Electronic cigarettes contain a chemical flavoring compound that can cause cancer and that has been prohibited as an additive in food, according to a study published Monday in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal.
The ingredient, called pulegone, is present in menthol and mint flavored e-cigarettes and other smokeless tobacco products. Because of its cancer-causing properties, the US Food and Drug Administration banned it as a food additive last year after receiving requests from consumer groups to do so.
The study was authored by Dr. Sven-Eric Jordt, with the Department of Anesthesiology at Duke University, and research partner Sairam V. Jabba.
The article says that pulegone is a carcinogen that can cause liver cancer, pulmonary metaplasia and other neoplasms in laboratory rodents that receive it orally.
Recent studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have detected substantial quantities of pulegone in menthol and mint-flavored e-cigarettes, as well as in other smokeless tobacco products sold in the US.
The FDA has not yet issued regulations regarding the presence of pulegone in these products, which their manufacturers are touting as a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes.
Jodt and Jabba analyzed whether the most popular brands of regular menthol cigarettes, three brands of e-cigarettes and one brand of smokeless tobacco contained enough pulegone to harm humans.
They analyzed the consumption of these products by “light, moderate and heavy” users and found that the amount of pulegone in the e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products exceeds the amount established by the FDA to be linked with tumors in lab animals.
Regular menthol cigarettes, in contrast, contain levels of pulegone that are under the FDA limits.
At least six people have died and hundreds have suffered pulmonary complications linked to the growing use of e-cigarettes, a habit known as vaping, many of which have assorted artificial flavors.
Last week, US Health Secretary Alex Azar said that the FDA is working to ban flavored e-cigarettes, and a week earlier Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer banned the sale of e-cigarettes in her state, making it the first to prohibit the marketing of these products.
The authors of the study sat that the tobacco industry has minimized the levels of pulegone in the flavorings of its cigarettes because of concerns about its toxicity.