The toxic truth

You might have noticed a handful of chemicals listed as ingredients on vape packaging, but it’s the chemicals you won’t find on these labels that are the most worrying.

vape and brain

Lab testing has found over 240 chemicals in vapes, and many of them are harmful to human health. For others, we just don’t know what breathing them into your lungs will do. Harmful chemicals are being discovered in vapes all the time, and new ones like radioactive polonium are being tested. This raises some serious questions about how these chemicals get into vapes and what kind of danger they might bring.

The chemicals in vapes can harm your health and make you feel unwell, impacting things you do everyday. Symptoms like finding it hard to breathe, headaches and lung irritation can make it harder to work or study, and ruin social activities. Vaping can even lead to serious medical emergencies.

Take a step beyond the label and discover what chemicals you’re really breathing in.

The harmful chemicals in vapes

Dead body

Dead body chemicals

Formaldehyde is a chemical commonly used to preserve dead human bodies - a process known as embalming. It is also known to cause cancer, so people working with formaldehyde must wear full body protection and make sure there is good airflow to avoid inhaling the dangerous fumes.

Breathing in formaldehyde isn’t something you want to do for fun. It can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat, but the real danger is what it does to your lungs. Instead of staying airy and light, too much formaldehyde can flood your lungs with fluid. In serious cases, it can be so hard to breathe that it feels like you are drowning.

Bug killer

Bug-spray

2-chlorophenol is a strong chemical that can kill insects. It's also used in hospitals to stop the spread of bacteria and infections. When you breathe it in, your body quickly feels its effects. First, your nose, eyes, and throat will feel sore and really itchy. It can also give you a bad stomach ache and make you feel weak. In serious cases, it can make your muscles spasm, causing you to shake without control.

Weed killer

Weed killer

Acrolein was once used as a chemical weapon in World War I to make poisonous tear gas. It is also known to cause permanent lung damage. Today, it’s a restricted chemical that can only be used as an herbicide to kill algae and weeds that grow underwater.

Breathing in even a little bit of acrolein can make your nose, throat, and eyes feel like they're burning. In bigger doses it can harm your lungs for life, filling them with fluid and making it really hard to breathe.

Dead mouse on the floor

Rat poison

Arsenic is a chemical that is highly toxic not to only rats but also to humans. Now we know it can cause lung, liver and other cancers, it’s not even allowed to kill pests anymore.

Too much arsenic in your body can cause:

  • bad body odour and breath
  • chest pain, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • prickling feeling (‘pins and needles’) in your fingers and toes
  • change in skin colour and small warts all over your hands, feet and stomach.

Definitely not a chemical you would choose to breathe in.

Used batteries

Heavy metals

There’s a reason lead is no longer used in petrol or paint. Breathing heavy metals into your lungs is like a one-way street into your body, once they get in it’s hard to get them out! After entering your lungs, they make their way into your blood and tissue, spreading from your head all the way to your toes.

This can lead to some serious symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and loss of feeling in your hands or feet. Over time, heavy metals can build up in your organs leading to brain damage, memory loss and damage to your kidney and liver.

When the metals parts inside a vape heat up, they can break apart and form tiny metal particles in the aerosol. Heavy metals like lead, cadmium, nickel and chromium have been found in vape aerosols.

Nail polish remover

 Nail polish remover

Acetone is a chemical that is powerful enough to dissolve other chemicals. Nail polish is just the start, it can also dissolve plastic, jewellery and stockings.

When acetone touches your skin it can become very dry and cracked – that’s why you’ll find it mixed in with moisturising oils in nail polish remover.

The health effects from breathing in acetone can be a lot more serious. It can cause:

  • fast heart rate
  • nausea and vomiting
  • headaches and confusion
  • passing out (unconsciousness)
  • nose, throat, eye and lung irritation.
Cleaning products

Cleaning products

You can find acetaldehyde in household cleaning products, like the ones used to clean carpets, but it’s also used in paints and even super glue.

Breathing in acetaldehyde can give you headaches, nausea and make you vomit. If your body keeps coming into contact with acetaldehyde, it can lead to serious health problems over time, like:

  • Harming your brain, slowing down your reaction time and making it hard to think clearly.
  • Damaging organs like your kidney, stomach, and liver.
  • Filling your lungs with fluid and even life-long lung disease.

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List of sources

Introduction

  1. Non-nicotine liquids for e-cigarette devices in Australia: chemistry and health concerns [Australian Department of Health and Aged Care]
  2. Determination of Thermal Decomposition Products Generated from E-Cigarettes [American Chemical Society Publications]
  3. Critical Review of the Recent Literature on Organic Byproducts in E-Cigarette Aerosol Emissions [MDPI Toxics Journal]

Formaldehyde

  1. Embalming: An overview [Science Direct]
  2. Formaldehyde (methyl aldehyde) [Australian Department of Climate Change, the Environment and Water]
  3. Formaldehyde [PubChem ]
  4. Medical Management Guidelines for Formaldehyde [Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry]
  5. Non-nicotine liquids for e-cigarette devices in Australia: chemistry and health concerns [Australian Department of Health]

2-Chlorophenol

  1. 2-Chlorophenol [PubChem]
  2. Nicotine and other potentially harmful compounds in “nicotine‐free” e‐cigarette liquids in Australia [The Medical Journal of Australia]

Acrolein

  1. Acrolein-2-propenal [Australian Department of Climate Change, the Environment and Water]
  2.  Acrolein [PubChem]
  3. Non-nicotine liquids for e-cigarette devices in Australia: chemistry and health concerns [Australian Department of Health and Aged Care]

Arsenic

  1. Arsenic and compounds [Australian Department of Climate Change, the Environment and Water]
  2. Arsenic Poisoning [Cleveland Clinic]  
  3. Position statement - Pesticide and cancer [Cancer Council Australia]
  4. Non-nicotine liquids for e-cigarette devices in Australia: chemistry and health concerns [Australian Department of Health and Aged Care]

Heavy metals

  1. Metal/Metalloid Levels in Electronic Cigarette Liquids, Aerosols, and Human Biosamples: A Systematic Review [Environmental Health Perspectives Journal]
  2. Metal Concentrations in e-Cigarette Liquid and Aerosol Samples: The Contribution of Metallic Coils [Environmental Health Perspectives Journal]
  3. Transfer of Metals to the Aerosol Generated by an Electronic Cigarette: Influence of Number of Puffs and Power [International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health] 
  4. Heavy Metal Poisoning (Toxicity) [Cleveland Clinic]
  5. Cadmium [Better Health Vic - State Government of Victoria]
  6. Nickel &compounds [Australian Department of Climate Change, the Environment and Water]
  7. Lead exposure [Healthy WA - State Government of Western Australia]
  8. Lead poisoning [healthdirect - Australian Department of Health and Aged Care]
  9. Non-nicotine liquids for e-cigarette devices in Australia: chemistry and health concerns [Australian Department of Health and Aged Care]

Acetone

  1. Acetone [Australian Department of Climate Change, the Environment and Water] 
  2. Acetone [PubChem]
  3. Non-nicotine liquids for e-cigarette devices in Australia: chemistry and health concerns [Australian Department of Health and Aged Care]

Acetaldehyde

  1. Acetaldehyde [PubChem]
  2. Acetaldehyde [Consumer Product Information Database]
  3. Acetaldehyde [Australian Department of Climate Change, the Environment and Water] 
  4. Non-nicotine liquids for e-cigarette devices in Australia: chemistry and health concerns [Australian Department of Health and Aged Care]