Toxic Research

Posted 25th November 2016 by Dave Cross
The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is the environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. DRI conducts cutting-edge applied research in air, land and life, and water quality across Nevada, the United States and on every continent. Latest research claims to demonstrate “e-cigarettes liquids contain dangerous levels of hazardous chemicals known to cause cancer in humans.”

Never one for moderation, The Sun proclaims the research proves “E-cigs can kill”. They continue, “Just ONE puff of flavoured e-cigarette vapour ‘contains dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals’.”

The study is also meat and drink to the Daily Mail: “Toxic compounds are already known to form when e-cigarettes heat up, but new research has found flavoured additives are creating high amounts.”

The research, published in Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T), a journal of the American Chemical Society, “reports that the aerosols (commonly called vapours) produced by flavoured e-cigarettes liquids contain dangerous levels of hazardous chemicals known to cause cancer in humans”, according to the DRI.

Andrey Khlystov, an associate research professor of atmospheric sciences at the DRI said: “How these flavouring compounds in e-cigarette liquids affect the chemical composition and toxicity of the vapour that e-cigarettes produce is practically unknown. Our results show that production of toxic aldehydes is exponentially dependent on the concentration of flavouring compounds.”

The team used a typical set-up of cigalikes, Gen 1 and Gen 2 devices connected to a puffer machine. The devices were subjected to a four-second, 40-ml controlled puff, with 30-second resting periods between puffs. The DRI scientists measured concentrations of 12 aldehydes in the aerosols produced.

Khlystov continues: “One puff of any of the flavoured e-liquids that we tested exposes the smoker to unacceptably dangerous levels of these aldehydes, most of which originates from thermal decomposition of the flavouring compounds. These results demonstrate the need for further, thorough investigations of the effects of flavouring additives on the formation of aldehydes and other toxic compounds in e-cigarette vapours.”

As with all of these headline-grabbing aldehyde studies, first thoughts always turn to the potential for dry burns to have affected the outcome. Also, the consistency for researchers such as Khlystov to use their extreme results to justify them receiving further research funding shouldn’t be overlooked.

The study states: “Several earlier studies have reported significantly lower concentrations. Those studies, however, have used no warm-up puffs.” In other words, this research relied on drying out the wick prior to taking test readings!

This said, there was a fluctuation in results between the brands, with “Brand 1” producing the most aldehyde per run and that would be something of interest in a reasonably constructed investigation. In fact, the only thing of note from the study is that “a comparison of aldehyde concentrations found in flavored and unflavored vapours shows that, in fact, decomposition of flavoring compounds dominates production of aldehydes during vaping.”

Unfortunately, the study has received such coverage that even The Independent was moved to limit its balancing viewpoint to: “A review by Public Health England earlier this year found that e-cigarettes were 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco, suggesting they could be prescribed to smokers to help them quit. But some experts have suggested this idea could be premature.”

Photo Credit - DRI report

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker