This article originally appeared on VICE AU.
People have been arguing for years over the purported health benefits of vapes. While experts insist that the liquids used in e-cigarettes contain a bevy of harmful chemicals—including carcinogens—advocates typically take a “lesser of two evils” line of argument, based on the fact that many vaporisers don’t include the addictive alkaloid found in cigarettes and therefore serve as a gateway to quitting.
But a team of Australian researchers recently investigated the matter by putting 10 different varieties of allegedly “nicotine free” e-liquids under the microscope, the ABC reports. The study, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, found that six of the sample substances contained nicotine. The study's authors have subsequently blamed the error on Australia’s lack of regulation for vape products.
"There is little to no regulation of their manufacture, and potentially dangerous ingredients and incorrect nicotine levels have been identified," the paper reads. Lead researcher Alex Larcombe added that "in a lot of cases, people who are using e-cigarettes are unaware of what they're breathing in.”
The e-liquid samples were also found to contain an "acutely toxic" chemical known as 2-chlorophenol, which is typically found in insecticides, herbicides, and disinfectants—as well as certain “by-products of animal or human bodily function.” According to many media outlets, including SBS, that is a thinly veiled way of saying "poo."
“[This] indicates the process of making the e-liquids might not be as clean as you might hope," said Associate Professor Larcombe.
It is illegal to sell liquid nicotine in Australia, meaning vape stores have to restrict their offerings to "nicotine-free" e-liquids. Simon Chapman, emeritus professor of public health at Sydney University, however, told the ABC it was an “open secret” that you could still buy vape juice containing nicotine. All of the samples used in the tests were purchased online and over-the-counter from Australian suppliers.
The study was a collaboration between Telethon Kids Institute, Curtin University and The University of Western Australia.