Collaborate Against Cancer18 Feb 2019

Study finds nicotine in ‘nicotine-free’ e-cigarette liquids

A new study has found detergent solvents, animal bodily by-products and nicotine in ‘nicotine free’ e-cigarette liquids.

Man with an electronic cigarette in a public place.
Photo Credit: BSIP/UIG.

West Australian researchers have released a new study testing ten varieties of ‘nicotine free’ e-liquids available in Australia. Of the ten, six were found to contain nicotine, despite being sold or purchased online as ‘nicotine free’.

The research, conducted by Telethon Kids Institute, Curtin University and The University of Western Australia, follows inspectors from the New South Wales Department of Health visiting 227 e-liquid retailers in 2018 and finding 63 per cent of e-liquids labelled ‘nicotine-free’ contained nicotine.

An e-cigarette liquid (e-liquid) is the fluid substance, that may or may not contain nicotine, that is heated into a vapour smoke and inhaled via a battery-operated device, the e-cigarette.

While there is already a library of evidence that identifies the toxic chemicals people are exposed to through inhaling e-liquid, uniquely, this new study found e-liquid that contained by-products of animal bodily functions, such as faeces, as well as chemicals commonly used in soaps and detergents.

Western Australia’s Cancer Council CEO Ashley Reid commented: “This study adds to the growing evidence of the potential harms of e-cigarettes. Until the e-cigarette industry can prove to the Therapeutic Goods Administration that their products are safe, they should not be sold.”

Multiple studies have confirmed the use of e-cigarettes is a precursor to tobacco use. In 2017, the American Journal of Medicine found non-smoking young adults were four times more likely to start smoking traditional tar-burning cigarettes after about 18 months of vaping.

E-cigarette companies have reportedly also been targeting marketing at young people through social media campaigns and sweet candy flavours. US nicotine e-liquid and e-cigarette brand JUUL (valued at $15 billion USD), and others, are so popular with young people in America, the Food and Drug Association has labelled the use of e-cigarettes among teenagers as ‘an epidemic’ and begun to intervene.

Although the Australian Government is a leading advocate for a precautionary approach to e-cigarettes and has strong regularity functions to stop unapproved products such as nicotine e-liquid being sold in Australia, this study puts a spotlight on the gaps in Australia’s regulatory framework for these smoking devices, especially in regard to the manufacturing of e-liquids and the online importing of e-liquids and smoking devices.

“Australia should be proud to have some of the lowest smoking rates in the world, it’s taken decades of tobacco control to get to where we are and we would hate to see this go backwards,” said Mr Reid.

Tess Howard
by Tess Howard

Tess joined Minderoo Foundation family in May 2018, after working as a research and public policy advisor in Canberra. She leads Collaborate Against Cancer‘s engagement with Australia’s health sectors and governments to deliver key policy reform for cancer prevention, with a key focus on tobacco control.

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