Electronic cigarette counterfeit puts vapers at risk – scanning technology could prevent it

According to one estimate, more than 35 million people worldwide now use electronic cigarettes. In the United States, this represents 4.5% of the adult population.

But the rise of vapors led to a trade in fake electronic liquids – the mixture of water, glycerol, propylene glycol, flavors and (usually) nicotine used to create the vapor of electronic cigarettes.

False e-liquids are those which contain ingredients or whose concentration is incorrect and which do not correspond to those indicated on the label. In particular, counterfeits often contain less or more nicotine than their labels claim, or impurities such as other drugs.

The problem is that there is currently no way of knowing exactly what is in an e-liquid and no formal certification system can guarantee the accuracy of a label claim.

However, my colleagues and I are working on a method of using portable scanning technology to detect false e-liquids. This system could help catch scammers because it does not only prove that an e-liquid does not match its labeling, it also provides a chemical "fingerprint" that can be linked to its creators.

Thanks to the Internet, fraudsters are much easier to sell fake products, and e-liquids are no exception. The problem is still new enough that we do not have reliable data on its frequency, but anecdotal evidence suggests that many vapers are aware of the problem.

Nicotine-containing e-liquids generally contain concentrations of between 0.1% and 2% of the drug, depending on the strength that the patient prefers. Current European legislation means that higher levels of nicotine are illegal. And manufacturers are required to declare any ingredient representing more than 0.1% of its content.

The purchase of a fake e-liquid is not only annoying, it is potentially dangerous. It is rare that someone consumes so much nicotine to the point of becoming toxic, but it can happen.

High doses of nicotine may have undesirable stimulant effects, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), tachycardia (abnormally high heart rate), tremors and even seizures.

The impurities of nicotine can also affect the body, but this is difficult to predict and depends on the nature of the impurity and its concentration.