Over 35m people worldwide now use e-cigarettes, according to one estimate. In the US, this includes 4.5% of the adult population. But the rise in vaping has led to a trade in fake e-liquids – the mix of water, glycerol, propylene glycol, flavours and (usually) nicotine used to create the vapour of e-cigarettes.
Fake e-liquids are those that contain ingredients or incorrect concentrations of them that do not match those on the label. In particular, fakes often contain less or more nicotine than their labels claim, or impurities such as other drugs. The problem is that there is no current way to be sure exactly what is in an e-liquid, and no official certification scheme to guarantee that a label claim is accurate.
However, my colleagues and I are working on a way to use handheld scanning technology to spot fake e-liquids. This system could help to catch fraudsters because it does not just prove an e-liquid does not match its labelling but also provides a chemical “fingerprint” that can be linked back to its creators.
The internet has made it much easier for fraudsters to sell fake goods, and e-liquids are no exception. The problem is still new enough that we do not have good data on how common it is, but anecdotal evidence suggests many vapers are aware of the issue.
Nicotine e-liquids typically contain concentrations of between 0.1% and 2% of the drug, depending on the strength the vaper prefers. Current EU law means higher concentrations of nicotine than this are illegal. And manufacturers are required to declare any ingredient that accounts for more than 0.1% of its content.
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