Researchers are still in the early stages of figuring out the potential health hazards associated with certain vaping flavors — as well as the dangers of vaping in general. So it can be tough for e-cig enthusiasts to know just how much damage, if any, they might be doing to their health. And that can frustrating, especially since so many people use vaping as a potentially healthier alternative to cigarette smoking.
For others, vaping is just a hobby, and one that comes with a variety of flavors to try. But whatever your reason for vaping may be, it's still important to weigh the pros and cons, and learn more about certain flavors so you can make a slightly more informed decision.
Because, if you've ever been to a vape store in search of e-cigarette juice, then you already know the choices are pretty much endless. There are common flavors like tobacco, strawberry, cola, and cherry, as well as more interesting flavors like cereal and buttered popcorn. And, of course, there are completely bizarre flavors, too, with names that seem to come from another planet.
The problem with vaping liquid, of any flavor, is you can never be 100 percent sure what you're inhaling. And that's why you should never assume any of them are "safe." Experts do say, however that certain flavors may be riskier than others due to the chemicals that go into making them, and how they reacted when heated up and inhaled. Here are a few flavors vapers might want to avoid, until we have more information.
While this favor may smell and taste like a delicious breakfast, that doesn't mean it's necessarily benign. In fact, "the chemicals that go into creating the cinnamon flavor "are among the most toxic in terms of damaging white blood cells (monocytes) in e-liquid juices," Emily Wood, a cannabis advisor at Honest Herb, tells Bustle.
Cinnamon was listed in a study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology as one of the most toxic vaping flavors. And, according to WebMD, the cinnamon flavoring can even impair the ability of the lungs to get rid of mucus.
While cinnamaldehyde, the chemical that smells and tastes like cinnamon, is approved by the FDA as a food additive, it can cause problems in the lungs when heated and inhaled, according to researchers from the American Thoracic Society.
Vanilla also tops the toxic list, due to the fact it contains the flavoring chemical vanillin, which can be harmful when inhaled. Again, chemicals like this one "have been linked to cell death," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle.
This was revealed in a study published in the American Heart Association's journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, which showed that some flavors of vape juice can impair blood vessel function, which is an early indicator of heart damage. The flavors tested in the study were burnt flavor, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, butter, strawberry, banana, and spicy cooling.
Along with burnt flavor, clove, and cinnamon, vanilla caused higher levels of the inflammatory marker interleukin-6 and lower levels of nitric oxide, even when used at low levels, according to Women's Health. And that can certainly be detrimental to heart health over time.
The thing is, certain ingredients can be tricky to avoid due to the fact juice ingredients aren't always clearly listed on the bottle, or made available to consumers. But it never hurts to read labels and avoid companies that aren't trying to be transparent.
3. Buttered Popcorn
Believe it or not, the dangerous side of buttered popcorn flavoring was first discovered in the 1990s, when several employees of a Missouri popcorn factory started complaining of coughing and wheezing symptoms.
It was discovered lung issues were due to an irreversible lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans, which was later nicknamed 'popcorn lung,' according to The Atlantic. "Its cause was traced back to the chemical behind popcorn’s buttery flavor," writer Diana Crow says, which they were breathing in all day, every day in the factory.
Again, this comes down to the dangerous of inhaling the flavoring versus ingesting it. For buttered popcorn, the chemical that creates the scent/flavor is diacetyl, and is one you might want to avoid.
4. Strawberry & Banana
The aforementioned study from the American Heart Association, which tested nine vape flavors — including banana and strawberry — found that all nine had an impact on heart cells.
Researchers tested to see the short-term effects on endothelial cells by exposing cells to each flavor for 90 minutes. Strawberry flavoring had the most adverse effects on the cells, and both strawberry and banana — along with cinnamon, clove, and spicy cooling — caused cell death even at lower levels.
Dimethylpyrazine is the chemical that creates a strawberry flavor, while isoamyl acetate is what tastes like banana. And while this study was smaller, it still may be a good idea to avoid these flavors, until we have more information.
5. Creamy Flavors
A tadpole study, which was conducted in part by Amanda Dickinson, a developmental biologist at Virginia Commonwealth University, looked for the ways vape liquids might impact human embryos by assessing how they impacted tadpoles.
According to the study, about 20 percent of tadpoles exposed to the flavors strawberry, almond, caramel, vanilla, biscuit, and Vienna cream, and 70 percent of those exposed to a flavor of cereal, berries, cream, and citrus developed clefts.
While it's alarming that these flavors caused tadpoles to develop clefts, the jury is still out regarding safety and how vaping might impact humans. And again, it's all about the difference between eating these flavors, as many are FDA-approved as food additives, and heating them up and inhaling them.
6. Mint (Menthol)
In terms of heart health, mint (or menthol) was another flavor tested by researchers in the American Heart Association study. While it didn't have quite the alarming side effects as strawberry, it was shown to be dangerous to epithelial cells. And when used at the highest levels, did cause cell death.
A study from the University of Salford also found that smokers are at a greater risk when they use flavors like menthol, as well as butterscotch. According to the study, some of the flavors tested shown to be much more toxic, and that prolonged exposure even had the ability to kill bronchial cells completely.
7. Complex Flavors
If you go for mixed flavors like "banana strawberry" or "berries and cream" when choosing a juice you might be inhaling even more chemicals than if you puffed on a single flavor alone.
As Wood says, "Research has shown that mixing multiple flavoring chemicals together creates far more cell destruction than inhaling single flavor e-liquids."
And this can be most true for those made up mystery flavors with bizarre names, as they may have a million different notes in them as well. "It's not necessarily the end flavors that end up being unhealthy ... but the additives that are used to create very complex flavors that consumers should be aware of," Wood says. "The more complex the flavor is, likely the unhealthier it will be for the consumer."
Of course, it's yet to be determined if vaping is safe, or if certain flavors are definitely more dangerous than others. But you should still proceed with caution, and go into it without assuming vaping is safe.
This post was originally published on 6/21/2018. It was updated on 6/5/2019.