Scientists to test vaping liquid for nicotine, alcohol and illegal drugs

E-cigarettes, which heat nicotine-laced liquid into vapour, have rapidly grown into a global market for vaping products.
Controlled substances, including THC, have been found in products overseas. Photo: Getty Images
New Zealand scientists are for the first time testing the 150 vaping products on the market, to check for nicotine levels and ethanol, and after illicit drugs were found in some liquids overseas.

The study by ESR, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, will check the wide variety of vaping liquid products sold in New Zealand.

Scientists are developing a testing methodology, and will analyse liquids for nicotine levels, illicit drugs, ethanol (alcohol), colours, endotoxins, and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (a harmful chemical found in tobacco and tobacco smoke).

International studies have reported large variations between labelled and actual nicotine levels, and some had found the presence of controlled substances, including THC (a mind-altering substance found in cannabis), CBD (also found in cannabis, but which has little-to-no psychoactive properties) and some synthetic cannabinoids, in commercial and "homemade" vaping liquids.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States has previously linked THC-containing vaping products to lung illnesses in some users.

An ESR spokesperson told the Herald on Sunday a study on some products in New Zealand had indicated quality control issues, including nicotine levels and the ratio of common vaping base materials. Ethanol (alcohol) was also detected, and not listed as an ingredient.

Testing will happen over the next few months at various ESR laboratories, with the aim to have completed most of it by May, when Ministry of Health regulations on vaping products containing colours come into force.

"The initial stage of the study has been to collect market data to establish the range of products, both nicotine and non-nicotine, that are available," the ESR spokesperson said.

"This survey will be run each month looking at significant product trends, product availabilities and changes as the Ministry of Health regulations come into force and the vaping market evolves."

Vaping is a term for using an electronic device to heat a liquid into vapour, which the user inhales.

Nearly a quarter of New Zealanders have tried vaping, up from 16 per cent in 2015/16. About half of people aged 15 to 24 were more likely to report vaping.

Last November legislation to control the fast-growing industry finally came into effect, banning sales to under 18s, prohibiting advertising, and limiting the sale of some flavours to speciality stores.

The law change also introduced a safety system allowing the Ministry of Health to recall or suspend products, and issue warnings.

Ministry officials are consulting on proposed and related regulations, including one that would change how a smoke and vaping free "internal area" at hospitality venues is defined.

Currently, smoking isn't allowed in an area if, when all its doors, windows and other closeable openings are closed, it is completely or substantially enclosed by a ceiling, roof or similar overhead surface, and by walls, sides or screens.

The ministry says this definition hasn't always been clear enough and, when tested by court action, judgments have been inconsistent.

They've put forward four options, including a preferred option to define it as an area that's completely or partially enclosed with a roof or overhead structure of any kind, whether permanent or temporary.

That would mean if there's a roof or overhead structure of any kind, regardless of how much cover it provides, the area must be smokefree.

Submissions close this coming Monday, with proposals then put to Cabinet, and regulations expected to be in place by August.

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