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What's in an e-cigarette and e-liquid

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 e-cigarettes contain chemicals that are known causes of cancer and lung damage.(1)

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

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

Many e-cigarettes contain chemicals that are known causes of cancer and 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. These sticky chemicals can lodge in the lungs(19,20) of people when they inhale.

The aerosol is made up of many of the chemicals(1,14) in the e-liquid described above. These include chemicals with known health risks such as cancer and lung disease.

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

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

Dangerous chemicals found in e-cigarettes 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
  • a-Pinene are a type of chemical found in turpentine (paint thinner)
  • ​​Xylene is used in paint stripper and petrol. Also found in Paint thinner, alpha-pinene in biofuels and benzene in pesticides
  • Toluene is a clear, colourless liquid found in fuel
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