In the final part of our interview with James, he explains where EL-Science is going above and beyond to help cement the future of the industry, as well as giving us a word of advice going forward.
What are you doing differently to go above and beyond on that front? Where do EL-Science excel at promoting customer safety?
We formulated a plan ahead of the TPD being implemented – we asked ourselves, TPD aside, how could we ensure these products are safe. In the end, it was decided that full batch testing, full knowledge of every component present regardless of quantity, and understanding the implications of each of those components on public health was the way to proceed. While the TPD requires liquids to carry a batch number, this is essentially redundant without batch testing. We batch test all of our liquids, promoting consistent quality assurance throughout production and release.
The TPD also requires a toxicological summary. However, we aim to identify health critical values (or HCVs) for each component – safe levels of long term inhalation. Take diketones, for example. It was believed that e-cigarette liquids containing Diacetyl could be a potential cause for what was widely known as ‘popcorn lung’, but popcorn lung wasn’t new or unheard of. It was initially seen in those working in a saturated atmosphere for years – factory environments creating butter flavouring, believe it or not – and the worry was that long term exposure to Diacetyl through vaping could cause this. We aim to foresee these kinds of issues and act accordingly before rumours and poor science take hold and scare consumers unnecessarily.
Why is it important for us to understand these health critical values (HCVs)? Especially when looking toward the future?
The composition of an e-liquid is extremely complex, at times made up of 50 to 100 individual flavour chemicals. When inhaled, every one of them affects you in some way. For example, we have guidelines on chemicals that can be inhaled safely in 4 mL of liquid per day, but over the course of several years, you will likely inhale much more than that, so we need to understand the long-term effect too. We aim to observe and advise others on how to avoid potential detrimental health effects.
Citral, for example, is a very potent but tricky chemical to work with. It produces a strong, tasty lemon sherbet, and in nominal amounts is safe to vaporise, such as in complex fruit flavours. In more concentrated amounts, such as in an intense lemon sherbet flavour, it can begin to display detrimental health effects.
We pride ourselves on offering the reformulation process to our customers to help them bring their flavours into line. Sometimes it’s as simple as breaking a liquid down with the aim to reformulate, and only needing to modestly dilute certain concentrates to bring them into line, or swap them for an acceptable replacement. Other times we’ll be required to rebuild the e-liquid entirely starting from the ground up. Building flavours up again on a molecular level is a service I believe is totally unique to EL-Science, and I am very proud of the brilliant work our flavour team has been doing.
What were the greatest challenges since the changes to the law from a customer point of view?
For the consumers, there are quite a few retail restrictions – gone are the days of buying 120 mL bottles to last you through the month, as everything containing nicotine must be sold in units of 10 mL, driving the costs up. If we produce twelve 10 mL bottles just to match the 120 mL bottles of old, there is an obvious increase in cost, due to extra boxing, packaging, labelling, etc. Manufacturing costs have gone up significantly and these costs have unfortunately been passed on to the customer.
For those who produce e-liquids, testing has driven prices up, as each bottle they produce and sell carries some portion of the weight from TPD testing costs. However, this will in time pass on a degree of safety and assurance to the consumer.
You sound very enthused and there’s a real sense of genuine pride coming from you – it sounds like you enjoy your job!
I love my role. I began working in the lab in analysis at first, sending reports on to toxicologists. To many, analysis is quite dull – staring at a screen and picking apart data all day – but I found it fascinating. You’d find and recognise molecules you’d never heard of before, and begin to recognise flavours from ion patterns. I was there at the forefront of TPD testing, the ground floor for what would shape the industry, the new age of e-liquid. I was seeing results in real time as opposed to working on projects years in the making.
Now I’ve moved into a management role, it’s interesting being a position where you can see real difference. I’m in daily contact with regulatory bodies, our customers, our staff, and I’m involved in decisions the business makes. The responsibility we wield in a budding industry is very exciting – it’s a wonderful thing to be part of!
Thanks for your time today James. Is there anything you’d like to end with – maybe a message or word of advice for anyone reading this?
I’d like to encourage people to look at the bigger picture when it comes to these regulations. We know it’s frustrating that tank sizes and bottles have been shrunk down, and I do understand – but the overall goals of the TPD are to preserve user health and the health of the industry overall. I’d like to encourage people to take interest in what they’re vaping, and to understand what precisely goes into minimising possible long-term health effects.
If you’re buying bulk e-liquids, maybe from overseas or an online stockist, or adding nicotine yourself; don’t settle for the ‘it’s safer than smoking’ mindset. Consider what you’re putting into your system. Become confident and diligent in looking at the ingredients. It’s easy to say, ‘it’s safer than smoking’ – but how much safer, and how much safer can vaping be? We want to plough forward to get a settled standard for the industry as a whole – and we’re very much leading the way!
James, thank you very much!