Thursday, January 22, 2015

Vapor worse than cigarette smoke? Really?

"Study Finds E-Cigarettes Can Produce More Formaldehyde Than Regular Cigarettes!" 

"E-Cigarette Vapor Filled With Cancer-Causing Chemicals, Researchers Say!"

"High Levels of Formaldehyde Hidden In E-cigs!"

Sounds pretty scary, doesn't it? If they have studies that found e-cigarettes have more cancer-causing chemicals and formaldehyde than even regular cigarettes, how can anyone argue that vapor products are safe?

Easily, because it's all BS.

Imagine if researchers took perfectly safe vegetables, grilled them until they were blackened lumps of charcoal and then tested for "cancer-causing chemicals." Do you know what they would find? Yep - cancer-causing chemicals like benzopyrene, which is also found in cigarette smoke!  Then imagine if researchers claimed vegetables might be unsafe to eat because of their results? Wouldn't most people wonder who the heck would eat vegetables cooked that way in the first place?

So, what is the whole story behind the "cancer-causing chemicals" and formaldehyde found in the two recent studies behind the headlines? Well, first of all, the "cancer-causing chemicals" they mention is really one chemical - the formaldehyde. So, the headlines you are seeing are misleading from the get-go.

It's not "chemicals," it's one chemical.

OK, well that chemical is still formaldehyde. That's used for embalming dead bodies. Ew!

Of course, if they really found high levels of formaldehyde in vapor products, that would be pretty awful. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, after all. But did they find that the chemical was created during typical use or under special circumstances?

In the letter published by the New England Journal of Medicine, the researcher admits that "we did not detect the formation of any formaldehyde-releasing agents" when the device was set at typical settings. Only when they cranked up the device to the maximum setting were they able to create the formaldehyde. The problem is, a setting that high on a vapor device is akin to grilling your vegetables into charcoal. No one would like the taste of blackened lumps of veggies and no one would like the taste of the liquid in vapor products heated up to the maximum, either. It produces a harsh, bitter taste that causes the consumer to immediately stop using it.

So, why didn't the researchers take the taste into account and dismiss the results? Because they didn't use human test subjects. They didn't even talk to any vapor product consumers. They used a machine that has no sense of taste and therefore, would continue to "inhale" a foul-tasting vapor that no human would tolerate.

If these researchers were testing something with which they were familiar, they would have known that they were looking at something that they would never want to taste - like that lump of charcoal vegetable - and therefore, would have known immediately that it's not really a risk to anyone. Clearly, if you don't eat that foul-tasting burnt veggie, you won't consume any carcinogens. In the same way, if you don't use a vapor product at such high temperatures (because it tastes horrible) you wouldn't be exposed to any formaldehyde.

Of course, none of the news outlets covering this story have bothered to ask one simple question: Do people really use vapor products at such high temperatures? If they had, they'd know the answer is "no." Unfortunately, they follow the "if it bleeds, it leads" style of journalism and are all too happy to have scary headlines to generate readers and viewers.

On top of everything else, formaldehyde is only one of the cancer-causing chemicals found in cigarette smoke. Even if vapor products produced 15 times the levels of formaldehyde than cigarette smoke, they might still be far safer for lack of the other 60+ carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. To focus on just one chemical and claim that makes them a greater risk than smoking is bad science and bad for public health.

Is vapor really worse than cigarette smoke? Apparently, only if you like eating charcoal and ignore the other 59 carcinogens in the cigarette smoke.

For a more expert analysis of this formaldehyde issue please read:

The deception of measuring formaldehyde in e-cigarette aerosol: the difference between laboratory measurements and true exposure
"There are many other major issues in that study. The authors fail to realize that voltage levels provide no information about the thermal load of an e-cigarette device. It seems that both the researchers and the reviewers who approved the study for publication missed that energy should be expressed in watts."

Verified: formaldehyde levels found in the NEJM study were associated with dry puff conditions. An update
"It is more than obvious that the findings of very high levels of formaldehyde are a result of overheating. Lack of experience on e-cigarettes and no contact with vapers can result in such erroneous and unrealistic results, which can create confusion and misinformation both in the scientific community and among users and potential users of e-cigarettes."

New Study Reports High Levels of Formaldehyde in Electronic Cigarette Aerosols
"Essentially, what this study demonstrates is that if you overheat a vaping system, it will produce high levels of formaldehyde. However, such conditions are not realistic, as they could not be tolerated by an actual vaper. Therefore, extrapolating from this study to a lifetime of vaping is meaningless."

Spreading fear and confusion with misleading formaldehyde studies
"This is a trend that should shame the public health community and the academics that are fuelling consumers’ misunderstanding with misleading studies that misrepresent risk.  I am sure it is not your aim to protect the cigarette trade and prolong the epidemic of smoking related disease, but it may well be the effect."

Bogus Research on Formaldehyde in E-Cig Vapor
"R. Paul Jensen and colleagues at Portland State University produced the new results by overheating an e-cigarette, a condition (called dry puffing) that is familiar to vapers; the resulting product tastes so bad it cannot be inhaled.  In other words, the formaldehyde produced under abusive conditions is not “hidden” at all, because it is in vapor that users find intolerable."


  1. This is awesome! thank you for explaining. These new headlines have been scaring the sh*t out of me!!!!

  2. Thanks ive been vaping for two years i feel shortness of breath now,Im going to stop all together