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Nicotine Vape Products: A Safer Alternative?

By Grimaldi Law Offices Summer Associate Cecilia Grimaldi

An increasing wave of mysterious respiratory illness related to vape product use has triggered government action. The Centers for Disease Control has advised people to stop the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping products.  The Food and Drug Administration has also warned the largest American e-cigarette brand, Juul, to cease promotion of its products as a safer alternative to cigarettes. Further, the Trump administration has announced plans to ban flavored e-cigs.

While agencies such as the FDA now are beginning to take action against the smoking alternative, there are concerns they failed to protect the public when these devices initially hit the market. Sven Jordt, an e-cigarette researcher at Duke, called the FDA’s conduct “a regulatory failure” for allowing nicotine juice products to be sold when many of them contain the chemical pulegone, a carcinogen known to cause liver and kidney failure. Pulegone also is identified as a carcinogen under Proposition 65. The amounts of pulegone Dr. Jordt and his team found in mint and menthol flavored juice were thousands of times higher than allowed in food and if “[they] were in food, FDA would immediately ask the manufacturer to pull this off the markets or even impose fines.” Some of Dr. Jordt’s findings are published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

However, FDA regulates food and tobacco products differently and the researchers acknowledged there are no studies evaluating the effects of inhaling pulegone. Further, the specific cause of the mystery illness associated with vaping is unknown. Dr. Ann Thomas, a public health physician at the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division, notes the illness could be caused by “contaminants, ingredients in the liquid or something else, such as the device itself.” Vitamin E acetate in vaping liquids also is a current focus of investigation.

Because e-cigarettes are a fairly new product, the long-term effects of their use are unknown. Therefore, until more studies are done it is difficult to say whether nicotine vape products are truly safer alternatives to their traditional counterparts. Those studies probably can’t be undertaken soon enough, though, as news reports reveal that e-cigarette users are now turning to traditional cigarettes in the wake of the reported lung illnesses.


Grimaldi Law Offices has been advising clients for over 20 years on chemical and product regulation. For knowledgeable advice and in-depth analysis on your chemical regulatory compliance obligations, contact Grimaldi Law Offices at (415) 463-5186 or email us at [email protected].

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Ms. Grimaldi maintains a diverse environmental law practice focusing on chemical and product regulation and litigation defense. Her practice areas include Proposition 65, California's Safer Consumer Products Regulations, California's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Act and the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Ms. Grimaldi graduated from the University of California Hastings College of the Law magna cum laude and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Bacteriology from University of California, Davis. Prior to attending law school, she worked as a research assistant in laboratories at the University of California, San Francisco Cancer Research Institute and at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.