What is in E-Liquid

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A brief overview of the tobacco industry in the 20th century is almost enough to turn off even the most avid cigarette-smoker.  It’s a tale of greed, treachery and public deception on levels rarely seen outside of the dirtiest of politics.  Take, for instance, the events dramatized in Michael Mann’s excellent 1999 thriller The Insider, which details the struggle for 60 Minutes to get Brown and Williamson’s whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand’s shocking story to air.  The film features the infamous moment in which the seven heads of big tobacco flat out lying to a congressional committee, each affirming they believe nicotine in not addictive.  In actuality, Brown and Williamson had long been spiking their product to further hook users, turning the cigarette into what Wigand called “a nicotinne-delivery business.”

Vaping came along at a very crucial and interesting time in the smoking world.  In North America, while never failing to profit, public smoking had largely fallen out of favour.  Nationwide bans in bars and restaurants spread like wildfire in the early years of the millenium.  In Europe, however, not much has changed; the image of the fashinable Parisian with a cigarette dangling from a holder has never gone out of style.  Still, given FDA regulations and society being more health conscious than ever before, there has been a push for honesty in both marketing and labelling.  While science has agreed vaping has been proven safer than smoking, it’s still worth knowing just what you’re ingesting.  Fortunately, any kind of deception has been removed thanks to laws in the EU and the US.

E-Liquid, or e-juice, is primarily a mixture of four main ingredients – and most of them are commonplace in food and beverages.  Save for the nicotine, of course.

Vegetable glycerine composes about 80 per cent of most liquids.  It’s the ingredient that is responsible for the large, billowing exhale of vapour as opposed to the tiny whisp of a cigarette.  A natural substance that can be processed from most kinds of fat, this particular kind of glycerine is produced from vegetable oil.  It is not, itself, an oil, however, but an alcohol.  This is what makes it entirely safe to smoke.  It’s non-toxic and colourless, but does have a particularly sweet flavour.  Elsewhere, it’s used in food products – sometimes as a sweetener and sometimes to help preserve moisture.  It’s also used in medication.  There have been no scientific studies that have liked it to any health problems.

The second odourless alcohol that makes up most of what is in your e-liquid bottles is propylene glycol.  While still prevalent, larger amounts are found used in older atomizers.  It’s not as sweet as glycerine, but it’s also used for moisture and in medication.  And herein is the first myth about e-liquid.  One of propylene glycol’s other uses is in antifreeze, which has led anti-smoking extremists to spread the lie that e-liquid contains antifreeze.  Were this the case, we’d know.  While there have been some minor health issues related to propylene glycol, it’s been classed as safe since the 1940s.  Even swallowing it won’t cause any harm.  There is, however, a minor percentage of people who can be sensitive to it.  If you are, it’s best to switch of a liquid with a higher level of vegetable glycerin.  It also should be noted that it produces less vapour than vegetable glycerin, so it’s not as popular with the cloud chasing crowd.

One of the aspects about vaping that has led to it’s popularity is the countless number of various flavourings available.  Everything from cigarette and cigar-like flavours to bubble gum to strawberry shortcake – the possibilities are fairly endless.  The two alcohols only offer a sweetness, so labratories (often localized or specialized) mix them with food additives.  This is also, unfortunately, the ingredient that has raised the most health concern.  Some food-grade additives are perfectly safe to eat, but not to inhale.  The industry has largely tackled this concern early, however, nixing the flavourings raising concern.  This is why it’s important to know where your liquid is coming from.  You will not, for instance, want to use basic ingredients found at the local supermarket, as many of them contain oils unsafe to smoke.  Flavours from known and reputable vape manufacturers are recommended.

Lastly, we come to the holdover from cigarettes – nicotine.  Most liquids contain it, and years of public education about addiction concerns and health risks are legion.  It’s what makes vaping an acceptable substitute for cigarettes.  It’s the ingredient that adds the throat hit, so if that’s of particular importance to you, liquids with a higher milligram content are ideal.   

But there are still myths about nicotine that are necessary to debunk.  The most important of which is that it’s the most dangerous aspect of smoking.  It’s not.  The smoke from cigarettes – the act of burning leaves of tobacco – that causes the most harm.  A recent study in Greece on vaping and smoking on myorcadial function has shown that “abscence of combustion” and “a different chemical composition” suggests that “electronic cigarettes may be a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes.”  While nicotine is be toxic in high doses, there’s little chance of poisoning yourself via vaping.  You’ll likely experience telling nasuea long before you run the risk of nicotine poisoning.  A lot of e-liquids contain little to no nicotine whatsoever.  It may seem counterintuitive, but sales figures have found that low doses of nicotine tend to sell better.    And while some are using vaping as a step between quitting and hardcore smoking, others just enjoy the flavours.  The smaller the dose of nicotine, the more likely the flavours will enhance. The best recommendation for vapers if to find what level of nicotine with which they’re comfortable in their e-liquid and stick to it. 

Beyond that, it’s all just a matter of preference and personal responsibility.