A cancer-causing compound banned by U.S. regulators last year as a food additive has been found at potentially dangerous levels in mint and menthol flavored e-cigarette liquids and smokeless tobacco products.
The findings, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, provided the latest evidence about health concerns related to e-cigarettes. Federal health officials are investigating lung illnesses linked to e-cigarettes and vaping products tied to six U.S. deaths.
The levels of pulegone, a carginogenic constituent of mint plant oil, that are inhaled by e-cigarette users are as much as 1,000 times higher than those taken in by smokers of menthol cigarettes, Duke University School of Medicine researchers said. The study involved six types of pulegone-containing smokeless tobaccos and e-cigarette liquids used for vaping.
The Food and Drug Administration barred the use of pulegone as a food additive after receiving petitions from health and environmental groups.
Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Medical School, called the findings “highly concerning.”
This is yet another example of something that has been looked at by the FDA only as a food and not as an inhalant, Galiatsatos said. Galiatsatos, who was not involved in the research, added that the study “tells us how willing e-cigarette makers are to create an enhanced experience at the cost of health ramifications.”
The researchers noted that the tobacco industry has minimized pulegone levels in cigarette flavorings because of toxicity concerns.
“Our findings appear to establish health risks associated with pulegone intake and concerns that the FDA should address before suggesting mint- and menthol-flavored e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products as alternatives for people who use combustible tobacco products,” the researchers wrote.