September 16, 2019
A potential carcinogen found in menthol- and mint-flavored e-cigarettes exceeds levels considered safe, according to an analysis conducted by Duke Health.
The chemical – known as pulegone (and pronounced pju-leh-goan) – was banned as a food additive last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration due to its carcinogenic properties. The FDA does not regulate pulegone's presence in e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously found substantial amounts of pulegone in e-cigarettes.
Duke researchers compared that information to the FDA's pulegone exposure risk data, testing three brands of e-cigarettes, several brands of traditional cigarettes and one smokeless tobacco product.
They found the e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products exceeded safety levels. The traditional cigarettes did not.
Sven-Eric Jordt, a professor in Duke's Department of Anesthesiology and the study's lead author, urged the FDA to mitigate pulegone-related health risks in e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, noting many people consider them safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes.
"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," Jordt said in a statement.
Researchers noted a limitation in their analysis. The FDA's exposure risk data is based on oral exposure in animal studies. It does not include data via inhalation.
That means the risks may apply to oral exposure through smokeless tobacco, but differ when inhaled via e-cigarette vapor, researchers noted. Toxicologists consider the lung to be more sensitive to toxic chemicals than the digestive tract, they added.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, did not draw any conclusions in regard to the growing number of severe lung illnesses tied to vaping. The CDC is investigating those cases, which include six deaths.
No definite conclusions have been reached, but the CDC has recommended people cease vaping e-cigarettes the investigation runs its course. Additionally, the Trump administration plans to ban all flavored e-cigarettes, including mint- and menthol-flavored products.