The vaping community has been under fire for almost two years now with allegations that their products are laced with deadly levels of the formaldehyde. This is very same awful-smelling chemical that is often associated high school biology class where students are given a dead frog to dissect which just happens to be floating in the thick, liquid ooze.
Anti-vaping activists really know how to pick their chemicals, because the vaping industry took a huge hit to its reputation when this rumor started surfacing on social media in 2015. Who started this nasty gossip? Many trace the story back to a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in March of that year by a group from Portland State University (PSU).
The beginnings of the formaldehyde myth
The letter was very controversial, particularly because of the authors’ claim that the vapor from e-cigs has five times the amount of formaldehyde compared to cigarette smoke. However, the authors failed to mention that they cranked up the heat on the vaping device to an alarmingly high temperature to achieve their scientific conclusions.
For example, no vaper would ever vape at 800 degrees. The e-liquid would taste like burnt bicycle tires, and the throat hit would be excruciating. Meanwhile, the PSU authors also claimed that e-cig users were fifteen times more likely to develop lung cancer than smokers, which is also decidedly untrue.
Almost immediately, the letter was denounced by not only pro-vaping advocacy groups but by multiple, unbiased medical organizations, as well. In fact, a group of forty academics wrote back to the NEJM and argued that the “research” was not based in basic scientific protocols and should be retracted immediately.
Formaldehyde myth debunked
Every cloud has a silver lining, and something positive did indeed come from the “vaping is laced with formaldehyde” myth. Scientists around the world were so annoyed by the original letter that several, more professional, scientific research studies were launched almost immediately to debunk the PSU assertions.
One of the more reputable research papers is entitled Effect of variable power levels on the yield of total aerosol mass and formation of aldehydes in e-cigarette aerosols. And this study is published on the Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology website. The study was led by Penn State chemistry professor Kurt Kistler.
He worked with a team of laboratory technicians based out of North Carolina where they analyzed the e-cig vapor from five different devices. Their focus was on the chemical makeup of the resulting e-cig vapor, specifically relating to three aldehydes commonly associated with cigarette smoke: acrolein, acetaldehyde, and formaldehyde.
What Kistler’s team discovered is that the e-cigarettes produced much less aldehydes than tobacco cigarettes, even when the vaping devices were used in every conceivable manner but without scientific modifications of any kind. Even when the power settings were turned up to maximum levels, three of the devices produced vapor with only 1mg of the three aldehydes per day!
To compare these numbers to those of cigarette smoke, Kistler states that a typical pack-a-day smoker ingests about 1.5-3 mg of acrolein, 10-30 mg of acetaldehyde, and 1.5-2.5 mg of formaldehyde daily. Towards the end of the conclusions section, the Kistler team also seemingly reprimands the authors of the original PSU letter – but in a very polite and eloquent way – while also addressing the dry hit phenomenon of vaping at such high temperatures.
“One also needs to consider that, in terms of actual risks from aldehyde toxicity to the user, it is very possible that when significant thermal decomposition of an EC liquid is occurring, commonly called the dry-puff phenomenon, the aerosol produced may be quite noxious, and cause the user to discontinue use until the dry-puff issue is resolved.”
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