New research suggests that some e-cigarettes get hot enough to produce some of the same carcinogens found in the smoke of traditional cigarettes.
Burning tobacco produces many new chemicals, including about 60 carcinogens, The New York Times reports. Research slated for publication this month in Nicotine and Tobacco Research found that high-power e-cigarettes – tank systems – produce formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Formaldehyde forms when liquid nicotine and other e-cigarette ingredients are subjected to high temperatures, the study says. A second study being prepared for submission to the journal shows similar findings.
To date, there is no evidence that inhaled nicotine vapor causes cancer or heart disease as cigarette smoking does, the Times says, but the new research suggests that potential health risks are emerging. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced proposals to extend its regulatory authority to e-cigarettes. The FDA has focused mainly on the ingredients in these products – currently unregulated – but attention is turning to what is contained in the vapor produced.
The new studies focus on tank systems, larger, more powerful devices that quickly vaporize liquid nicotine, producing a big nicotine kick, the Times reports. Dr. Maciej L. Goniewicz, an assistant professor of oncology at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, said people “want more nicotine,” and experienced users often trickle the fluid directly onto the heating element, a practice known as “dripping.” With dripping, the e-liquid heats with such intensity that formaldehyde and related toxins “approach the concentration in cigarettes,” according to Dr. Alan Shihadeh, of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products, who led the research.
Both studies warn of the same danger: intense heat can change the composition of e-liquids, creating new, potentially harmful, chemicals, and these chemical reactions involve not only liquid nicotine but also vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol, two common ingredients in e-liquids. The Roswell study says e-cigarettes “might expose their users to the same or even higher levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde as tobacco smoke,” according to the Times.