Cancer-causing formaldehyde in e-cigarettes

I HAVE been following the reports on e-cigarettes and vaping in the media, and would like to highlight several important points.

Firstly, according to authoritative reports on e-cigarettes, its safety and efficacy in cessation have not been established.

The report by the World Health Organisation states that e-cigarettes are not free from toxicants and they have not been approved as “safe” for use.

Their efficacy as a smoking cessation device has not been evaluated yet.

The evidence on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as smoking cessation is limited.

Secondly, in recent times, more research on risks of using e-cigarettes have emerged:

E-CIGARETTE vapour can contain cancer-causing formaldehyde at levels of up to 15 times higher than regular cigarettes. The finding was published this year in New England Journal of Medicine.

THE Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, the United States, said: “E-cigarette vapour alone produced mild effects on the lungs, including inflammation and protein damage.”

THE American Lung Association said: “Early studies have shown that e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals, including carcinogens. A study last year found that e-cigarettes with a higher voltage level have higher amounts of formaldehyde.”

E-CIGARETTES make teenagers four times more likely to move on to real smoking, health experts warn.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

According to the California Department of Health, e-cigarettes heat e-liquids that contain nicotine, flavourings, additives and propylene glycol. The heated e-liquid forms an aerosol that is inhaled by users.

The aerosol has been found to contain toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, lead, nickel and acetaldehyde, which are chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm. These chemicals travel through the circulatory system to the brain and organs.

The aerosol also contains high concentrations of ultrafine particles that are inhaled and get trapped in the lungs.

E-liquid is available in candy and fruit flavours that are especially appealing to youth and small children, who may accidentally ingest them.   The vaping community has ignored the problem of accidental ingestion as even a small amount of e-liquid may be lethal to a small child. E-cigarette cartridges can leak and are not equipped with child-resistant caps, creating a potential source of poisoning.

The United States Center for Disease Control reported that the number of calls to poison centres involving e-liquids rose from one per month in 2010 to 215 per month last year.

More than half of the calls to poison centres on e-liquids involved young children under the age of 5.

Thirdly, vaping renormalises smoking. This can roll back years of anti-smoking campaigns by the Health Ministry and health professionals to educate the public on the dangers of smoking.

Besides, it will pose enforcement problems in public places that have no-smoking zones.

Fourthly, the pharmaceutical industry, which promotes smoking cessation devices,

has not bought into e-cigarettes as a cessation device. Instead, transnational tobacco companies have bought the e-cigarettes business and are promoting and marketing them as less harmful.

If e-cigarettes are indeed a less harmful alternative, tobacco companies should recall their more harmful regular cigarettes and stop selling them.

Vaping is not harm-free. Vapers, who are not experts on e-cigarettes, have extolled its merits.

The risks of vaping and e-cigarettes have been downplayed and ignored.

Many countries have banned the sale of e-cigarettes, including Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and Brazil.

Japan and Australia have banned e-cigarettes with nicotine.

The decision for the Health Ministry is clear: e-cigarettes must be banned.

MARY ASSUNTA,Senior policy adviser,Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance

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