With their availability spreading so quickly over the past few years, there has been little time to study the health effects of e-cigarettes. Those who market them claim that they are a useful means to stop cigarette smoking and assert that there are no health hazards associated with e-cigarettes. On the other hand, various medical organizations have been cautioning of this relatively new smoking habit. They warn of the potential health risks, including cancer, that are related to the use of e-cigarettes.
Governments, especially those in developed countries, have been torn on whether to regulate the fast growing trend. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the use of e-cigarettes and in fact warns that they contain harmful compounds.
In January 22, 2015 an alarming publication appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, presented the findings of a research into the health safety of e-cigarettes. Researchers found a hidden form of formaldehyde: a well known carcinogenic compound usually found in embalming fluid and glues.
In tobacco cigarettes, formaldehyde is released when the fire causes combustion of chemicals. When used in high voltage, the heating element of e-cigarettes becomes hot enough to cause the release of formaldehyde. At a low voltage, there is little danger of this compound being released. But when the user cranks up the voltage to get more vapor, they also inhale formaldehyde. Experts say that smoking e-cigarettes at a high voltage increases the risk of cancer 5 to 15 times as compared to long term tobacco smoking.
Though there are concerns from various interested parties in the e-cigarette industry that the research did not replicate real life situations, this is a clear warning to be careful in using electronic cigarettes.
One of the reasons why it has been very difficult to extensively study the effect of e-cigarettes is the presence of many different brands, each with its own chemical composition. For example, research at Japan’s National Institute for Public Health found one certain e-cigarette brand to have 10 times the level of formaldehyde as a regular cigarette. This worrying case prompted the Government to seriously consider instituting regulations.
Before any regulations are instituted to govern the manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes it will be almost impossible to determine what risks users are facing. Sellers are often unwilling to divulge all information, usually revealing only favorable data. So certain brands may carry a higher risk of cancer and users would not know it.
As much as we may want to quickly adopt solution to the danger that is tobacco smoking, the potential of negative health effects of e-cigarettes puts a halt to most people’s excitement. For now however, we can only wait and see what more evidence science turns up.