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Much Less Formaldehyde in E-Cigs Than Originally Thought

by · April 11, 2016

DEBUNK: Less Formaldehyde in E-CigarettesVapers are owed an apology: a letter linking e-cigarettes to high levels of formaldehyde has been DEBUNKED. Nobody likes formaldehyde, which is why vapers are pretty amped to have it confirmed that there’s much less formaldehyde in e-cigarettes than ‘scientists’ previously suggested. According to a new study in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, e-cigarettes actually contain considerably less formaldehyde than ole’ fashioned combustible cigarettes.

This won’t come as a surprise to many, but it’s nice to have a study in a respected journal support what vapers have been saying all along.

Debunking the Misleading Findings

Formaldehyde MoleculeThe new study debunks a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year which egregiously claimed that e-cigs contained five times more formaldehyde than cigarettes. The letter was extremely controversial, with members of both the vaping and medical communities pointing out that the letter contained a number of scientific errors. A group of forty academics wrote to the unbudging New England Journal of Medicine to argue that the information was misleading and that the letter should be retracted.

The letter incorrectly stated that vapers were fifteen times more likely to get cancer than smokers due to the increased formaldehyde exposure. What the letter’s authors failed to mention was that these levels of formaldehyde were only present when the e-cigarettes were cranked up to maximum power — in other words, formaldehyde was only created when the device was burning rather than heating the e-liquid.

This is important because vapers go to extreme measures to avoid the associated burnt, or ‘dry hits’. It’s the equivalent of arguing that bread is worse for you than vodka because burned bread is carcinogenic, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of the people prefer their bread toasted, not incinerated.

Needless to say, the media failed to make this important distinction clear, and breathlessly wrote headlines suggesting that the dangers of smoking and vaping were comparable. This has fueled the deadly myth that smokers might as well not try e-cigarettes because vaping is just as harmful as their current habit.

As an aside, it’s always worth being skeptical about letters in scientific journals that refer to unpublished research. If the research is worth the paper that it’s written on, then the authors will publish the research in a peer-reviewed journal. If this doesn’t happen, you can bet that there’s a good reason that they don’t feel confident enough to let the world see how they came to their conclusions.

Looking at the actual facts…

Kurt Kistler, a chemistry professor at Penn State, thought that the best way to disprove the original letter was to do the study again, for himself, and let the world see the results. He worked with a lab in North Carolina to analyze the chemical makeup of the vapor in five different devices. He was specifically looking out for the presence of three aldehydes: formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein.

He found that across almost every device used in almost every possible way, e-cigarettes produced much less aldehydes than cigarettes. At the highest power settings, three of the e-cigs produced formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein levels of less than 1 milligram per day. A pack-a-day smoker is exposed to 1.5-2.5 mg of formaldehyde, 10-30 mg of acetaldehyde, and 1.5-3 mg of acrolein.

Kistler’s experiment seemed to also confirm the ‘dry hit hypothesis’ that most vapers support. The one e-cigarette which consistently produced high levels of aldehydes had a charred coil — something that an actual vaper would have noticed immediately because dry hits are NASTY. While more research needs to be done on coils, the important conclusion of the study is that when used in the real world, e-cigarettes produce much less aldehydes than cigarettes.

Is Some Formaldehyde OK?

It’s wrong to argue that any amount of formaldehyde is too much formaldehyde. Every toxicologist knows that “the dose makes the poison”. Formaldehyde occurs naturally in the body as part of the metabolic process, it is found in the air we breathe and it is certainly found in car exhaust fumes, as well as household products like pressed wood and fabric. Our bodies are quite capable of handling low levels of formaldehydes. The levels of formaldehyde found in the latest e-cigarette study are well below OSHA’s occupational exposure limits.

The key point to remember isthat e-cigarettes “are almost exclusively” used by current smokers and ex-smokers and that vaping offers significantly reduced exposure to formaldehyde when compared to smoking.

There are two possible conclusions that we can draw here: either the old formaldehyde study was FLAWED, or the old formaldehyde study was RIGGED. Either way, the authors of the New England Journal of Medicine letter owe vapers an explanation. After all of the misleading headlines based upon their flawed and misleading experiment, if even a few hundred people decided not to try e-cigarettes to quit smoking, then these authors have a lot to answer for…

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