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Mint vape flavors contain dangerous levels of a cancer-causing chemical, study suggests

Mint vape flavors contain dangerous levels of a cancer-causing chemical, study suggests

  • Duke University researchers found pulegone in three mint-flavored e-cigarettes
  • Pulegone has been linked to bladder and liver cancer in animal studies 
  • The FDA banned it from food last year 
  • A mysterious vaping-linked ‘disease’ has sickened 450 Americans 
  • It isn’t clear what the respiratory effects of pulegone might be 
  • Scientists warn lungs may be more sensitive to the toxin 

Flavored e-cigarettes contain unsafe levels of a potentially carcinogenic ingredient that was banned from food last year, a new study reveals. 

The chemical, called pulegone, has been linked to bladder and liver cancer in animal studies and is used to give things like aromatherapy oils a minty smell. 

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials prohibited pulegone’s use in food to protect consumers from the substance. 

On the heels of hundreds of illnesses and six deaths linked to vaping, Duke University research found the ingredient in three brand of mint-flavored e-cigarettes. 

Three brands of mint-flavored e-cigarettes contained levels of pulegone, a chemical linked to bladder and liver cancers in animals, higher than the FDA’s limit, Duke researchers found (file)

Although the FDA does regulate tobacco products – and is in the process of forming regulations for e-cigarettes – it does not control levels of pulegone in them. 

Pulegone is an oil derived from plants, but it can be toxic to humans. 

Studies in rats suggested that consuming it could cause bladder cancer in female animals and liver cancer in rats of both sexes.

Although pulegone is typically used at very low levels in food and beverages, the FDA removed it from its list of approved additives in October 2018. 

The agency noted that there are natural ingredients that can serve the same function as pulegone and the other six substances it banned from foods last year. 

But the FDA is less stringent about pulegone’s use in cigarettes. 

It’s commonly used in menthol cigarettes, which studies have suggested may be more addictive than regular cigarettes. 

There is also a considerable body of research that suggests makers of menthol cigarettes – which taste more palatable to many smokers – may target minority population in the US.  

The Duke study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine is not the first to link minty e-cigarettes and cigarettes are exposing people to unsafe levels of pulegone. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research has shown that both types of smokable products contain the toxin. 

The Duke researchers followed up on the CDC study, testing several popular brands menthol cigarettes and mint e-cigs. 

All three of the e-cigarettes they tested had unsafe surpassed the threshold of edible pulegone. 

The tobacco industry has apparently responded to the FDA’s warnings by lowering the level of pulegone in their products to below the maximum threshold. 

But all three e-cigarette products considerably surpassed the threshold. 

‘The tobacco industry has long known about the dangers of pulegone and has continuously tried to minimize its levels in menthol cigarette flavorings, so the levels are much lower in menthol cigarettes than in electronic cigarettes,’ said lead study author Dr Sven-Eric Jordt, a Duke anesthesiologist. 

‘The findings come as US health officials at the CDC, FDA and state agencies collectively race to work out what its is in e-cigarettes that is sickening over 450 Americans and has killed six. 

So far, the most concrete common factor scientists have found has been a vitamin E derivative in THC vaping products. 

But illnesses have been reported in people that only vaped nicotine, and officials still don’t know what exactly is causing them. 

It’s not clear what effects pulegone may have on the lungs, or if the products health officials are investigating contained the chemical. 

Limits on pulegone are set based on ingestion, raising further concerns for the Duke researchers. 

It’s not clear what level of inhalation exposure is safe, but they note that the lungs are more sensitive to toxins than are digestive organs. 

‘Our findings suggest that the FDA should implement measures to mitigate pulegone-related health risks before suggesting mint- and menthol-flavored e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products as alternatives for people who use combustible tobacco products,’ said Dr Jordt.        


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