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New E-Cig Scare turns out to be hot air

10th December 2014

Once again the eagerness to imagine e-cigarettes are as dangerous as smoking has got the better of an uncritical press. A recent Japanese report claimed that e-cigarettes can contain 10 times as much formaldehyde as a conventional cigarette, but the data that was published actually showed the opposite. The findings showed that e-cigs produce much less formaldehyde than tobacco products, and the worst of all products produced 6 times less.

The new scare was based on a single unpublished finding of one product, by Prof Kunugita from the Department of Environmental Health-National Institute of Public Health in Japan.

However this one finding was likely from a malfunctioning device or poor quality e-liquid or both. It seems higher levels of substances like formaldehyde, a 'reactive aldehyde' are potentially a problem from higher powered, new-generation vaping products. We have discussed this potential issue before in this blog and Dr Farsalinos has already surmised this could be an issue. To tackle this the vaping device should heat the liquid to a lower temperature, which means a lower voltage device, and the atomiser should not run dry. If you are using a new variable voltage device, keep the voltage as low as possible, at least below 4.5 volts, as lower voltage designs have been subjected to many tests for aldehyde production in the vapour and they score much much lower in this and related compounds than cigarettes. Some of the new generation designs are much too powerful and have up to 15 volts on their maximum settings. E-liquids taste noticeable burnt and more abrasive on the throat at these levels. The burnt taste almost certainly is related to aldehyde generation. Atomiser design is important to prevent overheating. Ideally, the atomiser design should also have the wick hole near the base of the tank (when you hold the product upright), as this reduces the chance of running dry.

Apart from this researchers should focus on manufacturing techniques and formulations of e-liquids to ensure no prior aldehydes are present in the liquid, so the few products scoring high on this are a bad manufacturing issue and not a reflection of good manufacturing techniques. It's no different here than say if rice got contaminated with lead, would we say this meant rice was bad, or the fault of contaminated farming? It's hardly the fault of the rice.

It's important to remember that the toxicity of formaldehyde depends on dose, and it is a natural metabolite and present inside human cells naturally. Fruits can contain compounds that generate this in the body but are not associated with harm. Studies consistently show very low levels of these compounds in vapour generated from lower powered devices using commercial e-liquids.

Read the most up-to-date information here