by Lauren Hesse ’19
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently ramped up his efforts to stop teens from vaping and juuling. As a teenager, I understand the allure of rebellion and the desire to be cool. When an adult advises against a behavior, that behavior becomes more appealing. However, as an analytical chemistry lab intern at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) who has analyzed the chemicals released as vape juice is heated, I believe that if students knew what vapes/Juuls contain, they would not want to use them.
Most vapes/Juul pods contain a ratio of 40- to 70-percent vegetable glycerin (VG) and 30- to 60-percent propylene glycol (PG) as the base of their liquids. VG is a major component of personal lubricant (commonly called “lube”) and PG is the chemical name for antifreeze.
Juuls and vapes appear to be futuristic cigarettes.They are modern, sleek, and have a pleasant, fruity odor. However, like cigarettes, they still contain many chemicals no one should inhale. VG and PG are very viscous (thick and slow moving like molasses). While I am no toxicologist, if we had to take extra precautions so that the e-liquids would not clog the lab’s analytical equipment, they cannot be good for lung cells.
Many of the chemicals in vapes are used for flavoring purposes. Hexanoates are commonly used for tropical/pineapple flavors. Anthranilates are used for fruity grape and citrus flavors. Diacetyl can be used for a caramelic, earthy flavor. These chemicals are safe to eat and are used in popcorn and candy flavorings. However, many of these flavorings have never been tested to see if they are safe to inhale.
Diacetyl certainly is not. By inhaling that chemical, workers in popcorn factories used to get a disease that constricted the smallest airways of their lungs, making it hard to breathe. Diacetyl is being phased out of many of these e-liquids, but the fact that it was used in the first place should raise a concern about the vaping/juuling industry’s lack of consideration for the health of its consumers.
Vape liquids often contain nicotine. However, this is not why these products are attractive to adolescents. If that was the case, going out and buying a pack of nicotine gum or Nicoderm patches would be cool. Many teens understand that nicotine is addictive and alters the chemistry of their brains. If nicotine was removed from vapes/Juuls, students would continue to use them. Some teens even purchase nicotine-free vape juices.
The problem is, because the e-liquid industry blew up in such a short period of time, regulatory agencies like CPSC have not been able to fully ensure that what the label/company reports is in the liquid is actually correct. A “nicotine-free” vape could very well contain nicotine. During my time at the lab, I have seen this happen firsthand.
Letting this industry take advantage of your desire to be cool is unacceptable. Do not be swayed by the modern packaging; this is Big Tobacco 2.0.