E-cigarettes contain up to 10 times the level of cancer-causing agents as regular tobacco, Japanese scientists said Thursday, the latest blow to an invention once heralded as less harmful than smoking.
The electronic devices — increasingly popular around the world, particularly among young people — function by heating flavored liquid, which often contains nicotine, into a vapor that is inhaled, much like traditional cigarettes but without the smoke.
Researchers commissioned by the health ministry found carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in vapor produced by several types of e-cigarette liquid, a ministry official said.
Formaldehyde — a substance found in building materials and embalming fluids — was present at much higher levels than carcinogens found in the smoke from regular cigarettes, the official said.
“In one brand of e-cigarette the team found more than 10 times the level of carcinogens contained in one regular cigarette,” said researcher Naoki Kunugita, adding that the amount of formaldehyde detected varied through the course of analysis.
“Especially when the . . . wire (that vaporizes the liquid) gets overheated, higher amounts of those harmful substances seemed to be produced.”
Kunugita and his team at the National Institute of Public Health, who submitted their report to the ministry on Thursday, analyzed several cartridges of e-cigarette fluid using a machine that “inhaled” 10 sets of 15 puffs.
One brand, which was not revealed, showed a more than 10-fold level of formaldehyde on 9 out of every 10 sets.
Another brand showed similar levels on several sets, but was not consistently that high.
Kunugita said the research showed e-cigarettes are not the harmless products many people assume 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 a smoking habit, he warned.
In common with many jurisdictions, Japan does not regulate non-nicotine e-cigarettes, but nicotine e-cigarettes, or so-called electronic nicotine delivery systems, are subjected to pharmaceutical laws.