It was once thought that sweeteners used in e-liquids made beverages more palatable. Now an experiment conducted in Michigan suggests the opposite is true, according to a paper published Thursday in the journal Science Advances.
The paper also shows that sucralose-based e-liquids are, among other things, more potent and volatile than e-liquids that use other sweeteners.
Sucralose itself is a sugar substitute that has been shown to be safe in clinical trials. But the Nature journal published a research paper in 2017 that noted that more than a third of consumers (36 percent) consume e-liquids with sucralose. It asked: "Is e-liquids containing sucralose not significantly less palatable than e-liquids containing other sweeteners?"
The answer, according to the study published in Science Advances, is yes. That doesn’t mean that the anecdotal evidence that consumers often claim to enjoy e-liquids like sweetened malt beverages that contain sucralose are misleading, scientists say.
But it may suggest that sales of these beverages haven’t taken off as much as some e-liquids enthusiasts would have us believe.
"This study confirms what the mainstream of the research is showing about e-liquids with sucralose, that they’re not that much less palatable than other e-liquids," said William J. Krimsky, an associate professor of chemistry at Indiana University and co-author of the Science Advances paper.
The test was conducted in the laboratory by Dr. Joseph Yun, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Michigan who is a researcher at the Michigan Heart Institute, which is affiliated with the UM School of Public Health.
The experiment began with drinking five e-liquids made from pure sucralose, another artificial sweetener, one made from sucralose with lactose added, one made from sucralose, two e-liquids that were flavored with higher concentrations of sucralose and another with dextrose, another artificial sweetener.
E-liquids that contained sucralose were more aggressive than e-liquids made with other artificial sweeteners. Sulfuric acid, the ingredient in high-sulfur e-liquids, reacted with sucralose molecules to form sulfuric acid. Differently flavored e-liquids that also contained desiccated cane juice were more friendly to the liver.
"The utterers of e-liquids have two choices," Yun said. "One is to drink e-liquids made with certain artificial sweeteners, and the other is to drink one of those e-liquids, but with a higher concentration of e-liquids that are less aggressive than other e-liquids. There’s no advantage of drinking the e-liquids with higher concentration of e-liquids, though they may be taste-tailored to your situation."
Yun said some studies have suggested that the sedative effects of these e-liquids may be causing the withdrawal symptoms seen among chronic alcoholics. But other studies have suggested that consuming e-liquids can actually help people with addiction, Yun said.
Yun’s experiment also showed that e-liquids containing sucralose were just as volatile and flammable as e-liquids with other sweeteners.
For more about these findings, check out how e-liquids work at scienceadvances.org.