New Study Finds E-Cigarettes Produce Formaldehyde When Used

January 22, 2015|1:20 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

A study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that vapor produced by electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) can contain high levels of formaldehyde-releasing agents. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen linked to increased cancer risk.

The results were found from a study using the simulated use of e-cigarettes, called "vaping," at the high-voltage setting. The formation of formaldehyde-releasing agents was not detected upon testing at the low-voltage setting of the e-cigarette device.

The study notes finding a higher concentration of formaldehyde in inhaled e-cigarette vapors than what is inhaled from use of conventional cigarettes—potentially 5 to 15 times the amount, the authors note.

The study authors assert, then, the possibility that formation of formaldehyde-releasing agents during the vaping process could mean that the lifetime cancer risk of e-cigarettes over a lifetime of use is greater than that of a lifetime of smoking conventional cigarettes, based on relative formaldehyde levels. More research is needed, however, as the authors note that this assertion is based on an assumption that cancer risk from inhaling formaldehyde-releasing agents from vaping carries the same risk per unit of formaldehyde as the cancer risk associated with inhaling gaseous formaldehyde during the smoking of conventional cigarettes.

See more coverage on this topic from NPR and The Wall Street Journal. For more information, see ASTHO's e-cigarettes page, which includes a listing of current research, state resources, and state legislation.