Study: Some E-Cigs Put Out Tobacco-Like Levels of Carcinogens

Illustration for article titled Study: Some E-Cigs Put Out Tobacco-Like Levels of Carcinogens

An upcoming study in the peer-reviewed journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research says that some tank-style e-cigarettes emit cancer-causing formaldehyde in their vapor at levels similar to traditional tobacco cigarettes. The New York Times, which revealed the findings ahead of publication, says a second study confirms the results.


The problem seems to be that some tank-style e-cigarettes (the larger, refillable style that vaporize liquid nicotine) get so hot, they cause formaldehyde to form in the vapor they put out.

The finding comes on the heels of the FDA's proposal to regulate e-cigs under the same rules as traditional combustible tobacco. However, those proposed rules would focus on the ingredients that go into e-cig juice, not on the chemical makeup of the vapor that comes out. So far, e-cig emissions (the content of the vapor they produce) is an unregulated area.


It's a complicated area of study, in part because there are so many various manufacturers of e-cigs, and the products are largely non-standardized. One of the studies, performed at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, found that levels of carcinogens increased markedly when the battery output of the tank-style e-cigs was boosted from 3.2 volts to 4.8 volts.

Then there's the way that consumers use e-cigs: the higher heat that scientists say creates carcinogens also produces more potent vapor. Many e-cig tinkerers boost the heat output of their devices, or dribble liquid nicotine directly on the heating element for a more intense vapor. The researchers say dripping puts out carcinogen levels that approach the concentration found in old-fashioned cigarettes.

Dr. Alan Shihadeh at the Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for the Study of Tobacco Products, who led one of the studies, acknowledged that while the e-cig study only examined a handful of carcinogens, traditional cigarettes put out dozens of cancer-causing compounds. As he told The New York Times:

If I was in a torture chamber and you said I had to puff on something, I'd choose an e-cigarette over a regular cigarette. But if you said I could choose an e-cigarette or clean air, I'd definitely choose clean air. And I definitely wouldn't drip.


The studies will be published beginning May 15th. Until then, maybe you should hold off on the heavy-duty vaping. E-cigs may not be exactly the same as the dead leaves Don Draper smoked, but this particular similarity isn't all that enticing. [NYT]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter



Okay, I'm a day late to the convo here, but I don't always get to read my tech blogs in a timely manner.

First off, I'm a vape-er. I switched to e-cig almost a year ago. I feel better than I have in the 25 years since I started smoking. I am tapering off the nicotene, and hope to be smoke-and-vape free within another few months. It's working for me as a stop-smoking aid.

To all the folks shouting "Yeah, see, e-cigs are just as bad!" Seriously. Read the article. The author of the study says the exact opposite of that. He is saying that given the choice between the two, he would choose an e-cig... hinting that in his analysis of the data, e-cigs ARE safer than a regular cigarette.

BUT... addressing the regulation issue. Good! Keep 15 year old kids from picking up an e-cig and developing a habit that is PROBABLY NOT HARMLESS. Yes, I believe e-cigs are safer than regular cigs. But that does not mean they're harmless. Inhaling anything other than our (admittedly polluted) atmosphere into your lungs is generally going to have some detrimental effect. Generally, I said, before anybody chimes in about inhaled medicines. So yes, I believe they should keep them from kids.

I also believe they should NOT be subject to the sin tax. E-cigs are a valid way for people to taper off nicotene and quit smoking. One of the big draws of switching is how cheap it is. Take that draw away, and you're just convincing people to stick with what they've got, which is a habit that we know without question kills people.

And finally... WE NEED SCIENTIFIC STUDIES LIKE THIS. We need studies of what it is we're putting in our bodies. We need studies of the secondhand vapors. Is it true that there are less carcinogens in vaping, and is there a "heat level" that will keep that level low or zero? Is it true that secondhand vapor doesn't contain any or enough nicotene to get your neighbor at the bar hooked? Is it true that secondhand vapor doesn't contain carcinogens? Are the FDA approved food flavorings that are being used safe when in vapor form? What are the effects of long term exposure to high levels of PGC and VGC vapor? These are questions that I, a true blue fan of vaping for what it has done for me, would still like the answers to. And personally, I'd like these answers before all the drastic measures such as regulations, taxes, and bans go into place. We just need informed rules, not knee-jerk reactions.