It’s believed that almost 4 million adults in the UK are vapers who choose e-cigarettes as their nicotine product of choice. And it’s this trend that’s driving a new product category — so-called wellness vaping — using the same technology, reports George Hooper, Sales Director at Lifestyle Packaging
Different types of wellness vapes are hitting the market under several brand names. These are non-nicotine vaping products that are inhaled to deliver a wide range of vitamins, hormones and essential oils. As attitudes change and adoption increases, what can we expect from this new and growing product category? And what regulatory considerations need to be considered?
What is wellness vaping and how does it work?
Nutritional supplement diffusers — also informally known as wellness vapes — allow users to consume a range of different vitamins, supplements, hormones and essential oils that allegedly provide a wide variety of health and well-being benefits.
Examples include hormones such as melatonin to promote sleep, vitamins including B12, C and E, and natural supplements such as milk thistle and green tea, which are delivered using an e-cigarette style device.
Wellness vapes use the same technology as the more widely used nicotine vapes. They work by using energy from a rechargeable or single-use battery system to heat the e-liquid containing the vitamin, hormone or oil, which forms a vapour that can be inhaled and absorbed into the body via the lungs.
Sold in attractive slim cartridges with bright packaging and eye-catching brand names, wellness vapes are sold online around the world … with young people being their key demographic. Some even make claims to fight ADHD or treat anxiety or depression.
The benefits to consumers
Traditionally, the nutraceutical industry has favoured pills, liquids and powders to deliver their products’ benefits to customers. Vaping is a relatively new technology being adopted by the sector, influenced by the rising trend for e-cigarettes and medicinal cannabis products such as CBD oil.1
In fact, a recent study by Stanford University found that 24% of young adults have used non-nicotine vape products.2
This highlights the market opportunities for health and wellness brands entering this space.
The switch from swallowing a vitamin or supplement to inhaling it is thought to increase the rate at which the body absorbs the product into the bloodstream. This means that users are likely to feel the positive effects of a product quicker, especially if it’s supportive of stress reduction or sleep.
It’s also a more tactile and sensory way of consuming wellness products, which could boost uptake. A common drawback of taking vitamins and supplements is the difficulty people have swallowing them, particularly among women and those older than 65. Indeed, most reports of swallowing difficulties involve multivitamins (72.9%), according to a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.3
Risks of use and gaps in scientific data
There is a large and growing scientific body of evidence that shows the benefits of taking wellness products, including vitamins, supplements and essential oils. And overall, they are deemed to be safe if taken as instructed or in consultation with a health professional.
However, supplements rated as safe for ingestion may not be safe when inhaled within a vapour. Taking a common wellness product and changing its method of delivery could increase the risk of adverse side-effects and lead to dangerous outcomes.
Currently, there is a lack of scientific evidence to show how various substances are absorbed in the lungs and react with cells. Studies of e-cigarettes have shown the potentially harmful effects of flavourings in nicotine vape products, including toxicity to cells, oxidative stress and inflammation.
The US FDA has warned consumers in the US that wellness vapes could actually have adverse effects, outweighing any nutritional or emotional benefits. “Inhaled products can be dangerous and may even trigger severe coughing, cause airway tightening and make speaking and breathing difficult,” it concluded.
A particular concern among health professionals is the use of complex and synthetic chemicals within vaping products that are used to make them taste more appealing. They make the argument that our lungs are designed to process oxygen, not complex chemical compounds.
It is also largely unknown how vaping products affect people with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, lung conditions including asthma or even long-COVID.
There is also little evidence to suggest that inhaling wellness products has a greater positive effect than swallowing or applying them topically. In fact, the majority of vitamin intake happens through the gut.
Could regulation be on the cards?
As wellness vapes don’t contain nicotine or prescription medication, they currently evade regulation. As such, new brands are popping up online at an increasing rate. There are at least 10 different brands of wellness vapes for sale on the Internet at this time.
For regulators, this marks a challenge. Known as many different things, including “aromatherapy sticks” and “personal diffusers,” the marketplace for non-nicotine vape products is a Wild West, with no guarantees for consumer safety or the ingredients they contain.
The FDA is one regulator taking the risks associated with this emerging wellness product seriously, warning consumers about their unproven health claims and safety risks.4
There is also concern over the public delaying seeking diagnosis and treatment from a health care professional for an illness or symptom that a wellness vape product claims to alleviate or cure.
Regulators must also consider the influence of wellness vaping culture on the uptake of nicotine vaping, and tobacco cigarettes too, particularly among younger consumers. Products that are designed to appeal to young audiences, using bright colours, sweet flavourings and advertising using paid ads or influencers across social media could run into trouble.
Although regulators worldwide have so far stopped short of introducing regulation or legislation to control the selling and consumption of wellness vaping products, it cannot be ruled out in the future.
Observers should keep a close eye on developing regulations within the e-cigarette market for clues regarding how this situation could progress … with a sharp focus likely to be on any marketing that promotes uptake among minors.