Think Tank: E-cigarettes - a chemical perspective

27 June 2014 09:43 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

The vapour is everywhere these days. Such is the growing popularity of the electronic cigarette that it has given rise to a new term to describe the act of using this increasingly ubiquitous device – vaping.

The chemical solution used in this device generally contains propylene glycol (PG) combined with nicotine and/or vegetable glycerin (VG). The distinctive cloud is formed when the solution is heated, or vaporised, inside the e-cigarette.

Cefic is cautious about the use of PG in e-cigarettes

Copyright: Rex Features

The European Commission confirmed in Directive 2014/40, which came into force on 3 April 2014, that e-cigarettes represent an “emerging market” across the continent. What does this mean for the propylene glycol industry?

“Producers of PG and members of Cefic’s PG sector group do not support the use of propylene glycol in electronic cigarettes, nor in artificial (theatrical) fogs due to possible effects on the eye, nose, throat, and respiratory tract membranes as well as the absence of information on potential long term effects from prolonged inhalation of (fine) droplets of propylene glycol,” the trade group says.

Cefic’s PG sector group manager Paul Teheux clarified the above position, saying Cefic does not prohibit its members from supplying PG to e-cigarette manufacturers, only that it does not support such action. Cefic is unaware of any e-cigarette manufacturers based in Europe as most are made in China.

In Europe, the PG used in these devices should be distilled to a recognised pharmaceutical grade (PG/USP). This particular grade undergoes rigorous safety procedures during both production and transportation. It is also used to make certain kinds of medication.

Despite these other applications, the distinction made by Teheux in the case of e-cigarettes concerns the unknown factor of inhalation. Retailers believe this mindset creates misconceptions about the industry.

“Critics of e-cigarettes tend to focus too much on the ‘likeness’ of vaping to smoking [a tobacco] cigarette,” Rory Giles, CEO of UK-based e-cigarette seller Vaper Vend said. “I am happy to keep vending electronic cigarettes to my customers ... until scientific evidence demonstrated through genuinely unbiased and long-term studies shows that the use of electronic cigarettes is more harmful to a person’s health than regular cigarettes.”

Even the European Commission seems to have expressly framed Directive 2014/40 in terms of ‘likeness’ to tobacco as it concerns “the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products”.

By Stefan Naidu