Electronic cigarettes: which inhaled substances should be monitored as a priority?

Electronic cigarettes have been widely adopted by part of the population, yet the health risks potentially associated with the inhalation of the substances emitted by these devices have yet to be assessed in detail. ANSES has drawn up a list of substances to be studied as a priority in order to assess the risks associated with their inhalation.

Prioritising substances, an essential first step in risk assessment

In 2019, 4.4% of the French population said that they vaped every day, according to Santé Publique France. To assess the potential health risks arising from the use of electronic cigarettes, we need to identify the substances included in their composition and those that can be inhaled by vaping. ANSES has established a list of 1,775 substances, including 106 that it considers as priorities by reason of their carcinogenic, mutagenic, or reprotoxic characteristics. This is the case, for example, of formaldehyde, acrolein and lead.

To draft this list of priorities, ANSES drew upon the reporting statements made by the manufacturers of vaping products as well as on scientific literature. 

The next stage in risk assessment is to estimate the real levels of exposure experienced by vapers. At the same time, the Agency will initiate a measurement campaign to establish the concentrations of these priority substances in emissions. After completing this work, ANSES will produce an assessment of the health risks associated with the substances of greatest concern.

Extending the regulations to nicotine-free and homemade e-liquids

ANSES has observed the widespread use by vapers of nicotine-free vaping liquids, particularly homemade products made from aroma concentrates in multiple flavours. According to a survey conducted in 2020 by BVA for ANSES, 33% of vapers use DIY liquids on a regular or exclusive basis. However, neither DIY liquids nor nicotine-free products are covered by protective health measures, such as the bans placed on certain ingredients, or by the reporting obligations applicable to manufacturers of vaping products.
In order to identify all the substances to which vapers are exposed, European regulations, and particularly the associated reporting obligations, should be extended to all the vaping products on the market, whether or not they contain nicotine, and whether they are sold ready to vape or made by the users themselves.

Regulations applicable to vaping products

Electronic cigarettes and nicotine-containing e-liquids are consumer products governed by regulations that ban certain ingredients representing a direct or indirect danger. In addition, these regulations require companies marketing the products to declare the composition of their products to ANSES, with this information subsequently being made public.

Looking beyond the compliance of the ingredients used in their products (no vitamins, no stimulants such as caffeine or taurine, no CMR substances, etc.), companies marketing e-liquids must also make sure that these ingredients, whether heated or not, do not represent a risk to human health