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What Is Propylene Glycol?

By Matt McConnell

Wednesday November 12, 2014
propylene glycol in e-cigarettes e-cig information
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What is propylene glycol? This is not a question that was asked very often prior to the growing popularity of e-cigarettes even though propylene glycol has been extensively used in a range of consumer products since the 1920s. Propylene glycol, or PG, has gained a new level of notoriety since the advent of the electronic cigarette. Like anything, not all PG is the same. Thankfully however, the best e-cigarettes use only USP grade propylene glycol, or PG, ensuring maximum consumer safety.

Propylene glycol is an organic substance that is water-soluble (dissolves in water). It is colorless, almost odorless and has a slightly sweet taste. It’s freezing point is much lower than that of water. It is found in a long list of foods, hair care products, toothpaste, inhalers, and more. If you have ever shampooed or brushed your teeth, you have probably ingested PG. When used as a food additive, it is listed as a carbohydrate. This is the Wikipedia version of “what is propylene glycol”, but you want to know what it is in more practical terms. You want to know about e-cig health risks.

Propylene glycol is typically the main ingredient in e-cig liquid. Many anti-ecig voices have chimed in with concerns over e-liquid ingredients and have, in the minds of many, turned PG into some sort of bogeyman. The facts unequivocally dictate that PG is far from a concern unless you are using cheaply made e-cigs from less than reputable companies.

Consider the fact that we have been using PG for almost a century. Given our very long relationship with PG, there has been an abundance of knowledge accumulated as it has been studied very extensively. So before we get into an unnecessary debate that many ecig opponents seem determined to create, let’s just go back to the basics and collect the facts.

Propylene Glycol Facts

propylene glycol pg e-cigarette health risksPG is an organic chemical. It is not a synthetic chemical concoction created in a lab by mad scientists working late on a dark night against the backdrop of a frightening lightning storm. It is one of many organic chemicals that fall into a huge category that has been classified as “alcohols”.

Don’t worry, PG will not get you drunk! Remember there are a huge number of organic compounds that fit into the alcohols category.

Although alcohol is universally used to describe the intoxicating ingredient in distilled beverages, Ethanol is the actual member of the alcohol family that is involved in your margaritas and tequila shots resulting in lamp shades being placed on heads and so forth.

Alcohols can be made synthetically but they are also naturally occurring in a variety of plants and animals. Like propylene glycol, other members of the alcohol family include Glucose, the sugar in your blood, Fructose, the sugar in fruits, and Sucrose, the sugar that you put in your coffee in the morning.

The FDA has this to say about alcohols, “Alcohols are a large and diverse family of chemicals with different names and a variety of effects.” The FDA categorizes PG as GRAS, or generally recognized as safe.

GRAS is a designation recognizing that a substance is safe as a food additive. In fact, any food additive must have GRAS status. Sections 201 and 409 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act require that any additive must undergo extensive review by qualified experts and be shown to be safe under the conditions of intended use.

Only very pure, USP grade PG can be used in food and drugs. Herein lies an issue for the ecig industry. The best e-cigarettes use USP grade propylene glycol, but not every ecig brand or e-liquid vendor meets those high standards.

Propylene Glycol And Electronic Cigarettes

Some testing has shown that low grade PG vaporized at very high temperatures may produce toxins. Many have used these incredibly infrequent results to raise alarm about e-cig health risks. Now those levels are far, far below the horror of the list of toxins produces by tobacco but you should absolutely avoid cheaply made ecigs and cheap e-liquid.

When we say cheap, that is not something that shows up in the price tag. In fact, many of the most cheaply made products charge the highest prices. To determine which brands use quality ingredients, look for USP grade ingredients on the label. Reputable brands are more than willing to share the sources of their ingredients and utilize high-grade laboratory processes to blend e-cig liquid.

As a consumer, you have to be careful. E-cigarette safety is something that the media has far overblown but by no means does that mean that you should not be aware. The FDA has proposed regulations but they are not yet in effect. New brands pop up almost daily and most of them are simply trying to cash in, quality is a distant afterthought.

Choosing an ecig is tough enough without all of the shady dealers involved in the market. ECCR recommends only reputable brands that use quality e-cig liquid. Ultimately, PG is really not so scary and it certainly is nothing new. Become an informed consumer and the choices will be clear.

Team ECCR

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