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Before You Vape: High levels of Formaldehyde Hidden in E cigs
A customer puffs on an e cigarette at the Henley Vaporium in New York City in this file photo taken December 18, 2013. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed rules on Thursday that would ban the sale of e cigarettes to anyone under 18, but would not restrict flavored products, online sales or advertising, which public health advocates say attract children. MIKE SEGAR / Reuters
Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen found in cigarette smoke, also dwells in the vaporized liquid of popular electronic or e cigarettes, researchers said Wednesday.
E cigarette sales are booming in the United States and many hoped so- called "vaping" would replace tobacco smoking and be a panacea for the nearly 160,000 lung cancer deaths associated with conventional cigarettes.
But according to an analysis published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the exposure to formaldehyde from e cigarettes, based on similar chronic use as tobacco, could be five to 15 times higher than from smoking cigarettes.
"It's way too early now from an epidemiological point of view to say how bad they are," said co-author James F. Pankow, professor of chemistry and engineering at Portland State University in Oregon. "But the bottom line is, there are toxins and some are more than in regular cigarettes. And if you are vaping, you probably shouldn't be using it at a high-voltage setting."
5 facts about e cigarettes
Pankow and his colleagues analyzed aerosolized e liquid in "tank system" e cigarettes to detect formaldehyde-releasing agents in "hidden" form at various voltages.
They found that vaping 3 milligrams of e cigarette liquid at a high voltage can generate 14 milligrams of loosely affiliated or "hidden" formaldehyde. Researchers estimated a tobacco smoker would get .15 milligrams of formaldehyde per cigarette or 3 milligrams in a 20-pack.
Pankow told NBC News those numbers "may be conservative."
"We are not saying e cigarettes are more hazardous than cigarettes," he said. "We are only looking at one chemical. … The jury is really out on how safe these drugs are."
There are more than 8,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, so it's hard to pinpoint whether formaldehyde is the main culprit in cigarette-related cancers.
"A lot of people make the assumption that e cigarettes are safe and they are perfectly fine after using for a year," said Pankow. "The hazards of e cigarettes, if there are any, will be seen 10 to 15 years from now when they start to appear in chronic users."
E cigarettes were first invented in China in 2003, but they started appearing in the United States around 2006. A five-pack of flavor cartridges costs about the same as a pack of cigarettes and starter kits can cost between $30 and $100.
A cartridge or tank contains a liquid of propylene glycol, glycerol, or both, as well