A recently published study on the chemical compounds found e-cigarette vapor concluded that using electronic cigarettes as an alternative to smoking substantially reduces exposure to dangerous tobacco-specific toxins.
Electronic cigarette companies are forbidden by law to advertise their products as safer than analogs. Despite numerous reports of improved general health following a switch from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigs, the FDA and other ruling organizations have always considered there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to back up these claims. I wonder if they’ll change their minds after reading the findings of this latest e-cigarette study. A group of scientists from the United States, Poland and UK set out to evaluate the chemical nature of electronic cigarette vapor, concentrating on four groups of potentially toxic and carcinogenic compounds: carbonyls, volatile organic compounds, nitrosamines and heavy metals. Before we dive deeper into the details of this research, it’s worth noting that this was an independent study funded by Poland’s Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the National Institutes of Health, which adds credibility and objectivity.
To test chemical levels in exhaled vapor, researchers used 12 different brands of electronic cigarettes, and a medical nicotine inhaler as reference product. Testing was done in controlled conditions using a modified smoking machine, and the toxic compounds were extracted from vapors into a solid or liquid phase and analysed with chromatographic and spectroscopy methods. Test results showed levels of selected toxic compounds found in tobacco cigarette smoke were between 9 and 450 times higher that the levels found in e-cig vapor. Quantities of acrolein, a known oxidant and respiratory irritant believed to also contribute to various cardiovascular conditions associated with smoking, were found to be 15 times lower in e-cigarette vapor compared to tobacco smoke.
The study abstract concludes: “Our findings are consistent with the idea that substituting tobacco cigarettes with e-cigarettes may substantially reduce exposure to selected tobacco-specific toxicants. E-cigarettes as a harm reduction strategy among smokers unwilling to quit, warrants further study.” And if that’s not clear enough for you, researchers were kind enough to clarify: “the results of this study support the proposition that the vapor from e-cigarettes is less injurious than the smoke from cigarettes. Thus one would expect that if a person switched from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes the exposure to toxic chemicals and related adverse health effects would be reduced.”
However, there was some concerning data regarding the level of formaldehyde found among the 12 brands of electronic cigarettes, which ranged from just 3.2 micrograms per 150 puffs to 56.1 micrograms per 150 puffs. While the minimum amount overlaps with that found in medicinal inhalers, the considerable difference between the tested brands is somewhat concerning. Formaldehyde may result from the heating of propylene glycol or the oxidation or hydrolysis of glycerin, and while it doesn’t pose significant danger in low levels, it can be lethal in high concentrations. As Doctor Michael Siegel notes on his blog, this study presents the FDA with the opportunity “to examine the reasons for these significant differences and hopefully, to find ways to produce e-cigarette liquid that does not produce high levels of formaldehyde”. It’s important to understand that while this international study clearly demonstrates that e-cigarettes are safer than analogs, it also proves they are not safe in an absolute sense.
As good as this news sounds to you, I’m afraid there are too-major interests at stake here to let such valuable research transpire into the media in its original form. You’ll probably find some articles about this study, but most of them will have titles along the lines of “carcinogens found in e-cigarette vapor“. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened, and with the FDA’s ruling on electronic cigarettes drawing near, members of the movement against e-cigs are pulling out all the stops.