One of the biggest debates about vaping is the question of safety: what’s in your e-juice?
It is generally accepted that there are four elements to e-juice: flavour, nicotine, propylene glycol (PG), and vegetable glycerin (VG). Let’s tackle these one at a time.
Propylene glycol is a petroleum byproduct approved for use by the United States Food & Drug Administration in the following products: alcoholic beverages, confections and frostings, frozen dairy products, seasonings and flavourings, nuts and nut products. The FDA website states: “Propylene glycol is metabolized by animals and can be used as a carbohydrate source. Propylene glycol can be ingested over long periods of time and in substantial quantities (up to 5 percent of the total food intake) without causing frank toxic effects.” (http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=184.1666)
Propylene glycol is called a humectant, which means its primary use is to keep things moist. This is why it is commonly found in massage oil, moisturizer, shampoo, anti-perspirant, etc. It is also one of the ingredients in anti-freeze, which has led anti-vapers to claim that vaping is poisonous. Although it is found in anti-freeze, that does not mean there is anti-freeze in your e-juice, any more than there is shampoo or ice cream!
In e-juice, propylene glycol is the agent that binds with flavours because the molecule is very small. It also helps thin the liquid because its counterpart, vegetable glycerin, is not very viscous. This means the higher the PG ratio of your e-juice, the stronger the flavour. It is also a mild throat irritant, which is what gives e-juice the throat hit which mimics smoking cigarettes.
Vegetable glycerin is a purified, concentrated version of naturally occurring fats and oils. As with propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin (also known as glycerol) is used in food, cosmetic products, and as filler in some medications. It is a very thick liquid that resembles syrup or molasses, and is naturally sweet tasting.
Vegetable glycerin is what produces vape clouds when vapour is exhaled. The higher the VG ratio, the bigger the clouds.
Both propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin have been labeled “generally regarded as safe” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Health Canada has declared that the “generally accepted use” of these products is the same as the U.S., essentially making their evaluations equivalent.
Nicotine is the most harmful ingredient of e-juice because of its addictive properties, yet when taken in moderation it is no different than drinking coffee. It is possible to overdose on nicotine if you ignore the warning signs: nausea, vomiting, increased saliva production, fluid build-up in the lungs, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, headache, dizziness, confusion, agitation, etc. It is easier to overdose on nicotine using an e-cigarette or vaporizer, so careful monitoring of symptoms is highly recommended until you get the dosage right.
Nicotine is measured in milligrams. The most common amounts are 0mg, 3mg, 6mg, 12mg, and 18mg. I’m told in the U.S. you can get as high as 54mg but I’ve never actually seen that in Canada. When you start vaping, you should begin with a nicotine dose that is roughly the same as what you smoked. If you smoked one pack per day, start at 18mg. Half a pack would be 12mg, just a few per day would be 6mg, social smoking is 3mg, and vaping at 0mg is just for the lulz. Once you’re comfortable with vaping, it’s easier to reduce the level of nicotine you inhale over a longer period of time.
So these four ingredients in varying quantities/types are what make an e-juice “good” or “bad” according to the vaper. It’s a highly personal choice. Here is a checklist of information you should know before purchasing a bottle of e-juice:
- How many milligrams of nicotine am I vaping?
- What sort of flavours do I like?
- Do I prefer a harsher throat hit, or do I want bigger clouds?
- What is my price range?
Many brands of e-juice can be sold with varying ratios of PG/VG, depending on the preference of the vaper, but that’s not always the case. It’s good practice to ask about the ratio when trying/buying the product, so you know what to expect.
Don’t be afraid to examine a bottle closely, and to ask a salesperson where and how the product was made. Some shops make their own e-juice in a back room on a dirty table, while others focus exclusively on brands that are produced in a laboratory. If you’re unsure where it’s made, don’t be afraid to say no. It’s currently not illegal for any joe schmoe to sell e-juice, so be wary of shady operations. Do research online and read reviews, ask your friends, and discuss your concerns with a salesperson. It’s better to be safe about a product that’s going into your lungs.