Early this week, researchers at Duke University released a study that determined some e-cigarette liquids actually contain a remarkably high level of chemicals that have been banned by the FDA as synthetic food additives. This chemical is known as pulegone and it occurs naturally as an essential oil in plants like pennyroyal and peppermint. As such, it is often used—in its synthetic form—to add a mint-like flavor to everything from candy to alcoholic beverages.
However, even though the existing evidence dictates that pulegone is carcinogenic—specifically causing liver toxicity—researchers have found this chemical is, in fact, also present in mint- and menthol-flavored e-cigarette liquid. Most importantly, though, researchers have found the chemical at levels alarming above the safe threshold.
Unfortunately, this study is yet another that adds definitive data to a growing preponderance of evidence that the emerging—and quite popular—vape/e-cigarette market needs a lot more regulation.
Lead study author Sairam Jabba explains, “The argument we make in the paper is that there are health concerns with these mint- and menthol-flavored liquids, and until these health concerns are mitigated by the FDA, they shouldn’t be seen as alternatives [to cigarettes].”
Apparently, as the research dictates, pulegone exposure from vape pods could reach rates higher than 1,600 times greater than what has already been deemed dangerous.
The Duke University research associate goes on to say, “At whatever rate of consumption we looked at, we found that pulegone levers were at a threshold that cause a potential health threat.”
It should be noted that the study did have some limitations. First of all, the FDA’s ban on synthetic pulegone was based on data from animal consumption trials. Second, we don’t really have any toxicity data from pulegone in regards to inhalation when compared against that of food or drink. Still, researchers argue that these levels are so ridiculously high that they should be regarded as a serious health risk.
Jabba also comments that pulegone levels are significantly lower in cigarettes because the tobacco industry has known, for a very long time, pulegone’s potentially carcinogenic qualities. As a result of this knowledge the industry maintains a minimal level of the chemical in menthol cigarettes (as it provides that minty essence). Jabba warns that vape liquid is not as deeply scrutinized because it is not possible—at least for now—whether manufacturers are using natural or synthetic pulgenone. And this reinforces that desperate need for regulation.