‘Nicotine-free’ e-liquids contained nicotine


woman vaping in a restaurant

The TGA has warned consumers about dangers associated with purchasing electronic cigarette liquid, following a study which found harmful ingredients

This week the Medical Journal of Australia published an article by Emily Chivers, Maxine Janka, Peter Franklin, Benjamin Mullins and Alexander Larcombe, which reported on the analysis of “nicotine free” e-liquids.

The authors purchased 10 e-liquids in a variety of brands and flavours, all of which purported to be nicotine-free. These were bought online and over the counter from Australian suppliers.

“None disclosed ingredient information beyond vague reporting of the excipient mix and the absence of nicotine,” the authors wrote.

They had the liquids analysed quantitatively by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC‐MS) in a commercial laboratory.

Six turned out to contain nicotine; in three, the levels (1.3, 1.4, 2.9 mg/mL) were comparable with those of commonly available low dose nicotine e‐liquids.

Nicotine-containing liquids may not be legally sold in Australia.

The authors warn that the presence of nicotine in the “nicotine free” liquids had “important implications for additions and health”.

Sixteen known chemicals were identified, plus seven which could not be quantified.

“Of the other chemicals we detected, 2‐chlorophenol, classified as acutely toxic by the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, was identified in all e‐liquids,” they write.

“Probably an excipient contaminant, 2‐chlorophenol is commonly used in insecticides, herbicides, and disinfectants. There is no Safework Australia exposure standard for 2‐chlorophenol, but it is known to be a respiratory and dermal irritant.

“Similar chemicals (eg, 2,4‐dichlorophenol) have been identified in canola oil as pesticide residue. Glycerine is a by‐product of biodiesel production, often manufactured from canola oil. Other substances we often detected were 2‐amino‐octanoic, hexadecanoic, and octadecanoic acids.”

Now, the TGA has reminded consumers that “nicotine is classified as a Schedule 7 Dangerous Poison under the Poisons Standard (with specific exemptions such as for certain nicotine replacement therapies and tobacco when prepared and packed for smoking)”.

“In all states and territories, the retail sale of nicotine is an offence unless a permit has been issued by the relevant state or territory authority.”

It also warns consumers about ingredients found in the study such as 2-chlorophenol and 2‐amino‐octanoic acid, “which is found in blood, urine, and faeces of mammals and may indicate the contamination of the product during manufacture”.

“The TGA is reminding consumers that, while these products are sometimes promoted as an option to help people quit smoking, the evidence for electronic cigarettes in smoking cessation is mixed,” says the TGA.

“There are also concerns from Europe and the USA that significant use of nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes by adolescents can lead to longer-term cigarette smoking.

“At this time, no electronic cigarettes have been approved in Australia as a therapeutic good for smoking cessation.

“Since the TGA does not regulate these products, their quality and safety is not known.”

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