E-cigarettes contain up to 10 times carcinogens: Japan research

November 27, 2014 by Harumi Ozawa
Credit: TheNorlo/Wikipedia

E-cigarettes contain up to 10 times the level of cancer-causing agents in regular tobacco, Japanese scientists said Thursday, the latest blow to an invention once heralded as less harmful than smoking.

The electronic devices—increasingly popular around the world, particularly among young people—function by heating flavoured liquid, which often contains nicotine, into a vapour that is inhaled, much like traditional cigarettes but without the smoke.

Researchers commissioned by Japan's Health Ministry found carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in vapour produced by several types of e-cigarette liquid, a health ministry official told AFP.

Formaldehyde—a substance found in building materials and embalming fluids—was present at much higher levels than carcinogens found in the smoke from regular cigarettes, the official said.

"In one brand of e-cigarette the team found more than 10 times the level of carcinogens contained in one regular cigarette," said researcher Naoki Kunugita, adding that the amount of formaldehyde detected varied through the course of analysis.

"Especially when the... wire (which vaporises the liquid) gets overheated, higher amounts of those harmful substances seemed to be produced."

Kunugita and his team at the National Institute of Public Health, who submitted their report to the ministry on Thursday, analysed several cartridges of e-cigarette fluid using a machine that "inhaled" 10 sets of 15 puffs.

One brand, the name of which was not revealed, showed a more than 10-fold level of formaldehyde on nine out of every 10 sets.

Another brand showed similar levels on several sets, but was not consistently that high.

Kunugita said the research showed e-cigarettes are not the harmless products many people assume them to be.

"We need to be aware that some makers are selling such products for dual use (with tobacco) or as a gateway for young people" to start a smoking habit, he warned.

In common with many jurisdictions, Japan does not regulate non-nicotine e-cigarettes.

Nicotine e-cigarettes, or so-called Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), are subjected to the country's pharmaceutical laws, but they can be bought easily on the Internet, although they are not readily available in shops as they are in some Western countries.

"You call them e-cigarettes, but they are products totally different from regular tobacco," the ministry official said.

"The government is now studying the possible risks associated with them, with view to looking at how they should be regulated."

'Serious threat'

In August, the World Health Organisation called on governments to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, warning they pose a "serious threat" to unborn babies and young people.

Despite scant research on their effects, the WHO said there was enough evidence "to caution children and adolescents, pregnant women, and women of reproductive age" about e-cigarette use, due to the "potential for foetal and adolescent nicotine exposure (having) long-term consequences for brain development".

The UN health body also said they should be banned from indoor public spaces.

US health authorities said earlier this year that the number of young people there who have tried e-cigarettes tripled from 2011 to 2013.

More than a quarter of a million young people who had never smoked a cigarette used e-cigarettes last year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Supporters of e-cigarettes say the devices are a safer alternative to traditional tobacco, whose bouquet of toxic chemicals and gases can cause cancer, heart disease and strokes—among the leading causes of death in many countries.

But opponents say the devices have only been around for a few years, and the long-term health impact from inhaling their industrial vapour is unclear.

Big tobacco companies are snapping up producers of e-cigarettes, wary of missing out on a snowballing global market worth about $3 billion.

Earlier this month, Oxford Dictionaries picked "vape"— the act of smoking an e-cigarette—as their new word of the year.

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24 comments

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EyeNStein
5 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2014
Sounds like "Vapeing " is a misnomer: It really is still "smoking" if the excess heat generates these toxic chemicals from a fluid that doesn't contain them.
Some kind of simple IR heat sensor in the tip could prevent the burning and make the vapour safe again.
Well done the researcher who tested this and prevented more lung cancer deaths.
alfie_null
4.7 / 5 (3) Nov 27, 2014
Some kind of simple IR heat sensor in the tip could prevent the burning and make the vapour safe again.

