Are the flavors added to electronic cigarettes safe?

Sparkling gooseberry. Strawberry and watermelon bubble gum. Vanilla cream. These flavors – just some of the vast array of e-cigarette flavors available in New Zealand – seem harmless enough, but are they really?

Food scientists at the University of Otago received an Explorer Grant from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) to develop new testing methods that will allow regulators in New Zealand to assess unknown safety and the long-term health effects of flavors commonly added to liquids used in electronic cigarettes.

Principal investigator Dr Graham Eyres, who has significant experience in researching flavors used in the food industry, says flavors added to liquids used with electronic cigarettes or vaping devices are currently regulated by the Code. food standards. The problem, he says, is that the code only covers the safety of ingesting these flavors in foods; it does not take into account the use of these flavors when inhaled.

Dr Graham Eyres

“Electronic cigarettes heat a liquid into an aerosol or cloud of vapor that is inhaled by the user, typically delivering doses of nicotine to the lungs,” says Dr. Eyres.

“In New Zealand, the range of flavors added to liquids in electronic cigarettes has not been characterized or quantified. This is of concern because some of the volatile organic compounds generated during vaporization can be directly harmful if inhaled at high concentrations or can break down to form harmful compounds, ”he says.

As an example, Dr Eyres cites the use of diacetyl – a flavor responsible for the buttery characteristic of chardonnay – which more than 20 years ago was linked to an incurable lung disease in factory workers from popcorn that inhaled large amounts of the compound on hot oil vats while making flavored popcorn.

According to Dr. Eyres, recent international research has shown that 74% of commercial liquids in e-cigarettes contain diacetyl, with more than 40% at concentrations above recommended safe limits. The proportion of New Zealand electronic cigarettes containing diacetyl is unknown.

“With this Explorer grant, we will use methods developed in food and environmental sciences and rethink them to better understand what compounds are found in these e-cigarette liquids and how these compounds are distributed in droplets of e-cigarette. aerosol can of different sizes. Armed with this knowledge, we can then work with toxicologists and healthcare professionals to determine the level of risk associated with these compounds and hopefully provide regulators with the evidence they need to develop specifications and standards. on electronic cigarettes, ”says Dr Eyres.

Electronic cigarettes are generally considered to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes because they operate at a lower temperature and therefore are likely to generate lower levels of carcinogenic compounds. For this reason, they are often recommended as an effective tool to help people quit smoking, including by the Department of Health1.

Professor Sunny Collings, Managing Director of HRC, says the use of e-cigarettes in New Zealand has increased, with more than a third of students reporting trying an e-cigarette in 2019 and 12% reporting being regular users of electronic cigarettes 2. There has also been a marked increase in the marketing and availability of electronic cigarettes.

She says this innovative research will provide fundamental tools and data to help ensure that e-cigarettes don’t become yet another cause of harm.

“Smoking has a huge impact on public health and Maori health with half a million New Zealand adults smoking daily – 31% of whom are Maori – and more than 5,000 deaths each year as a result.

“Electronic cigarettes may have a role to play in achieving smoke-free Aotearoa by providing an alternative to cigarettes, however, we need to be able to effectively assess and monitor the safety of electronic cigarettes and other devices. vaping to ensure any long-term health effects for New Zealanders are minimized, ”says Professor Collings.

CRH awarded 15 Explorer Grants with a total value of $ 2,250,000 as part of this round of funding. These grants are designed to support transformative research ideas that have a good chance of bringing revolutionary change to the way we manage the health of New Zealanders.

See below for the full list of winners.

1 See

(Note: ASH 2021 Grade 10 Snapshot Survey of Youth Smoking and Vaping Attitudes and Behaviors will be conducted between May 26 and July 9, 2021)

Explorer 2021 grant recipients

Dr Sarah Appleby, University of Otago, Christchurch
The role of circulating bacterial DNA in cardiovascular disease
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr Yusuf Cakmak, University of Otago
Ear stimulation to improve cough sensitivity after stroke
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr Joanna Ting Wai Chu, University of Auckland
Walk a mile in their place – Develop a virtual reality experience of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr Lynsey Cree, University of Auckland
Development of a new device to rapidly test embryos during IVF
24 months, $ 150,000

Professor George Dias, University of Otago
A smart toothpaste for the 21st century
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr Graham Eyres, University of Otago
Design better methodologies to enable robust assessment of vaping risks
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr Martin Fronius, University of Otago
Contribution of ENaC to COVID-19
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr June-Chiew Han, University of Auckland
A overlooked opportunity to exploit heart rate variability
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr Renee Handley, University of Auckland
Exploring the dysfunction of the hepatic urea cycle in Huntington’s disease
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr William Kelton, University of Waikato
Reuse of antiviral immunity to control Neisseria gonorrhoeae
24 months, $ 150,000

Professor Tim Woodfield, University of Otago, Christchurch
Custom 3D Tissue Models: Reducing Health Inequalities in Cartilage Therapies
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr Michael Maslin, University of Canterbury
Early identification of infants and unbalanced children
12 months, $ 150,000

Ms. Taria Tane, Independent researcher
A Maori Kaupapa Approach to Improving the Well-Being of Rural Maori Whānau
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr Steve Waqanivavalagi, University of Auckland
Development of a new heart valve by tissue engineering
24 months, $ 150,000

Dr Adele Williamson, University of Waikato
Extracellular DNA repair: a role in antimicrobial resistance?
24 months, $ 150,000

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