The vaping & formaldehyde myth: Everyday foods that contain propylene glycol

A nasty rumor began circulating across social media in 2015 which falsely claimed that the vapor from e-cigarettes is filled with high levels of formaldehyde, a degradation bi-product of propylene glycol. The basis for the story was an unsubstantiated report published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).  In fact, its coauthors even claimed that vaping is 15 times more carcinogenic than smoking, a complete falsehood and a dangerously irresponsible assertion.

Since propylene glycol was being blamed for the formaldehyde story, and most e-liquids contain propylene glycol, naturally the vaping community began refuting the NEJM study immediately.,  Meanwhile, a group of forty academics wrote a rather scathing letter to the NEJM arguing that the controversial report should be retracted immediately.

Related Article: Vaping study debunks ‘formaldehyde myth’ of e-cig vapor

What the scientific and academic communities largely determined is that the study’s coauthors had either mistakenly or intentionally cranked up the heat on the vaping devices used in their experiments to a whopping 800 degrees Celsius which led to the outlandish formaldehyde levels.  The average is only about 200-250 degrees.   

Common goods containing propylene glycol

Propylene glycol is nothing new.  The vaping community did not invent it just to use it in their e-liquids.  As far back as the 1900s, scientists have been experimenting with propylene glycol as a possible antibacterial.  In the 1940’s, one researcher by the name of Dr. Theodore Puck discovered that vaporized propylene glycol even kills the pneumococci, streptococci and staphylococci pathogens. 

Related Article: Research shows propylene glycol in e-cig vapor kills pneumococci bacteria

Scientists have known for decades that propylene glycol is completely safe for human consumption, which is why the phony NEJM report is so contentious.  Here are some of the most popular items found in local grocery stores that also contain propylene glycol. 

  • Ice Cream: It’s that time of year again.  Summertime is the best time to eat ice cream.  Next time you go to the grocery to pick up a tub of Rocky Road or Mint Chocolate Chip, check the label.  Chances are propylene glycol will be listed somewhere in the middle.
  • Cake mixes and frostings: Propylene glycol is added to many bakery and grocery products usually as a form of sweetener.  In fact, many manufacturers of antifreeze started adding propylene glycol into their products to make it safer for children or pets who might accidentally swallow it.  The sweet texture is why PG is a common ingredient of cake mixes and frostings - Betty Crocker brands especially.
  • Entenmann’s desserts: Who doesn’t love Entenmann’s.  Their lemon cakes are simply delicious, and their chocolate fudge cake is to die for.  They also make cookies, brownies, donuts, and lots of other pastries.  And almost all of them contain measurable amounts of perfectly safe propylene glycol.

Flavored teas like those from the Dunkin Donuts chain often contain propylene glycol, too. For anyone baking a cake and in need of food colorings or flavorings, these ingredients sometimes have propylene glycol, as well.  In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration categorizes this substance as “generally recognized as safe.”  It’s only potentially harmful is handled in large quantities, which can lead to an irritation of the skin.  But hey!  Unless someone is planning on taking a bath in the stuff, most people have absolutely nothing to worry about!

Related Article: New CDC study officially debunks ‘vaping and formaldehyde’ myth

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