Those evil nitrosamines

posted by Carl V Phillips (with input from CASAA board)

Continuing the analysis of the lie-filled poster about e-cigarettes that Ellen Hahn and her people have been posting around the University of Kentucky campus:

In the cartridge: Nitrosamines. Known carcinogens.

Nitrosamines, or more particularly, two chemicals in the class known as “tobacco specific nitrosamines” (TSNAs) are a favorite target of anti-THR liars.  Mostly this is focused on anti-smokeless-tobacco efforts (as in the quote from the first entry in the series), which this series will get to later.  Those claims are bad enough, but the nitrosamine claims about e-cigarettes are even more absurd.

The basis for these claims is that when the FDA was seeking to completely ban e-cigarettes in the US (which a federal judge did not let them do), the agency produced a piece of rhetoric, disguised as science, in which they analyzed e-cigarette liquid down to the technological limits of detection, and found a few molecules of TSNAs.  The presence of this trace contamination was inevitable because the medical-grade nicotine used in e-cigarettes is derived from tobacco, and the process of extracting it will pick up a tiny little bit of contamination from other molecules that are also present in the plant.

The contamination is in the parts-per-billion (ppb) range, and it has never been detected in the vapor (though inevitably there are a few molecules there, as there are most everywhere).  To put that in perspective, Western smokeless tobacco, which does not cause cancer to a measurable degree, contains TSNAs in the parts-per-million (ppm) range — that is, about a thousand times as much.

This is another version of the chemophobia ploy, with the added rhetoric of the word “carcinogen”.  The honest statement is, “in very high concentrations these chemicals have been shown to cause cancer in animals, and it is hypothesized (though far from proven) that when they are in smokeless tobacco in the 100 ppm range, they cause a small but detectable risk for cancer; modern Western smokeless tobacco is in the 10 or 1 ppm range, and any cancer risk from it is too small to be measured; the concentration in e-cigarette liquid is in the .01 ppm range.”  But, of course, most people who read this simple statement “contains carcinogens” will think that there is evidence that using this product causes a substantial risk of cancer.  That is what the liars are counting on, whether they are trying to scare people about from tobacco, foods, pesticides, or whatever.

Well, that is what the liars who want to be able to claim “I did not actually say it causes cancer” count on.  Hahn — to her credit, I have to say — was willing to lie overtly rather than playing that weasel game.  The full quote:

In the cartridge: Nitrosamines. Known carcinogens. That means it causes cancer.

There is something a bit refreshing about such an out-and-out lie.

Not so refreshing is the hypocrisy:  Recall that the TSNAs are a trace contaminant of medical-grade nicotine.  What else uses medical grade nicotine?  The pharmaceutical nicotine products — gums, patches, lozenges — that Hahn aggressively pushes smokers to use.  In fact, the level of contamination found in e-cigarettes is about the same as is found in those products, and has never been found to exceed the allowable tolerances for them.

Now that is some seriously bold lying!

7 responses to “Those evil nitrosamines

  1. Pingback: Those evil nitrosamines | Tobacco Harm Reduction |

  2. Pingback: Those evil nitrosamines | vapeforlife

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  4. Hi,
    Was wondering if you can point me to any information/studies that have analyzed the TNSA content of eliquid vapour (what we actually breathe in, rather than the eliquid itself). Just wondering as though most of the TNSAs in tobacco are created from nicotine during the fermenting and curing of tobacco, some are created in the burning process. While a good ecig aims to heat and vapourize the eliquid without burning, most of us have known some burning to occur on occasion (darkening of the juice in the tank etc). Thus, I’m wondering if this burning could be creating more TNSAs than we are anticipating (though obviously still far less than in tobacco). I imagine this may have been looked at, but my google fu is weak and I can’t find any info.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Sorry for the delay in posting this — I was away from the blog for a week. TSNAs occur in the tobacco leaf and more can be created in the processing, as you say. It is not seem to me that it is possible for nicotine (and other ecig ingredients) to convert to TSNAs if burned; the chemistry required to do that just does not seem possible from combustion. But I will concede that I am not an expert in the chemistry. As you might know, we are sponsoring some expert research on the chemistry, so I will pass this on to the researcher as something that he might decide to address.

  5. Pingback: Do You Need to Worry About the Nitrosamines in E-Cigarettes?

  6. Pingback: Nitrosamines in E-Cigarettes: Do You Need to Worry?

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