’ lungs. The paper released in the Tobacco Control journal calls the likes of vanillin and benzaldehyde primary irritants of the respiratory system but gives no clues as to how bad this is.

“I think the e-cigarette folks are kind of in a bit of a box,” said James Pankow, a researcher from Portland State University. “First of all, they are saying they’re using food-grade chemicals. But they’re not really safe, because these chemicals haven’t been proven safe for inhalation.” It raises questions such as ‘who is claiming eliquid is safe?’ and ‘if the research team don’t know whether or how unsafe flavours are then why is Portland University doing this study?’

Without any investigation into the potential for actual tissue damage, Pankow has gone on to demand that the Food & Drug Administration “should limit levels of flavour chemicals and require ingredient identification.”

What Pankow’s team did find, according to Bloomsberg Business, is that “thirteen of the 30 e-cigarette liquids analysed in the Tobacco Control paper contained more than 1% flavour chemicals by weight, seven had more than 2% and two had more than 3%. In addition, six of the 24 chemicals found are aldehydes, including vanillin and benzaldehyde. They fall into the same class as formaldehyde, though they aren’t cancer-causing like the chemical used in building materials and household products.”

But to what extent does the knowledge that Zeus E-Juice’s Double Dark Chocolate contains 33mg per ml of vanillin inform us? Pankow exclaims: “You don’t know what’s in there. People should at least be able to know what’s in the fluids.” Some would wonder what the point is of knowing the content is if we don’t appreciate what that means. Vaping 2356-Tetramethylpyrazine may sound dangerous – but is it?

As ever, Doctor Farsalinos has entered the debate to offer a sense of perspective. He writes: “The main finding from this study was that flavoured e-liquids contain…flavours.” While we know that flavourings have been rigorously tested for consumption in food products they have not gone through the same process for inhaling into the lungs. The research, as he confirms, “found nothing new.”

While noting: “all this media frenzy about risks comes from the finding that only 2 of the 30 e-liquids exceeded the occupational exposure limits for 1 chemical each,” the good doctor does emphasise that juice companies ought to know to use flavourings in moderation.

The building media hysteria is ignoring some fundamental points. “It is important to distinguish irritation from toxicity and risk,” writes Farsalinos. “Irritation does not necessarily mean damage or long-term adverse effects. Moreover, irritation is sometimes needed by the vapers. For example, throat hit is a form of irritation and most vapers want to feel the throat hit, similarly to what they experienced with smoking.”

The research concluded: “Regulatory limits should be contemplated for levels of some of the more worrisome chemicals as well as for total flavour chemical levels,” and yet neither lists what the worrisome chemicals are or why they should be worrisome. Farsalinos ponders on whether the research authors would prefer cigarette smoke to the arcane danger of food flavouring.

Fight the power, Doctor F. We've got to fight the powers that be.

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker