The issue about ethanol in E-liquids is a repeated topic with vapers. Its assimilation into alcoholic beverages means intoxication or risk of addiction for most people. Upon the Petit vapoteur web site request, ingesciences provides clarification on the subject.

Why do some manufacturers of E-liquids use alcohol in their compositions?

Food flavors, either natural or artificial, contain aromatic molecules (extracted from plants or synthesized) diluted in what is being called « support » or « solvent » enabling to dilute, keep and set raw materials.
To do so, flavorists can use different matrix :

  • Ethyl alcohol or ethanol
  • Water
  • Vegetable oils
  • Gums (xanthane, guar)
  • Propylen Glycol (PG)
  • Glycerin vegetable (GV)
  • Triacetin
  • And rarely sugar

As part of a consumption by inhalation, as it is for e-liquids, some matrix are not recommended.
Water for example can not dilute some aromatic molecules such as terpene (limonene). Furthermore, its heat of vaporization (which corresponds to the energy necessary to vaporize a range of product) is three times higher than that of Propylen Glycol (PG) or Glycerin vegetable (PG) and makes the E-liquid vaporization harder (Vaporization heat : water : 2260 J/g, PG : 870 J/g, VG : 667 J/g).
Regarding sugar, a too significant increase in temperature could cause its degradation and thus the production of toxic molecules. The most commonly cited are Hydroxy methyl furfula (HMF), acetone, acetaldehyde
Vegetable oils are well tolerated by the stomach but aren’t recommended by inhalation because they can cause lipidic pneumonia. This lung disease is characterized by a loss of elasticity of lung tissue due to the penetration of fine oil droplets in the respiratory tracts.
Finally, the essential oils (EO) obtained by extraction of a water vapour vegetable, are as well used in food flavors. Although some EO can be used by inhalation for aromatherapy, their consumption through the lungs should be controlled and limited. Indeed, they are made up of strong active ingredients (terpene or terpene compounds), some of which can be potentially toxic by inhalation.
Contrary to these different matrix, either ethyl acohol or ethanol enables to dissolve vegetable and essential oils residues linked to the manufacturing process of food flavours.  In addition to its antibacterial properties, ethanol is also an excellent natural preservative. That’s why, many flavours can be found. Even if it’s common to find ethanol in E-liquids, manufacturers who use it, aren’t numerous.
When user turns its atomizer on, the alcohol contained in E-liquid will be fully sprayed. It’s paramount to highlight that one of the special features of ethanol is to have a very low boiling temperature (78°C°) and a low vaporization heat (855J/g) which therefore causes its full vaporization through an E-cigarette.

Are there any risks of addiction?

The ethanol level doesn’t exceed 6% in e-liquids. Beyond this level, sustaining combustion can be risky because this implies the ranking of E-liquids ( by the CLP regulation regarding labelling) as flammable and dangerous materials. Their packaging turns out to be complicated and expensive for shipment.
Regarding the risk of addiction, no physiological effects have been proved due to alcohol inhalation in E-liquids. For example, an e-liquid consumption of 4mL to 4% of ethanol corresponds to the assimilation by the body of 0.016cl of alcohol either 78 times less than the authorized and inhaled standard dose (1,25cl of alcohol either a beer or a glass of wine). This proves that even if the body inhales a big quantity of E-liquid with a significant ethanol level or alcohol, no physical effects will occur.

However, people with addictions such as alcoholism may feel some effects but in this particular case, causes may be more psychological. Indeed, if consumers ban any consumption of alcohol for either medical, religious or any other reasons, E-liquids should then be preferred without it.

How to know if a product contains alcohol?

The requirements of AFNOR XP-D90-300-2  force producers to include a list of E-liquid components in the products sheet. The exact rate of ethanol must be indicated only if it’s above or equals to 1.2%. However, it can be used as a voluntary standard and isn’t mandatory for non-certified products. Some manufacturers can choose to indicate this information on the product label  but no need to create any legally binding obligations.

A vaper wishing to know precisely how much of alcohol is being contained in an E-liquid can ask the Safety Data Sheet of a product to manufacturers or producers, in which every trace of ethanol must be mentioned.