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Study: e-Cigarettes Can Lead to the Same and Increased Risks as Traditional Cigarettes

May 20, 2014

A new study finds that e-cigarettes may expose users to increased levels of toxic compounds when compared to tobacco smoke.

The Roswell Park Cancer Institute study was published by Nicotine and Tobacco Research and found that e-cigarettes that are operated at lower voltages generate trace levels of some toxic chemicals; however, increasing the voltage significantly increases the toxic level of chemicals, writes The Buffalo News. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Medical University of Silesia in Poland.

“These results suggest that some types of electronic cigarettes might expose their users to the same or even higher levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde than tobacco smoke. Users of high-voltage e-cigarettes need to be warned about this increased risk of harmful effects,” said Maciej Goniewicz, a researcher in the Department of Health Behavior.

Some e-cigarettes enable users to change the voltage level so that vapor production and nicotine delivery may be increased or decreased. The research team specifically reviewed the chemicals in these vapors, which are generated by e-cigarettes when different voltages are used, writes The Buffalo News. The researchers discovered when an e-cigarette was operated at a lower voltage, its vapors contained trace amounts of some dangerous chemicals, including formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen; acetaldehyde, a possible carcinogen; and acrolein and acetone, both known to be nasal and lung tissue irritants, according to The Buffalo News. When the voltage was increased, the levels increased significantly.

The research sought to review carbonyl compounds in electronic cigarette vapors and the effects of both nicotine solvent and battery output voltage, and how these factors may increase health risks to the users of the devices, according to Nicotine and Tobacco Research. Goniewicz recommended additional research to review other product characteristics that may impact e-cigarette toxicity, including heating elements, flavorings, and additives The Buffalo News reports.

According to the study, the most commonly used nicotine solvents in e-cigarettes are glycerin (VG) and propylene glycol (PG). When these solvents are exposed to high temperatures, they both undergo decomposition that brings them to lowered molecular carbonyl compounds, including carcinogens and potential carcinogens. The study was conducted to understand how the product characteristics of these e-cigarette elements, such as nicotine solvent and battery output voltage, impacted e-cigarette vapor carbonyl levels.

The team studied and measured 12 carbonyl compounds in vapors from 10 commercially available nicotine solutions, as well as from three control solutions that were made of pure glycerin, pure propylene glycol, or an equal mixture of both solvents. Battery output voltage on the devices was gradually modified from 3.2 to 4.8 volts and carbonyl compounds were determined using a scientifically established (HPLC/DAD) method. Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde were found in 8 of 13 samples tested. The highest levels of carbonyls were seen in vapors that were generated from PG-based solutions, while increasing the voltage led to a 4 to over 200 times increase in formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acetone levels.

The researchers concluded that e-cigarette vapors contain toxic and carcinogenic carbonyl compounds and that solvent and battery output voltage significantly affects the levels of carbonyl compounds in device vapors. High-voltage e-cigarettes may expose users to high levels of carbonyl compounds, the researchers concluded, as well.

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