It hasn’t been a great year for Five Pawns. During the summer, a company called Cloud 9 Vaping conducted tests of the e-liquids it offered for sale. The results suggested that many e-liquids made by high-priced craft e-liquid supplier Five Pawns may contain both diacetyl and acetyl propionyl — some of the highest levels ever found in e-liquid testing, in fact.

Five Pawns E-Liquid Testing and Fallout

As our readers are undoubtedly already aware, inhalation of diacetyl is known to cause irreversible lung damage, although to date no e-cigarette user is known to have contracted the condition.

In response to these test results, Five Pawns sent a Cease and Desist order to Cloud 9, who complied and pulled the results from their website. By that point, though, the information had already been disseminated and can still be viewed elsewhere (link removed; site is offline).

Shortly thereafter, the Electronic Cigarette Trade Association of Canada ordered its members to stop selling Five Pawns e-liquids. While other e-liquid makers also suffered some negative publicity as a result of this and other recent independent e-liquid tests, much of the attention has centered around Five Pawns. This is both because the detected amounts of DA and AP found in some of Five Pawns’ e-liquids are among the highest ever found, and because of the relatively high cost of Five Pawns e-liquids: $27.50 per bottle and up.

Five Pawns moved quickly to contain the fallout, posting a lengthy statement (link removed; document offline) online that also detailed the results of the company’s own tests conducted in September, 2014. These tests showed much lower levels of DA and AP, although three of the e-liquids tested still showed levels of AP in excess of 100 micrograms per milliliter.

Why are Diacetyl and Acetyl Propionyl Still In E-Liquid?

This isn’t the only time this year in which an e-liquid company has come under fire for e-liquids containing DA and AP. In June, Vapor Shark tested all of the e-liquids in its store, and the results weren’t good.

Earlier in the year, the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research published the results of a study in which 159 sweet e-liquids were tested; 74.2 percent of the samples contained one or both compounds.

In October, the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel conducted its own investigation, testing five popular locally made e-liquids for DA and AP. All five contained both compounds.

We’ve known for years that diacetyl is harmful to the lungs. Acetyl propionyl, having a similar molecule, is also thought to carry risks when inhaled. Diacetyl was discovered in some e-liquids years ago, and most e-liquid vendors quickly posted statements assuring customers that their flavors were diacetyl-free.

So, why is this still a problem? According to the Journal Sentinel article linked to above, some vendors may claim that their e-liquids are free of DA and AP simply because they trust their vendors not to sell flavors with harmful compounds. However, some companies such as LorAnn Oils of Michigan have posted statements (link removed; document offline) attempting to dissuade e-liquid companies from using their products.

An additional problem is the fact that the e-cigarette industry simply has no standards for e-liquid testing. As things currently stand, it’s up to the e-liquid makers to decide whether they’d like to have their products tested. It’s also up to them to decide the testing sensitivity level for which they’re willing to pay.

Five Pawns Lawsuit

Now, this issue has begun to come to a head. A class action lawsuit against Five Pawns has been filed in California, seeking unspecified damages around $5 million. The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation on the basis that the plaintiffs wouldn’t have purchased Five Pawns e-liquid — especially at the premium price charged — if they had been fully aware of the e-liquid’s contents.

The lawsuit also alleges that Five Pawns has been aware that some of its e-liquids contain DA and AP since at least 2014, yet didn’t publish the test results until Cloud 9 Vaping’s test results came to light. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Five Pawns attempted to mislead customers by re-posting some of those same test results later, misrepresenting the results as current.

Changes Needed In the E-Liquid Industry

If there is one thing of which I can be certain, it is that the lawyers are generally the only real winners in class action lawsuits. However, this lawsuit may compel the industry as a whole to begin changing its practices. If fully informed of the risks, few e-cigarette users would make the conscious decision to use e-liquids containing DA or AP. Yet, these compounds are present in a great many e-liquids containing sweet, creamy or buttery flavors. Given the enviable profit margins enjoyed by the e-cigarette industry, most companies should have the funds to test their products. Why, then, would anyone purchase e-liquids from a company that doesn’t test its e-liquids and publish the results?