Millions of former smokers around the world are doing it. They feel better, they smell better, and they all spend dramatically less money on nicotine. The thing we’re talking about, of course, is vaping. Most researchers agree that vaping could be up to 95 percent less harmful than smoking, which obviously makes vaping an incredibly attractive alternative for those who would use nicotine either way.
People who switch from smoking to vaping are obviously very health-conscious individuals. By making the switch, you know that you’re migrating away from something that causes incredible harm – tobacco smoke – and moving to something that could potentially be significantly less harmful. As soon as you’ve made that switch, though, you’re going to begin wondering whether vaping is as safe as it can possibly be for you. You’re going to want to know: What’s actually in vape juice?
Reading this article, you’re going to learn the answer to that question.
The Base Liquids: Vegetable Glycerin and Propylene Glycol
All vape juice consists mostly of two base liquids: vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol (VG and PG). In their original form, the nicotine and flavors that e-liquid makers add to vape juice are extremely concentrated. To make a usable product, it’s necessary to dilute the flavors and nicotine. VG and PG comprise the majority of any bottle of e-liquid. They’re most of what you inhale, and they create the clouds that you see when you vape.
So, what are vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol?
Vegetable glycerin is a byproduct of the soapmaking process. When you add lye to fat, you get two products: soap and glycerin. Vegetable glycerin comes from soap that’s made from plant-based fats. Since people use a lot of soap, there’s plenty of glycerin to go around. It’s a common ingredient in cosmetics and topical products. It’s also a food ingredient. Glycerin attracts and traps moisture, so it helps to prevent products like shelf-stable baked goods from going stale. It’s also an effective emulsifier that keeps liquid ingredients suspended in a solution.
Propylene glycol is also a common ingredient in foods and topical products. It inhibits microbial growth, so it’s sometimes used as a preservative. It’s also used in many deodorants and air fresheners. Like VG, PG is also an emulsifier, so it’s commonly used in liquid cosmetics and foods to keep ingredients mixed. It’s also a common ingredient in inhaled medications.
It isn’t known whether there are any long-term risks to inhaling VG and PG. Vaping has existed for more than a decade now, though, and research has not linked VG and PG inhalation to an increased risk of disease. Both ingredients have the Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) classification, meaning that they have been used in various products for so long that they are generally considered safe for consumption. The GRAS classification, however, applies to products that are consumed orally – not by inhaling.
Although it’s possible to synthesize nicotine in a lab, most vape juice makers don’t use synthetic nicotine because it’s expensive to produce. Liquid nicotine extracted from tobacco leaves, on the other hand, is inexpensive and readily available because that’s what’s used in nicotine replacement products like patches and gums.
There are surprisingly few health concerns associated with nicotine. Nicotine shouldn’t be used by pregnant or nursing mothers or those with diabetes or cardiovascular problems. On its own, though, nicotine hasn’t been conclusively associated with cancer as cigarette smoke has. As the old saying about cigarettes goes, “They come for the nicotine; they die from the tar.”
Most e-liquid includes flavoring agents that add pleasure to the vaping experience. Some vape juice makers try to create e-liquids that taste like tobacco and menthol, of course, because many of the people who switch to vaping are very interested in finding e-liquids that capture the flavors of the cigarettes they’ve given up.
Although some tobacco and menthol e-liquids are quite good, the real fun in vaping comes from exploring the hundreds of other vape juice flavors in the world. Vape juice makers use the same concentrated flavor drops that the makers of snacks, candies, sodas, and other foods use. Some of the flavors are natural, and others are artificial. They’re the same flavors that you already eat every day, and they’re all food safe.
As with vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol, the fact that the flavors in e-liquid are rated for food safety doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they are safe to inhale. Research into the safety of inhaling food flavors is still ongoing. Again, though, vaping has existed for more than a decade at this point, and the use of flavored e-liquid hasn’t been linked conclusively to any chronic disease.
Do you want to reduce any potential risk of vaping as much as possible? That’s one reason why many vape juice makers offer unflavored e-liquids. An unflavored e-liquid contains nothing but vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, and nicotine. Many people actually enjoy unflavored vape juice because vegetable glycerin has a slightly sweet flavor of its own. Therefore, unflavored e-liquid doesn’t actually have a complete absence of flavor; it’s a little sweet from the glycerin and slightly peppery from the nicotine.
What Shouldn’t Be in Vape Juice?
There are two ingredients that absolutely should not be in any e-liquid. Vape juice makers are aware that these ingredients are potentially dangerous, and they do not use them.
- Diacetyl is a flavoring agent that tastes like butter or cream. It’s added to low-fat popcorn to give the product a rich, buttery flavor. Research has determined that inhaling concentrated diacetyl over a long period of time can lead to irreversible lung damage. Vape juice makers are aware of the danger and do not add diacetyl to their products.
- Vitamin E acetate is an oil that’s often used as a preservative in foods and in certain flavor concentrates. Research suggests that vitamin E inhalation can lead to lipoid pneumonia and severe lung damage. Vape juice makers shouldn’t ever use flavoring agents that contain Vitamin E or other oils. Instead, they typically use flavors set in propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, alcohol or water.