Formaldehyde: Hype or Honesty?

Nashville Vapor is continuously evaluating new research to provide our customers with quality products and accessible information.  Many of you have read news reports recently about extremely high levels of formaldehyde being present in e-cigarettes.  This is a rational non-sensationalized account of two recent studies to separate the facts within the research from the conclusions given in the news articles.

The two studies that have been referenced recently indicate high levels of formaldehyde in e-cigarettes and suggest a major risk of carcinogenic effect worse than traditional cigarettes.  The first article was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH) has been used to claim that e-cigarettes have “10 times the level of carcinogens contained in one regular cigarette.”  The second more recent study is referred to in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and determines the risk to be as severe as “15 times as high as the risk associated with long-term smoking.”  These statements are strongly exaggerated.

Careful examination of the IJERPH study will show that only one of ten of the juice brands tested had high levels of formaldehyde and was still about six times lower than cigarettes (ECR).  No published result was actually ten times higher than cigarette levels.  So where did the news come up with that fact?  Your guess is as good as mine.  While that one result is something to look into, the data itself still seems to suggest that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to cigarettes.

More recently, a NEJM study shows extremely high levels of formaldehyde in high-voltage vaping.  The carcinogen that this letter is referring to is Formaldehyde Releasing Agents (FRA), a product of a chemical reaction that suggests formation of formaldehyde.  The study did not actually measure the levels of formaldehyde itself, but suggested the FRAs as formaldehyde-equivalent.  FRAs were not detectable at lower voltage vaping, but were present in extremely high levels at higher voltage vaping.  What does this mean?

This is a flawed conclusion from a study that does not accurately portray how you vape.  We won’t know for sure until the research is accessible, but it seems like the study utilized a top coil tank at 5 volts.  A top coil atomizer will not be able to handle the wattage and would be prone to overheating and scorching (dry burning).  Dry burns could cause the formation of undesired elements, but it isn’t an accurate portrayal of vaping.

Many of the studies that are used against vaping have used conditions that result in dry burning of the atomizer.  Nobody can vape dry hits repeatedly.  While studies with improper protocol may be useful, they aren’t good representations of exposure to a vaper.  The fact that formaldehyde and FRAs weren’t detected at low voltages suggests that the high voltage may have caused dry burning and therefore would be an irrelevant set of data for vapers.  It is important that studies conduct research in realistic conditions that vapers actually experience before the data is applied to humans.  Thankfully, there have been several studies that have done that and it looks very promising!

The most important thing to keep in mind when you read news reports and editorials about vaping is the research itself.  Studies are very beneficial and much needed in this industry, but all research must be conducted and interpreted properly.  What are the best ways to understand the studies?  You can either read them yourself to understand exactly how they achieved their data or read solid interpretations from the experts that you can have faith in.  Journalists are not scientific experts and you shouldn’t rely on their sensationalized ways of reporting studies.

It is important that we research all possible effects of vaping, including dry burns. However, misconstruing research data like this is bad science.  Dr. Michael Siegel readily offers valid and complete analysis of many e-cigarette studies.  Dr. Farsalinos over at Ecigarette Research has also been working hard to study vaping and how it applies to vapers.  In fact, his current study is examining the effect of temperature on the formation of carbonyls, which is exactly what the NEJM letter is addressing.  I highly recommend that consumers follow both Dr. Siegel and Dr. Farsalinos for both his forthcoming studies and professional interpretations of other research.

So what can you do to help the future of vaping?  Join, follow, and donate to CASAA for national information on upcoming regulations, TSFA for regional updates, and Ecigarette Research for new studies and careful analysis from Dr. Farsalinos.  By supporting the people who fight for your rights as a vaper, you can make a great impact. It is important that we raise our voice to combat and prevent these types of misconceptions and push for real developments for our industry. Nashville Vapor continues to support these organizations and we invite our customers to as well.

I hope this overview gave you a little more information about these two studies. Several references are listed below, including the studies and responses from several vaping experts.


Dr. Farsalino’s Response to IJERPH

NEJM Letter

Dr. Farsalino’s Responses to NEJM: TheoryValidation

AVA Reply to NEJM

Clive Bates Reply to NEJM

Dr. Siegel’s Response to NEJM

CASAA Wesbite

TSFA Website

Written by: Michael Do
Production Manager & Chemist

(About Michael: Michael Do is a Student Pharmacist in Nashville, TN and has a B.S. in Biochemistry, Applied. Michael has been working for Oreos at Nashville Vapor for the past year and a half)


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