E-Cigarette Safety Debate Reignited By Japanese Study

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Japanese scientists have discovered high levels of carcinogenic substances in a popular brand of e-cigarettes, leading officials in that country to launch an investigation into the health risks of the devices and re-igniting the debate over their safety.
According to the AFP news agency, research commissioned by Japan’s Health Ministry discovered that the vapor produced by several types of e-cigarette liquid included toxic, cancer-causing agents such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. In fact, formaldehyde, which is used in building materials and embalming fluids, was found in higher levels than carcinogens found in the smoke of traditional cigarettes, one official told the news agency.
“In one brand of e-cigarette the team found more than 10 times the level of carcinogens contained in one regular cigarette,” researcher Naoki Kunugita, who led a team from the National Institute of Public Health that analyzed several cartridges of e-cigarette fluid using a machine that “inhaled” 10 sets of 15 puffs, told the AFP.
Kunugita added that the amount of formaldehyde detected varied through the course of analysis, and that higher amounts of the harmful substances appeared to be produced “when the… wire (which vaporizes the liquid) gets overheated.” 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, and another showed similar levels on several tests but was not as consistently high.
He went on to tell the AFP that the results of the study demonstrate that e-cigarettes are not the harmless smoking alternative that many believe 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 smoking tobacco cigarettes, Kunugita warned.
The unnamed brand of e-cigarette found to be the worst offender produced 1,600 micrograms of formaldehyde per 15 puffs, according to Asian News International (ANI). However, officials with the Health Ministry also acknowledged that the presence of elevated formaldehyde levels found in one brand was not definitive proof that using e-cigarettes would increase a person’s risk of developing cancer, the Delhi-based news agency added.
“The most important finding is that the vapor contained recognized carcinogens,” Hiroyuki Noda, of the health ministry’s tobacco-free initiative, told Justin McCurry of The Guardian. “Our panel of experts will now look into what possible effects those substances could have on the health of e-cigarette users.”
“The study is the latest blow to the e-cig industry lauded by some as an alternative to tobacco to help smokers quit because to help smokers quit because the vapors reduce the craving for nicotine,” said UPI reporter Amy R. Connolly. “In August, the World Health Organization called for a ban on e-cigarettes indoors in public places and sales to minors because of possible health risks.”
However, vaping advocates said that the findings did not prove that using e-cigarettes is a health hazard. In a post published to the e-cigarette research website and quoted by The Guardian, Greek cardiologist Konstantinos Farsalinos said that the device tested by Kunugita’s team was “a single extreme case out of the many products he tested,” adding that the high formaldehyde reading could have been caused by a faulty device.
“Obviously, we have to realize that focusing the discussion on one of the tens of carcinogens present in tobacco cigarette smoke is misleading,” Farsalinos said. “Even if e-cigarettes contained similar, or higher, levels of formaldehyde, they do not contain the majority of other toxic and carcinogenic substances present in cigarette smoke. Overall, any residual risk from e-cigarette use is orders of magnitude lower than smoking.”
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