Not safe. Just less hazardous.
mawiseman
1 / 5 (7) Nov 27, 2014
I do not believe these results. Anyone who has ever studied anything is aware that the results can change 180 degrees by the way tou ask the question.
Rustybolts
1 / 5 (4) Nov 27, 2014
This is a escape goat for Japan. They have to come up with something that will cause cancer that is widely used because millions of people will develop cancer caused by the nuclear reactors melting down.
Eikka
5 / 5 (7) Nov 27, 2014
I do not believe these results. Anyone who has ever studied anything is aware that the results can change 180 degrees by the way tou ask the question.


If chemical analysis shows the presence of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, I don't think there is a question you can ask that would make the results dissapear.
Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (4) Nov 27, 2014
Why complain if you don't do it?

And if they do, fuck them.
Conservi-Mike
1 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2014
This is a lie. Cigarettes are made with 3,000 chemicals. Most of which would kill a child in moments. This article was written by RJ Reynolds because they are losing a lot of money to this burgeoning (yet stupid) industry.
cristiano_a
1 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2014
Where are the reports of this study? I find it totally believable that there are some "bad" formulas, but I think it's wrong to say "it's all bad" instead of speciffying. This looks more like fear inducing than a real article.
viko_mx
1 / 5 (1) Nov 27, 2014
Electronic cigarettes are not effective way to quit smoking, and even reinforce this bad habit because they are used more frequently than normal cigarettes and without worries for non-smokers. Furthermore, I do not believe that the control of the content of aromatic liquid nicotine have high standart and it can contain additional extras.
dogbert
1 / 5 (6) Nov 27, 2014
There is a strong desire at the government level to control and/or eliminate e-cigs. By any reasonable standard they are immensely safer than tobacco and they have helped many to stop smoking.

But they do two things which are viewed as counter productive by governments:

1) By reducing or eliminating tobacco use, e-cigs are reducing a very lucrative tax.
2) Governments have successfully "punished" smokers with highly restrictive regulations. It is difficult to punish e-cig users since they really do not harm others with their usage.
weirmeir
5 / 5 (1) Nov 27, 2014
Interesting read below.

http://www.ecigar...8-frm-jp
gjbloom
not rated yet Nov 27, 2014
The problem apparently arises when a red-hot wire causes the decomposition of the e-juice into carcinogenic by-products. This suggests that a vaporizer that employs convective heat to vaporize the e-juice would likely avoid this problem. Also, as the link provided by weirmeir indicates, this story is more sensationalized mis-reporting than statement of fact.
karakuta
1 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2014
If you start a car engine in a closed garage you will die. Cars are not suposed to be used in a closed garage.

E-cigs are not suposed to be heated to the temperatures these guys achieved. It's just impossible to vape in such conditions.

Junk science.
EyeNStein
not rated yet Nov 28, 2014
Perhaps if they used a Positive Temperature Coefficient material instead of a simple hot wire.
A tiny PTC thermistor evaporator made with Barium Titanate may suit?
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2014
The problem apparently arises when a red-hot wire causes the decomposition of the e-juice into carcinogenic by-products. This suggests that a vaporizer that employs convective heat to vaporize the e-juice would likely avoid this problem.


I looked a little into the problem.

The atomizer works by pulling air through a hot wire, and the hot air vaporizes a mixture of propylene glycol and glyserine. The hot air isn't supposed to be hotter than about 60-70 C.

Now, glycerine, when heated past 280 C decomposes into Acrolein (acrylic aldehyde) which is a toxic, caustic, and carsinogenic substance also found in cigarette smoke. Other similiar reactions can happen - this is simply the first one I found.

The possible flaw is, that there's either some smoke liquid leaking onto the heating coil, or the air coming from the coil is initially too hot because of poor temperature regulation.

...or some of the vapors get sucked back through and touch the glowing hot coil.
Eikka
not rated yet Nov 28, 2014
I think the last point is the most plausible, because when you smoke an e-cig, you got yourself surrounded in a mist of PG and glyserine vapor, both visible and invisible. That gets inhaled back through the e-cig and is deposited onto the heater coil, where it turns into carsinogens.

