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South Korean Report Claims Vitamin E Found in E-Liquids

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A December report out of South Korea has caused an uproar in the vaping community. In the report, South Korean health officials claim that they analysed 153 different e-cigarette and e-liquid products, checking for the presence of Vitamin E and other contaminants. Those officials say that they discovered small quantities of Vitamin E in 13 different vaping products, including pods from world-famous e-cigarette maker JUUL. 

JUUL Labs quickly responded to the report, saying that the company does not use Vitamin E in any of its products. 

Low Concentrations of Vitamin E Found in 13 South Korean Vaping Products

Of the products named in the report, the one that contained the highest quantity of Vitamin E was an e-liquid called “Cake Hazelnut Milk Tobacco” by Cake Vapor. The e-liquid contained Vitamin E at a concentration of 8.4 parts per million. The JUUL pods – in a Korean-exclusive flavour called “Crisp” – contained Vitamin E at 0.8 parts per million.

Needless to say, the report has made vapers around the world feel very ill at ease. Vitamin E is an oil that producers of illegal THC vaping cartridges have used to water down the cartridges and make them appear more potent than they really are. It’s thought to be the primary cause of a pulmonary illness related to THC vaping that’s sickened more than 2,000 people in the United States. 

It’s important to note that the Vitamin E quantities stated in the South Korean report are far lower than the quantities – sometimes greater than 60,000 parts per million – that have been found in THC vaping cartridges. Nevertheless, the report has understandably made some people nervous because there is no established quantity of Vitamin E that’s confirmed to be safe to inhale. 

Why Would an E-Liquid Contain Vitamin E?

In the world of THC vaping, Vitamin E is used as an agent that dilutes THC oil while simultaneously thickening it. It allows illicit drug manufacturers to earn more money by using less THC oil in their cartridges.  In an e-liquid, though, Vitamin E has no purpose. It doesn’t mix easily with vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol, and it doesn’t work well with the cotton wicks that most e-liquid vaping coils use. While Vitamin E is perfect for diluting THC oil, it has no use in an e-liquid because VG and PG are equally inexpensive and are already available for that purpose.

In THC vaping cartridges, one ingredient – the THC oil – is very costly for the producer. Illicit producers, therefore, have a financial incentive to use as little of that ingredient as possible while hiding the fact that they’re doing it. E-liquid, on the other hand, is already a high-margin product because all of the base ingredients – including the nicotine – are very inexpensive. Vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol are already most of what’s in any e-liquid. E-liquid producers have no financial incentive to dilute their products further.

So, why would an e-liquid or JUUL pod contain Vitamin E? There are two likely reasons.

  • The e-liquid maker used a flavouring agent that contained Vitamin E as a preservative.
  • The e-liquid or JUUL pod is a knockoff product made in an unsanitary environment, and the product was somehow contaminated with Vitamin E – perhaps because the same factory was also making other types of counterfeit products such as cosmetics.

Always Know Your Source When Buying E-Liquid

There are two major vaping markets – Australia and Norway – in which vaping is legal, but nicotine e-liquid is not. Australian buyers are allowed to import their e-liquid from abroad, but Norway has no such provision. Norway will soon adopt the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive, making nicotine e-liquid legal to sell – but that hasn’t happened yet. Until then, Norwegian vape shops like Friske Drag can only sell nicotine-free e-liquids. 

In nations where nicotine e-liquid is prohibited, a black market will always form. That has happened in Norway and Australia along with other nations; people either attempt to import e-liquid in bulk for resale or import the raw ingredients and make e-liquid privately. 

Do you live in a nation in which domestic the domestic sale of nicotine e-liquid is illegal? Do you “know a guy” who can always manage to get e-liquid for you, or do you have a local vape shop that you know keeps a stash under the counter? If it’s true, the report from South Korea should serve as fair warning that you’re always taking a serious risk when you buy e-liquid from a private and unregulated source. There is always a chance that e-liquid made privately could have adulterants and contaminants – and counterfeit products such as fake JUUL pods are far more common than you might think. 

Responsible Regulation Is the Key to a Safe Vaping Industry

There are four universal truths about nicotine and vaping.

  • Nicotine is an incredibly addictive drug. Many of the people who try it will become addicted for life.
  • Research has shown fairly conclusively that vaping is less harmful than smoking. Smokers, therefore, have a strong incentive to switch to vaping if they’re going to continue using nicotine either way.
  • Prohibition of nicotine e-liquid makes no sense in a nation that allows people to buy cigarettes. Banning e-liquid effectively tells the population that their government wants nicotine addicts to continue smoking.
  • People are more intelligent than that, though, and smokers will seek out a less harmful alternative whether their governments allow it or not. In nations that prohibit nicotine e-liquid, black markets will inevitably form.

Given those facts, responsible regulation of the vaping industry is the only logical way forward. Unless a nation intends to ban tobacco – and good luck with that – banning e-liquid is illogical and counterproductive to the goal of improving public health. Nations must instead allow e-liquid and implement responsible regulations to ensure its safety. 

We applaud Norway for doing the right thing for its citizens and adopting the TPD, and we join Norwegians in being hopeful for a future in which all e-liquid is regulated responsibly and safe to use. Norway’s decision to adopt the TPD brings the world one step closer to a future in which combustible cigarettes are completely obsolete.

Responsable vape regulation for Mexico 

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