The electronic devices which are increasingly popular around the world, particularly among young people function by heating flavoured liquid, which often contains nicotine, into a vapour that is inhaled, much like traditional cigarettes but without the smoke.
Commissioned by Japan’s Health Ministry, the researchers found carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in vapour produced by several types of e-cigarette liquid, a health ministry official told AFP.
Formaldehyde — a substance found in building materials and embalming fluids — was present at much higher levels than carcinogens found in the smoke from regular cigarettes, the official said.
“In one brand of e-cigarette the team found more than 10 times the level of carcinogens contained in one regular cigarette,” said researcher Naoki Kunugita, adding that the amount of formaldehyde detected varied through the course of analysis.
“Especially when the… wire (which vaporises the liquid) gets overheated, higher amounts of those harmful substances seemed to be produced.” Kunugita and his team at the National Institute of Public Health, who submitted their report to the ministry on Thursday, analysed several cartridges of e-cigarette fluid using a machine that “inhaled” 10 sets of 15 puffs.
One brand, the name of which was not revealed, showed a more than 10-fold level of formaldehyde on nine out of every 10 sets. Another brand showed similar levels on several sets, but was not consistently that high.
Kunugita said the research showed e-cigarettes are not the harmless products many people assume them to be. “We need to be aware that some makers are selling such products for dual use (with tobacco) or as a gateway for young people” to start a smoking habit, he warned.
Japan does not regulate non-nicotine e-cigarettes. Nicotine e-cigarettes, or so-called Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), are subjected to the country’s pharmaceutical laws, but they can be bought easily on the Internet, although they are not readily available in shops as they are in some Western countries.