S. Korea maintains strong warning against e-cigarettes over health risks

Jay Yim, Dec. 12, 2019, 12:25 p.m.


South Korea on Thursday said it will maintain its strong warning against flavored e-cigarettes over health risks after the country's health authorities found minute traces of substances suspected of causing severe lung injuries in e-cigarette liquids sold here.

All 153 vaping liquid products revealed the presence of additives and flavorings that can pose health risks if they are heated into aerosols and inhaled, according to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

"Seoul will maintain its present advisory to discourage people from buying e-cigarettes until the exact cause of vaping-related illnesses can be determined," the ministry said.

In October, the ministry strongly advised people not to use flavored e-cigarettes, joining a wave of nations around the world that have imposed tougher regulations amid growing awareness of the health risks linked to vaping.

According to the ministry, substances were detected in some e-cigarette liquids, including Vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent that has been shown to hinder normal lung activity.

In regards to the flavoring chemicals diacetyl, acetoin and 2,3-pentanedione, 43 products contained at least one of the substances, while six had all three. The flavorings have been cited as causing lung irritations and a rare but potentially deadly obstructive lung disease in which a person cannot fully exhale.

The latest tests showed that all liquids sold in the country had solvents such as propylene glycol and glycerin in small quantities.

They did not, however, discover tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is believed to be the main culprit in vaping product-related fatalities in the U.S. THC is a psychoactive compound found in marijuana that affects various cognitive and motor functions in humans.

E-cigarette manufacturers expressed bafflement over the ministry's announcement, emphasizing that they did not use any dangerous substances, particularly Vitamin E acetate.

"We're thoroughly looking into the ministry's findings," an official from Juul Labs said. "We will communicate actively with ministry officials regarding their testing methods and results."

Earlier, the ministry said it will tighten security measures on e-cigarettes and imports of liquid nicotine and crack down on the sale and promotion of illegal tobacco products.

It also vowed to require tobacco manufacturers and importers to submit documents on e-cigarette components and apply stricter regulations on the materials.

In May, leading e-cigarette company Juul Labs launched its product in South Korea targeting the growing number of vaping device users in the country. South Korean tobacco manufacturer KT&G then rolled out its e-cigarette, Lil Vapor, to compete with the U.S. startup.

The October warning urged people, especially youths, pregnant women, lung disease sufferers and non-smokers, not to to use e-cigarettes and recommended teachers and parents closely monitor e-cigarette usage among adolescents.

It advised vape users who have respiratory problems and other health issues to visit hospitals to have their lungs checked.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended against using e-cigarettes after a spate of vaping-related lung injuries that has sickened close to 2,300 people and killed 48 in the United States.

The global market for e-cigarettes was worth $15.7 billion in 2018 and is projected to more than double to $40 billion in 2023, according to market researcher Euromonitor International.

Although the causes of vaping-related illnesses are not fully understood, about 20 nations, including Australia and Canada, have restricted the sale of e-cigarettes.

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