Media ReleaseCollaborate Against Cancer03 Dec 2020

Ground-breaking Australian study confirms major concerns over e-cigarette safety

Results have been released from a Western Australia based study to test the ingredients and toxicity of over 50 flavoured e-liquids available for purchase in Australia.

Vaping stock
Photo Credit: Nick Ansell / PA Images via Getty Images.

A ground-breaking new study of chemically flavoured liquids used in e-cigarettes (e-liquids) available over the counter in Australia has confirmed serious concerns about their safety and respiratory health impacts.

According to the authors, the study – supported by Lung Foundation Australia and Minderoo Foundation – is the most comprehensive examination of the composition and toxicity of e-liquids supplied or manufactured in Australia.

E-liquids are commonly available in Australia as a consumer product. It is illegal to sell e-liquids that contain nicotine in Australia, but due to importation loopholes, they can be easily purchased online.

Researchers from Curtin University and the Telethon Kids Institute tested the ingredients and toxicity of 52 e-liquids for sale over the counter in Australia, in both their original and vaped (heated) form. They found:

  • 100 per cent of e-liquids had between 1 to 18 chemicals which have unknown effects on respiratory health;
  • None of the brands had a complete accurate ingredient list, which would be noncompliant with European Union labelling regulations;
  • 21 per cent of e-liquids contained nicotine or nicotyrine (despite it being illegal to sell e-liquids containing nicotine in all Australian states and territories);
  • 62 per cent of new e-liquids and 65 per cent of vaped e-liquids contained chemicals likely to be toxic if vaped repeatedly;

Lung Foundation Australia CEO, Mark Brooke, said the results of the study showed a clear need for government to address e-cigarette use in Australia.

“More and more young Australians are trying and taking up vaping chemically flavoured e-cigarettes. Yet, it is clear from this study, that these young Australians are unaware of the chemicals in the e-liquids and what those chemicals do to a human body,” Mr Brooke said.

“Consumers must be informed about ingredients and short and long term health impacts, and unknowns. Just because a chemical may be safe to use in a disinfectant or as a food preservative, doesn’t mean it is safe to inhale into your lungs. This study clearly demonstrates that we cannot take safety in consumer products as a given and governments need to intervene urgently to protect the respiratory health of young Australians.”

The research will be presented today to leading health experts, government representatives and young people at a vaping round table led by Lung Foundation Australia, in partnership with nib foundation.

CEO of Minderoo Foundation’s Collaborate Against Cancer initiative, Dr Steve Burnell, said it was critically important to prevent a new generation of smokers becoming addicted.

“We already know that e-cigarettes can increase the chance of a non-smoker taking up cigarettes and that they are deliberately targeted to appeal to young people,” Dr Burnell said.

“Now we find that e-cigarette users are being exposed to unknown ingredients and chemicals already known to be toxic to human health.

“We now have clear evidence to assist regulators to reconsider the appropriateness of these products being sold to, or used by, Australians.”

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Ben Mullins from Curtin University’s School of Public Health, said the e-liquids tested contained multiple chemicals that were not listed on the labels.

“While some of these chemicals may be safe and approved food additives, it has frequently been shown that there is a vast difference between a chemical that is safe to ingest and one which is safe to inhale long-term,” Associate Professor Mullins said.

“Many such chemicals are harmless when ingested but could cause significant negative health effects if inhaled long term.”

Despite a decrease in the prevalence of smoking across Australia, the most recent Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey revealed an increase in the use of e-cigarettes (both nicotine and flavoured) by Australians:

  • Aged 14-19 – lifetime use rose from 12.6 per cent in 2016 to 14.5 per cent in 2019
  • Aged 18–24 – lifetime use rose from 19.2 per cent in 2016 to 26 per cent in 2019
  • Aged 25–29 – lifetime use rose from 14.8 per cent in 2016 to 20 per cent in 2019

The World Health Organisation estimates young people who use e-cigarettes are more than twice as likely to smoke tobacco cigarettes later in life.

Minderoo Foundation
by Minderoo Foundation

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with eight key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.

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