Study: E-Cigarettes May Contain More Carcinogens Than Cigarettes

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A new study finds that that e-cigarettes contain more cancer-causing agents than traditional cigarettes. One brand tested contained as much as 10 times more.

The carcinogens include chemicals such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, found in several forms of e-cigarette liquid.

The study, commissioned by Japan's Health Ministry, is the latest blow to the fast-growing industry that markets itself as a safer alternative to satisfying nicotine cravings, by using vaporized liquids instead of smoke.

Still, e-cigarettes are relatively new and the research conducted thus far is minimal and often contradictory, with other studies showing positive effects.

Thomas J. Glynn, former director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society, spoke with Here & Now's Robin Young about where the latest study stands in the debate over e-cigarettes.

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Interview Highlights: Thomas J. Glynn

On the findings and significance of the study

"What this study does is it adds yet another piece to the very complex e-cigarette puzzle, and it's more confirmatory than it is groundbreaking. This is a good team in Japan that did this study. But we do know that when the e-cigarette liquid is heated, some carcinogens — things that cause cancer — are created. The question is, how much and how many? As you pointed out, one of the main things in this is that the headlines have primarily been, 'e-cigarettes contain 10 times more formaldehyde,' and the fact is there was one out of 10 samples. I think also importantly, in the U.S. now we have more than 450 different kinds of e-cigarettes available, and that also makes this complex."

On using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool

"I was and I remain concerned about the issue, in that we need to have a laser focus in the U.S. and globally on getting people to stop smoking regular combusted, burned cigarettes. And the question is really still out there: can e-cigarettes reduce the number of cigarettes that people smoke? And certainly a study like this can perhaps worry people into not using e-cigarettes at all, and I think that would be unfortunate. Because people do need to consider — and I emphasize consider — e-cigarettes as one way to stop smoking the combusted cigarette."

On whether e-cigarettes are less dangerous than cigarettes

"It's an excellent question and it's one of the reasons we have good scientists out there working on this. And I know that sounds like it's a cop-out, but e-cigarettes have only been available in the U.S. for about seven years, they've only — really were only invented about a decade ago, so we are still in the infancy of research on them. And again, with all the different kinds of e-cigarettes available, we're going to see a wide range of materials that are in them — some relatively harmless, and some, as in the Japanese study, quite harmful."

On not knowing what's in the e-cigarette you're buying

"That's the key issue right now in the U.S. When a consumer goes into the store right now to purchase an e-cigarette, they're basically buying a lottery ticket. They don't know what exactly what it is they're buying. They could be buying one of the ones in the Japanese study that has 10 times the amount of formaldehyde in a normal cigarette. They could be buying a product that might help them get off cigarettes forever, and not be that harmful."


This segment aired on November 28, 2014.


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