The use of e-cigarettes has become more popular than ever, even though the potential health risks remain unclear. At the political level, e-cigarettes remain subject to many discussion; there is no consensus or standardisation of methods for different quality assessments. Moreover, only sparse data on the chemical composition of e-liquids and their safety is available. All these factors explain the lack of a scientifically-based legislation and the fact that e-cigarettes are freely available, even though they could imply a potential risk to human health.
The general objective of this PhD project, which is a collaboration between Sciensano and the VUB, is to define a generic strategy for the characterisation of e-cigarette products. This at the level of the product itself as well as at the level of the vapour inhaled during consumption, and to link this composition to possible health hazards with focus on mutagenicity/genotoxicity. In particular in vitro tests for genotoxicity will be used and additional mechanistic interpretation will be done by applying transcriptomics technology.
The first objective of the project is to determine the complete chemical composition of e-cigarette liquids and the vapour inhaled during consumption. This means not only the active ingredients, but also all detectable impurities and contaminants that are present in the products and in the vapours produced.
In this project, a distinction will be made between e-cigarettes present on the different markets, to allow a comparison of the composition and the quality of the e-cigarettes coming from the different markets:
- the pharmaceutical market for e-cigarettes
- the regular market for e-cigarettes
- the illegal/internet market
Once the total chemical composition of the different types of e-cigarettes and their vapours is known the products and their vapours will be tested for their potential mutagenicity/genotoxicity. For the latter the focus will be on the non-nicotine products, since these products will give an idea about the toxicity of the matrices and the flavours.