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What’s in an e-liquid?

An e-liquid contains many different chemicals. Sticky chemicals called propylene glycol and glycerol(12,13) make up most of the e-liquid.

E-liquids usually contain highly addictive nicotine and a mix of flavouring chemicals. They may also contain coolants (chemicals that produce a cooling sensation in the mouth).

Contaminants(14) have also been found in many e-liquids. These include toxic metals, such as arsenic, and toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde. Many of these contaminants are inhaled by the users.

Many vapes contain chemicals that are known causes of cancer and lung damage.(1)

Forty-two chemicals(1) have been found in vapes that are known causes of damage to the lungs and airways. Many others are known causes of cancer or heart disease. Although these chemicals are present at low amounts, the safety of long-term exposure to these cannot be assumed.(15)

They include some of the same chemicals found in dangerous products like paint thinner, bug spray and biofuels.

Many vapes contain chemicals that are known causes of cancer or lung damage.

What is the aerosol (“vapour”)?

Some people mistakenly think the 'cloud' from vaping is water vapour, like steam. It is really an aerosol(16,17,18) - a mix of gases and tiny droplets of chemicals.

Some of the chemicals in vape aerosol are in the e-liquid described above(1,14). Others are formed during chemical reactions when the e-liquid is heated. When inhaled, these sticky chemicals can lodge in the lungs.(18,19,20) Some of these chemicals are associated with cancer or lung disease.

Chemicals from vape aerosols can move from the lungs into the blood, then all around the body.(21)

It only takes 10 seconds(22) for nicotine in the aerosol to move from the lungs to the brain.

Dangerous chemicals found in vapes and/or their aerosol

  • Allyl alcohol is found in common household cleaning products and disinfectants
  • Acrolein is a dangerous poison commonly found in weed killer
  • Acetonitrile is commonly found in lithium batteries and car exhausts
  • Arsenic is a highly poisonous chemical historically used in rat poison
  • Benzene is a highly toxic chemical found in gasoline and pesticides
  • Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal used in batteries
  • Chlorine is found in bleach
  • Formaldehyde is commonly used to preserve dead bodies
  • Glyoxal is used as a strong disinfectant and has also been used in pesticides (bug killers)
  • Lead is a highly dangerous toxic metal found in aviation fuel, ammunition and batteries
  • Alpha-Pinene are a type of chemical found in turpentine (paint thinner)
  • ​​Xylene is used in paint stripper and petrol
  • Toluene is a clear, colourless liquid found in fuel.

Last updated March 2024

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