RedDom
not rated yet Nov 28, 2014
Quote from Professor Kunugita who did the experiment

"…the newsmedia reports refer to a recent evaluation of a newer-generation device, in which he found 1600μg formaldehyde per 15 puffs. It is true that this level is 10 times higher than what is present in tobacco cigarettes. However, this is an unpublished result, a single case out of the many products he tested, and we do not know what went wrong in that case (e.g. high power levels, low levels of liquid inside, malfunctioning device etc). Still, the media frenzy is completely inappropriate."

To note - no one would actually ever vape at the temperatures being tested so it's equivalent to saying pouring boiling hot coffee in my eyes may make me blind.

Pointless test. Move on people nothing to see here
RedDom
not rated yet Nov 28, 2014
Quote from Professor Kunugita who did the experiment

"…the newsmedia reports refer to a recent evaluation of a newer-generation device, in which he found 1600μg formaldehyde per 15 puffs. It is true that this level is 10 times higher than what is present in tobacco cigarettes. However, this is an unpublished result, a single case out of the many products he tested, and we do not know what went wrong in that case (e.g. high power levels, low levels of liquid inside, malfunctioning device etc). Still, the media frenzy is completely inappropriate."

To note - no one would actually ever vape at the temperatures being tested so it's equivalent to saying pouring boiling hot coffee in my eyes may make me blind. Yes it might but I wouldn't do it.

Pointless test. Move on people nothing to see here
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2014
Pointless test. Move on people nothing to see here


It illustrates the potential for danger; that you can't blindly assume that any e-cig device is safe, or that e-cigs are inherently safe.

no one would actually ever vape at the temperatures being tested


What temperatures? Do you have some information we don't?
RedDom
not rated yet Nov 28, 2014
Any devices is dangerous in the wrong hands. It's like the constant drip of ecigs blowing up. Some are faulty equipment and some are user error. As the good Proffesor says it was most likely a faulty device. That's the regulation required (on devices and liquids - make sure we get what we should expect) and yes I agree some sort of limiter on time of firing a device is sensible to prevent leaving devices 'on' so they do heat up to the ridiculous temperatures where carcinogens may form (you still wouldn't vape them as the device would be way too hot to use) and be released into the air.

The test methodology was to attach an e-cigarette to a smoking machine and essentially run it way beyond what any sane user would term "destruction". So anomalous results are to be expected.
mooster75
1 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2014
This is a escape goat for Japan.

It's "scapegoat".
doug_ducat
not rated yet Nov 30, 2014
Interesting how much fear inducing language is in this article without it actually saying anything meaningful. Ten-fold level of formaldehyde compared to WHAT? Besides being a "substance found in building materials and embalming fluids," formaldehyde is also a metabolite found in our own cells. The author seems to be forgetting the simple rule that 'the dose makes the poison.'

Using terms like "industrial vapour" and tossing out casual allegations that second-hand vaping could cause fetal development issues with no data to back it up is being intellectually dishonest, pure and simple.
mrcookingpt
5 / 5 (1) Nov 30, 2014
After doing a bit more research Mr. Naoki Kunugita , who made the comment, is actually listed in the paper as providing writing assistance on the paper it never indicates he actually preformed the testing only that he was one of the wordsmith for the paper.

The actual paper was entitled "Carbonyl Compounds Generated from Electronic Cigarettes" in its conclusion states "These substances can have adverse health effects:however, in most cases, the levels are lower than those in tobacco cigarette smoke."

The paper also indicates 13 brands of Japanese e-cigs were tested; after living in Japan and Vaping for nearly 3 years I have found none of the Japanese e Juice contain any Nicotine at all. So i would have been nice to know what/which were used as well the concentration of PG to VG which is not clearly indicated. If I am reading correctly it also used the old cartage system.
stev_bach
not rated yet Jan 16, 2015
"However, the levels of potentially toxic compounds in e-cigarette vapour are 9–450-fold LOWER than those in the smoke from conventional cigarettes, and in many cases comparable with the trace amounts present in pharmaceutical preparation."

Reference:
Goniewicz ML, Knysak J, Gawron M, et al. Levels of selected carcinogens and toxicants
in vapour from electronic cigarettes. Tob Control Published Online First: 6 March 2013; doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2012-050859.

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