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Here's something to think about when taking a puff of an e-cigarette - formaldehyde. New research is raising more concern about the safety of electronic cigarettes, finding the vapor they produce contains more formaldehyde than previously reported. NPR's Rob Stein has this story.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: E-cigarettes work by heating up a liquid that contains nicotine. That makes a vapor that users inhale. It's called vaping. E-cigarettes are generally considered safer than tobacco cigarettes, but David Peyton of Portland State University and his colleagues decided to take a closer look at what's in that vapor.
DAVID PEYTON: We simulated vaping by drawing the vapor - the aerosol - into a syringe sort of simulating the lungs.
STEIN: To do a detailed chemical analysis of what might be hiding in the vapor. And they report what they found in this week's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
PEYTON: To our surprise, we found a form of formaldehyde in e-cigarette vapor.
STEIN: A form that might make it easier for formaldehyde to slip into someone's lungs. And they didn't just find a little formaldehyde, they found a lot.
PEYTON: We found this form of formaldehyde at significantly higher concentrations than even regular cigarettes - between five and 15 fold higher concentration of formaldehyde than in cigarettes.
STEIN: And formaldehyde can be nasty.
PEYTON: Long-term exposure is recognized as contributing to lung cancer and so we would like to minimize, to the extent one can, contact with formaldehyde, especially delicate tissues like lungs.
STEIN: For their part, companies that make e-cigarettes are dismissing the study. Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association says the researchers only found formaldehyde when the e-cigarettes were cranked up really high.
GREGORY CONLEY: No real-life human is ever going to vape at that setting throughout the day because after a couple puffs, they'd be unable to puff anymore. They would take the vapor product and take a puff for one second and it would burn. Not burn like, a third-degree burn, but it would feel extremely unpleasant in your lungs.
STEIN: Because the vapor would be so hot. Conley compares it to over-cooking a steak.
CONLEY: I can take a steak and I can cook it on the grill for the next 18 hours and that steak will be absolutely packed full of carcinogens. But the steak will also be charcoal, so no one will eat it.
STEIN: Peyton, the researcher, acknowledges that he found no formaldehyde when the e-cigarettes were set low. But he says he thinks plenty of people are using the high settings.
PEYTON: As I walk around town and look at people using these electronic cigarette devices, it's not difficult to tell what sort of setting they're using. You can see how much of the aerosol they're blowing out. It's not small amounts. It's pretty clear to me that at least some of the users are using the high levels.
STEIN: Peyton hopes the government will limit the sale of these devices, especially to kids. The Food and Drug Administration is in the final stages of trying to decide how strictly the agency will regulate electronic cigarettes.
Rob Stein, NPR News.
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