Do smokeless electronic cigarettes really contain antifreeze?
There have been a lot of rumors being spread by fear mongers that smokeless cigarettes contain toxic antifreeze. This, however, is not true. Well, not the “toxic” part anyway.
The water/nicotine solution used to create the vapor in electronic cigarettes contains Propylene Glycol (PG), as a solvent. Propylene Glycol is used in anti-freeze, but is not toxic. It should not be confused with Ethylene Glycol, which used to be the standard component in automobile antifreeze, and is toxic. Most newer antifreezes now use PG due to its non-toxic nature. PG has long been used as an antifreeze in areas where there is a potential to come in contact with food. Despite the fact that Propylene Glycol is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and the fact that it has been used in countless food and medical products for years (many that you probably use on a regular basis), as soon as the word “antifreeze” gets mentioned, some people think of the old Ethylene Glycol based product, and and fear mongers tend to grasp on to that and spread rumors rather than doing any research.
The fact is that Propylene Glycol is a safe food additive. It is most often used as an emulsifier, a moisture stabilizer (humectant), or as a solvent for items that are not soluble in water. Many oral. injectable, and topical pharmaceutical formulations use Propylene Glycol as a solvent. It is used in various foods, mostly to keep moist food moist, or as a solvent for certain ingredients. It is also used in cosmetics, shampoos, mouthwashes, medicines, moisturizers, massage oils, hand sanitizers/lotions, deodorant sticks, etc… the list goes on and on. Most likely, many of the items that you currently use, on a daily basis, contain Propylene Glycol.
According to the CDC:
“Propylene glycol is a synthetic liquid substance that absorbs water. Propylene glycol is also used to make polyester compounds, and as a base for deicing solutions. Propylene glycol is used by the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries as an antifreeze when leakage might lead to contact with food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified propylene glycol as an additive that is “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. It is used to absorb extra water and maintain moisture in certain medicines, cosmetics, or food products. It is a solvent for food colors and flavors, and in the paint and plastics industries. Propylene glycol is also used to create artificial smoke or fog used in fire-fighting training and in theatrical productions.”
The bottom line is that Propylene Glycol is safe for use. It has been approved by the FDA for use as a food additive. It has been used for many years in the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics industries. And, as the CDC mentions, it was used to create vapor in fog machines (for stage effects and movies), and firefighter training, long before utilized for smokeless electronic cigarettes. It has many beneficial uses. The fact that it can also lower the freezing temperature of water should be a non-issue. The focus that some have put on “antifreeze” is ridiculous.
Unfortunately, back in 2009, the FDA tested only 18 e-cig cartridges from 2 companies. On one of those cartridges the found a small amount (approx. 1%) of Diethylene Glycol) a more toxic humectant/antifreeze ingredient), and reported this findings. It is pretty sad that they would make any kind of report based on such minimal testing. It is also pathetic that they did not present it with the proper perspective.
Diethylene Glycol (DEG) is only toxic in large amounts (much less toxic that ethylene Glycol). While it is not approved for use as a food additive, unlike Propylene Glycol, it is still approved for use in the food, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries, as part of the manufacturing process. That means that trace amounts are found in many items you use every day, like toothpastes and aspirin. Trace amounts are not toxic, and are broken down and removed from the body. Diethylene Glycol is a humectant used to remove moisture from tobacco, thus it is a natural byproduct of the tobacco cigarette manufacturing process, and by association, the nicotine manufacturing process. However, most nicotine is refined to remove all traces of Diethylene Glycol.
Let’s some this part up. Diethylene Glycol is NOT used as an ingredient in electronic cigarette solutions, Propylene Glycol is. Only one E-cigarette cartridge has ever been found to contain any Diethylene Glycol, at all. The DEG found in that one cartridge was only found in trace amounts, far below than what would be considered toxic. To further keep it in perspective, that amount is about 1/10th of what you would find in a typical aspirin, and about 1/40th of what you would find in a tobacco cigarette. Even if every cartridge contained contained that amount of DEG, it is still 40 times safer than smoking tobacco. But it is not in every cartridge, it has only been found in one cartridge, period.
Sadly, anti-ecig parties cling to this FDA and try to convince people that this is an ingredient in all smokeless cigarettes, which is simply not true. No electronic cigarette company uses Diethylene Glycol in their products. Since that 2009 report there has been extensive testing on many different brands, and they have not found one other sample that contains Diethylene Glycol. Most experts agree that the one cartridge must have been a contaminated, but detractors cling to that one finding. I have seen many articles that claim that all smokeless e-cigarettes contain this DIethylene Glycol, some going so far as to say that is one of the ingredients, which is simply a lie. One cartridge, by one manufacturer was found to have trace amounts. Yes, I feel it is important to keep stressing that. If you ever come across an article where the author is claiming that e-cigarettes use DEG, or worse, use the word poison, stop reading. They have an agenda, and is has nothing to do with providing you with the truth.
Why the fear mongering, and spreading of misinformation? Well, some personalities always focus on the negative, and don’t bother finding out all the facts. They panic and spread their own fears. Also, since e-cigs have likely put a dent in the tobacco market, it would not surprise me, that much of the negative focus comes from Big Tobacco spin doctors (working behind the scene) trying to fear people back to their products. Speculation? Sure, but who knows? It is also common knowledge that the FDA has had a long-running beef with the E-cigarette market. They tried to take control of the e-cig market by claiming that it was a drug administration device. They were taken to court and lost, so I imagine that irks them. Some people also believe that abstinence is the only way to go, so they point out all the negatives of alternative products, in order to promote abstinence, which I think is a great disservise to all those that can’t, or choose not to, quit.
The bottom line is that Electronic Cigarettes are far safer than tobacco cigarettes.
By the way, I shouldn’t have to say this, but….Keep in mind that, while Propylene Glycol has been deemed non-toxic and safe as a food additive, it does not mean that it is safe to go out and drink gallons of antifreeze. It is safe in the amounts that it is designed for consumption, but, like with most things, abuse can be dangerous. Use common sense.