Researchers with Duke University Medical Center have published a study warning that high levels of a banned food additive called pulegone have been found in some smokeless tobacco products, including liquids used with electronic cigarettes. The chemical was banned as a food additive by the FDA last year due to its potential for causing cancer.
The FDA doesn’t yet regulate the chemicals present in liquids made for vaping devices like electronic cigarettes, something that has been heavily criticized by public health officials.
Because of this lack of regulation, consumers have no real way of knowing what chemicals they may be inhaling, leading to concerns about the potential inclusion of harmful substances, as well as contamination.
The researchers with Duke University analyzed vaping liquids from several ‘top brands’ that offer traditional menthol cigarettes, as well as a smokeless tobacco brand and three electronic cigarettes brands. Though the regular cigarettes were found to have pulegone levels below what the FDA has linked to tumor risk, the levels were above that threshold when it came to the smokeless and vaping products.
The findings indicate that people who use mint- and menthol-flavored vaping and smokeless products may be exposing themselves to high levels of this potential carcinogen, putting them at increased risk of developing cancer. Unfortunately, the researchers note that there’s a lack of toxicity data on this chemical available in regards to exposure from inhaling it — it’s possible that lungs may be more sensitive to the compound than the stomach, which is exposed by eating foods that contain the chemical.
The Trump administration recently revealed that the FDA is moving to ban the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes over concerns about youth addiction and unknown long-term health consequences. The ban will reportedly include menthol and mint, leaving only unflavored and tobacco-flavored options for sale. The decision has proven controversial among vapers and those in the industry but has been praised by public health officials in light of the ongoing public health issues involving a severe lung condition related to electronic cigarette use.