New research has revealed that e-cigarettes can contain up to 10 times the amount of carcinogens of regular cigarettes, which has brought the claim that these devices are a healthier alternative to smoking into serious contention.
E-cigarettes contain flavoured liquid, which is heated electronically and the resulting vapour inhaled to produce a tobacco flavour without the harmful smoke. According to Justin McCurry at The Guardian, researchers from the Health Ministry of Japan decided to investigate this liquid by testing several brand of e-cigarettes using a machine that inhaled 10 sets of 15 puffs. They discovered that several brands contain the known carcinogens formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.
“One new brand of e-cigarette, whose name has not been made public, showed a more than 10-fold increase in formaldehyde levels in nine out of every 10 sets,”McCurry reports. “The device produced 1,600 micrograms of formaldehyde per 15 puffs.”
Another brand also showed similarly high levels, but not as consistently.
“In one brand of e-cigarette the team found more than 10 times the level of carcinogens contained in one regular cigarette. Especially when the… wire (which vaporises the liquid) gets overheated, higher amounts of those harmful substances seemed to be produced,” lead researcher Naoki Kunugita told the AFP. “We need to be aware that some makers are selling such products for dual use (with tobacco) or as a gateway for young people.”
This is a real worry, as The Guardian reports that since their invention, e-cigarettes have been particularly popular among young people. According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
“More than a quarter of a million youth who had never smoked a cigarette used electronic cigarettes in 2013, according to a CDC study published in the journalNicotine and Tobacco Research. This number reflects a three-fold increase, from about 79,000 in 2011, to more than 263,000 in 2013.”
Surprisingly, till now, e-cigarettes have enjoyed the status as the ‘less harmful’ alternative to cigarettes, despite the World Health Organisation’s efforts to raise concerns about their effects on foetuses in the womb and young people, and the UN advising they be banned from enclosed public areas. Researchers in Japan have been directed by the government to continue their investigation into the health risks of e-cigarettes.
It’s obviously not great news for people who have been using e-cigarettes and those who are desperately seeking an alternative to regular cigarettes. A Guardian report earlier this year stated that e-cigarette use could save the lives of 50,000 people in the UK, so it appears at this stage, e-cigarettes are not the great white hope after all, just the lesser of two evils.