Cinnamon flavours in e-cigarettes: how inappropriate research can misinform the public and the (amateur) professionals

By Dr Farsalinos

Considerable debate has been focused on the issue of cinnamon flavors after a study was published in a toxicology journal declaring that such flavored liquids are cytotoxic. Just one month ago, a study published by our group also found that a cinnamon-flavored liquid was slightly cytotoxic (although still 10 times less toxic that tobacco smoke). I have already sent a letter to the editor of Toxicology in Vitro raising concerns about the latest study they published on cinnamon, however due to significant misinformation spread throughout the social media, I decided to publish this comment.

First of all, it was surprising to see a vendor removing cinnamon flavors from his sales list. According to a well-known e-cigarette activist, “When a juice maker that fills thousands of bottles a day does this - you should listen.” My response to this is: If the juice maker who fills thousands of bottles a day knew what he was doing, he should have found out about it before any research was published. What I mean is that makers have no idea about the cytotoxicity of their products. They are doing no research, so how would they know? But it is even worse that they are making such moves (to remove cinnamon flavors) without even reading (or understanding) the research they quote.

Let me explain. The latest study by Talbot’s group discussed about the cytotoxicity of cinnamon flavors in e-cigarette. Interestingly however, IF SOMEONE READS THE PAPER, he will find that the researchers never used any e-cigarette. Moreover, they never produced vapor! They tested the liquids in liquid form, not in vapor. How can you support that the results have implications for e-cigarette users when no e-cigarette was used and no vapor was produced? However, there is a bigger mistake. The authors mentioned that they tested 8 refill liquids with cinnamon flavor. They mention the names of the liquids and the companies they got them from. After personally searching on the internet and communicating with some companies, I found out that 4 of the samples were concentrated flavors, not refills. The authors themselves found cinnamaldehyde (the substance giving the cinnamon flavor in the liquid) at levels that differed between samples by up to 100 times. This confirms what I found: some of their samples were concentrated flavors.

Finally, there is still another problem in their study. They tested the substance itself (cinnamaldehyde) to see how toxic it is. They found it toxic at levels 400 times lower than currently approved for food use. This is a very strange result and it is hard to explain how regulatory authorities have accepted cinnamaldehyde to be available at such high levels (of course, before the approval, several tests were performed and it was not found toxic).The authors have to explain why their findings contradict previous research.

As I mentioned above, a letter to the editor has been sent and is currently evaluated for publication. In short, the results of this study have nothing to do with e-cigarette use and are more applicable to cinnamon use in food (since they tested the liquid in liquid form and they used several concentrated samples). Besides that, the reactions from manufacturers show that, unfortunately, they cannot accept their ignorance and instead of asking an expert so that they get informed, they react in a way that produces panic to vapers, does nothing to protect consumers and only results in a game of public relations tactics. This is even more unfortunate than the mistakes in the research protocol. As a final note, let's not forget that research has shown cinnamon to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and maybe anti-cancer properties...

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