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E-cigarette Smoke Contains High Levels of a Cancer-Related Chemical

A recent study suggests that certain electronic cigarettes can contain higher levels of the cancer-causing chemical formaldehyde hemiacetal than regular cigarettes. Researchers discovered that using e-cigarettes at high temperature settings could produce vapor containing high levels of formaldehyde, a colorless carcinogen gas.

High-voltage setting

The co-author of the study James Pankow, who is a professor of chemistry at Portland State University in Oregon, said that this could raise the risk of cancer for people who increase the delivery of vaporized nicotine by increasing the voltage of their e-cigarettes. Professor Pankow noted that people usually assume that e-cigs are completely safe, but they are wrong. Researchers found out that e-cigarette smoke contains a chemical called formaldehyde hemiacetal, which can release formaldehyde during the vaping process.

Of course, cigarette smoke contains formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals. However, it was hoped that electronic cigarettes would not contain these dangerous compounds because they do not require fire, and it is this fire that releases toxins after combustion. The problem is that the latest versions of electronic cigarettes are able to function at high temperatures. This study shows that those high temperatures increase the production of formaldehyde-related chemicals. Smokers who use the new e-cigarettes with a tank system can turn up the heat in order to deliver high amounts of smoke.

Formaldehyde and cancer risk

David Peyton, a lead researcher and professor of chemistry at Portland State University, explained that e-cigarettes used at low voltage do not release formaldehyde-related compounds. However, people are able to change the amount of vapor by adjusting the desired temperature and they usually choose a higher voltage. The study shows that the high voltage setting produces formaldehyde levels that are up to 15 times greater than the levels users would get when smoking a regular cigarette.

When the researchers adjusted the temperature from the regular 3.7 volts to 5 volts, causing the machine that was used during the study to take four-second puffs instead of the usual two-second puffs, they noticed rapid overheating and the creation of formaldehyde.

The dry puff phenomenon

Gregory Conley, an advocate with the American Vaping Association, argued that the research was flawed because vapers wouldn’t use such high temperatures to operate their e-cigarettes because of the 'dry puff phenomenon,’ which produces unpleasant and harsh puffs. Therefore, Conley explains, users lower the voltage to avoid those dry puffs with a burning taste.

The lack of the regulation

Eric Jacobs, a biologist at the American Cancer Society, noted that this research shouldn’t make people conclude that electronic cigarettes used at high temperatures are worse than regular cigarettes. He explained that after looking at the study, a biochemist at the society was pretty assured that the chemical scientists measured (formaldehyde hemiacetal) would break down into formaldehyde in the vaper’s respiratory tract. On the other hand, Jacobs also added that this study should make people concerned about the lack of regulation of e-cigarettes. He states that the FDA should regulate proposed federal constrictions that would bring e-cigs and tobacco under the same regulation.

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