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It turns out most ‘nicotine-free’ e-liquids sold in Australia actually contain nicotine

According to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia, six out of ten so-called ‘nicotine-free’ e-cigarette liquids contained nicotine.

The team led by Associate Professor Alexander Larcombe, head of respiratory and environmental health at Telethon Kids and researcher at Curtin University, undertook the study in an independent laboratory and tested ten e-liquids.

All of the e-liquids analysed can be purchased online and in-store in Australia and were specifically labelled ‘nicotine-free’.

Nicotine was detected in six of the ten samples, while every single sample contained 2-chlorophenol – a harmful chemical used in insecticides, herbicides and disinfectants. Healthy.

“The presence of 2-chlorophenol was a surprise,” Larcombe said. “It’s classified as acutely toxic by the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals and is also known to be a respiratory and dermal irritant.”

The researchers believe that 2-chlorophenol may be present due to the residue of pesticides used on plants that are grown to make glycerine, an essential ingredient in e-liquids.

The nicotine levels found in three of the samples were equivalent to those found in e-liquids not labelled as nicotine-free. That’s like Coke Zero having the same levels of sugar as regular Coke.

While the nicotine and pesticide-related findings are horrible, they weren’t the only concerning chemicals found in the e-liquids.

“We also found other things – by-products of animal or human bodily functions – which indicates the process of making the e-liquids might not be as clean as you might hope,” Larcombe said.

“For example, 2-Amino-octanoic acid is a metabolite occasionally found in mammalian blood, urine and faeces. Its presence may indicate contamination by biological substances during manufacture.”

The idea of smoking something with mammal blood, urine and poo in it is pretty damn disgusting.

Larcombe’s research team also found chemicals commonly found in foodstuffs, soaps and detergents, as well as flavours and flavouring precursors which may affect health when heated and inhaled.

“Most of those sorts of things are food additives qualified as ‘safe to eat’, but the way e-cigarettes work is the liquid is heated to 200-250 degrees – and it’s unknown what that heating process does to the chemical composition of these ingredients, especially when it’s being breathed into the lungs,” Larcombe said.

It is illegal to sell e-liquids that contain nicotine in Australia, so these findings will have ramifications for e-liquid manufacturers with poor labelling and factory conditions.

The true issue highlighted by these findings is that people are often oblivious to what they are putting in their bodies and, unfortunately, they cannot always trust what the label says.

This research is a reminder that whether it’s a vape pen, a brand of vodka or a particularly delicious cut of meat, it’s always important to check what you are ingesting.

The full article, “Nicotine and other potentially harmful compounds in ‘nicotine-free’ e-cigarette liquids in Australia”, is available to read in the Medical Journal of Australia.

[Feature image by Isabella Mendes]

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