Health risks of electronic cigarettes

Are these cigarettes safer than regular tobacco? A new study raises doubts.

Whether you’re trying to quit smoking or just trying to cut down nicotine so you’re not banned from a special section in the restaurant, you’ve probably considered – or even smoked – an electronic cigarette.

But a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine is questioning whether e-cigarettes are somehow safer (or should we say less dangerous?) Than traditional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes, which work by heating a liquid with nicotine that turns into steam, are generally considered safer alternatives to normal cigarettes. Some studies – including those at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute- found that electronic cigarettes contain toxic substances, but levels are lower than typical cigarettes. Still, e-cigarettes are a new gadget, which means that research on them is at least limited.

Moreover, scant research has examined the effects of using higher voltage electronic cigarettes and lower voltage electronic cigarettes. So, researchers at Portland State University (who suspect smokers are using high-voltage e-cigarettes) have examined the vapor released from adjustable vaporizers. By increasing the use of 3.3 volts to 5 volts, they found that cigarettes were beginning to produce compounds that contained formaldehyde.

Yep, formaldehyde is no longer just a problem of traditional tobacco companies. In the study, when researchers used e cigarettes with a higher voltage, they produced 15 times more formaldehyde than that contained in a normal cigarette.

“It took just three milligrams of the vaporized liquid from an electronic cigarette at a higher voltage to produce the same thing as a whole packet of normal cigarettes,” says Christopher Assandra, founder and chief medical officer of NuMale Medical Centers. “The amount of formaldehyde generated in the scenarios used by researchers is quite alarming.”

The researchers concluded that smoking high-grade electronic cigarette smoking is linked to a 200-fold higher risk of developing formaldehyde-related cancer. This is five times higher than the risk associated with normal cigarettes. (However, researchers have determined that creating low-voltage steam does not pose the risk of having formaldehyde-related cancer.)

However, these numbers are estimates, since electronic cigarettes produce formaldehyde in drops and normal cigarettes produce formaldehyde in gas. Formaldehyde inhaled as gas is known to increase the risk of leukemia, such as nasal cancer and cancer of the pharynx.

However, zero studies have investigated how formaldehyde containing hemiketals, in the form of drops, affect the risk of cancer. “We do not know for sure where the formaldehyde contained in the hemiketals gets deposited in the body or if it’s as toxic as the inhaled formaldehyde in the form of gas,” Asandra said.

On the other hand, research has not yet clarified whether e-cigarettes contribute to other health problems – including cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction – that are associated with smoking. “We will not know for sure for at least a decade that is when the effects will begin to appear in chronic users.”

“We know that electronic cigarettes produce a form of formaldehyde. We know that formaldehyde in gas is the leading cause of cancer in normal cigarette smokers,” says Asana. “The best advice I can give people is to avoid smoking, whether it’s electronic or traditional cigarettes.”


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