E-cigarettes often labeled incorrectly, say agencies

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E-cigarettes often labeled incorrectly, say agencies

Since the Korean government raised the tobacco tax by 2,000 won ($1.80) at the beginning of the year, electronic cigarettes have settled into some Koreans’ lives as an affordable and safe alternative to their analog smokes.

But authorities on Tuesday said e-cigarettes may be less safe than previously thought, providing different doses of nicotine than advertised.

According to a joint investigation by the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS) and the Korea Consumer Agency (KCA), 40 percent of the liquids used in e-cigarettes - e-liquids - contained more or less nicotine than the label stated.

About 48 percent of e-liquids didn’t indicate their nicotine content at all, while some lacked labels on the bottle about potential health risks or directions for storage or management.

In its report, the KCA points out there are no regulations regarding labeling nicotine content, but it will push the government to implement them.

The investigation also found that users were receiving more nicotine even when e-liquids were correctly labeled.

In one study, the agencies tested 18 liquids that contained 12 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter - ostensibly the same amount of nicotine as in a typical cigarette. They had users take 10 drags of an e-cigarette containing each liquid and 10 from a traditional cigarette, and tested the amount of nicotine users received from each.

Almost all of the liquids, or 17, gave users more nicotine than the traditional cigarettes - between 1.1 and 2.6 times the expected amount.

Experts worry that if users continue to smoke traditional cigarettes while unknowingly consuming extra nicotine from their electronic alternative, their addiction to traditional cigarettes might worsen.

The KCA reported there were 63 consumer complaints about e-cigarettes filed from 2012 to April this year. Nearly half were filed in the first four months of 2015, after the tobacco tax hike.

Ten reported headaches, vomiting and drowsiness after inhaling from an e-cigarette, while five reported infections of the mouth. Twenty cases involved burns after the battery or charger of an e-cigarette exploded.

After the investigation, the KATS recalled 10 of the 32 e-cigarette battery and charger packages sold in Korea, saying they failed to meet safety standards and put users at risk of shocks and burns.

According to the Korea Customs Service and Ministry of Strategy and Finance, imports of e-cigarettes totaled 138 tons last year, about four times more than the 31 tons in 2013. Imports of e-liquids totaled 66 tons last year, eight times more than the 17 tons in 2013.

BY KIM JI-YOON [kim.jiyoon@joongang.co.kr]
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