Some of the biggest news to hit the electronic cigarette world has stemmed from a report out of Japan, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Surely, whether or not you use the devices, you’ve come across headlines berating e-cigarettes for supposedly containing more formaldehyde than traditional cigarettes.
Despite being a generally highly-revered scientific publication, this particular published piece has a variety of elements that are flagrantly deceptive. The authors fail to discuss all the facts, as well as overlook important information, with the end result being a tragic, viral case of misreporting.
Dr. Constantino Farsalinos, one of the leading international researchers involved in the study of electronic cigarettes, has discussed this study in depth, deciphering the way the vaporizer device was used, as well as the “formaldehyde” (formaldehyde hemiacetals) produced. The study is meant to examine e-cigarette usage that dangerously exposes users to “formaldehyde”, yet when analyzed further, based on the data provided in the study, the vaporizer was used incorrectly and the components produced were not true “formaldehyde” aerosoles.
So what exactly is formaldehyde? It is a combination of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. It is an inherently natural, and vastly abundant substance created by the body as a common function of cell metabolism. So common in fact, throughout the natural world all organic life forms produce it.
To those familiar with the tech specs of using an advanced vaporizer, the device used in this study was used incorrectly. Both the researchers and those who approved the study did not take into account that vaporizer power is measured in wattage, and in the study it is unknown what watt the atomizer was set to. Dr. Farsalinos was able to determine approximations based on the figures given in the study, however.
For instance, 5ml of liquid were used at 3.3 volts (a typical setting), which would bring the consumption to about 6-7 watts at 4 seconds per puff, resulting in no formaldehyde hemiacetals produced within the aerosol. However when the settings were tweaked, and the voltage set to 5 volts, the watts increased to 14-16 watts, which is too high to use. This extreme setting causes the atomizer to overheat, and therefore produce formaldehyde hemiacetals. To those unaware of proper vaporizer function, this setting it not the norm. With the atomizer running at such high demand, the flavor would be severely compromised, and it would not be consumable. In fact, in the vaping community, this occurrence is known negatively as the “dry puff phenomenon.”
The main focus of this article is on formaldehyde, however what the study fails to mention is that the substances found during testing were “formaldehyde hemiacetals,” not actual formaldehyde. Formaldehyde hemiacetals are comprised of a combination of formaldehyde and alcohols (formaldehyde-propylene glycol or formaldehyde-glycerol. Their likeness in this study to true formaldehyde was based on referencing a study in which contact dermatitis (an allergic skin condition) was linked to similar formaldehyde-releasing substances. Deeper evaluation of this study concluded that these substances were not the same formaldehyde hemiacetals released in the aerosols from e-cigarettes, and they had no relation whatsoever. There is no evidence proving formaldehyde hemiacetals are carcinogenic or even toxic in any way. Furthermore, there is a possibility that hemiacetals may have the potential to protect against harm from actual formaldehyde.
To conclude, this study is full of flaws, misinterpretations, and fallacies. If the aim is to inadvertently create aldehydes, the researchers behind it no doubt did this. What they didn’t do is explain is that under typical circumstances, atomizers are not used in such ways that will produce such formaldehyde hemiacetals. Flawed “scientific studies” do more harm than good, and when exaggerated by the media, hungry for an uproar, the result can be tremendously detrimental.
To read the report by Dr. Farsalinos, please find it here: http://ecigarette-research.com/web/index.php/2013-04-07-09-50-07/2015/191-form-nejm
And for the original published piece from New England Journal of Medicine, find it here: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1413069