While e-cigarette studies always seem to stir up controversy about any health impacts of vaping, one new study claims that specific flavoring used in the devices contain a greater amount of an irritant. The new study claims that one particular flavor of e-cigarettes might pose more of a risk to the vaping community than others. The new study, which appears in the journal Thorax, a specialized journal published by the BMJ, suggests that one flavor used with e-cigarettes delivers greater quantities of the respiratory irritant benzaldehyde, but stops short of suggesting it’s dangerous, unlike media reports indicate.
In the United States, current estimates claim that over one-tenth of adults use electronic cigarettes, and the rate is on the rise, according to Medical News Today. The new study examines specific flavors and a specific, potentially toxic compound in various flavors.
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E-cigarettes often contain flavorings that are deemed safe when used in food products, but researchers wanted to know if these compounds might become dangerous once they are inhaled. Benzaldehyde is used in cosmetics and foods, and is a key ingredient in natural fruit flavorings, but it has been shown to be an irritant to the airways in animals and studies that look at workplace exposures.
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According to Medical News Today, researchers categorized 145 e-cigarettes into the following groups: “40 berry/tropical fruit, 37 tobacco, 15 alcohol, 11 chocolate/sweet, 11 coffee/tea, 10 mint/menthol, 10 cherry and 11 ‘other.’ ” Then they used an automatic smoking simulator to make aerosol equal to 30 puffs from each e-cigarette in two series of 15 puffs with five-minute pauses between the sets. They measured the quantities of the irritant benzaldehyde. Then, they figured out the daily inhaled dose for each based on an estimation of 163 puffs for experienced vapers each day.
After that, they compared it to conventional smoking and maximum allowed doses that healthy workers were allowed to be exposed to the chemical in an eight-hour shift.
Benzaldehyde was in 108 out of the 145 e-cigarettes. The highest level of the substance was found in the cherry-flavored e-cigarettes. The team claims that the yields of the compound were 43 times higher in cherry flavored e-cigarettes. Thirty puffs on a cherry cigarette typically yielded more of the irritant than a normal cigarette. Of course, what isn’t mentioned in many reports about the study is the fact that the cherry e-cigarette didn’t have many other dangerous compounds found in traditional cigarettes.
The daily dose of benzaldehyde that cherry e-cigarette users would inhale was 70.3 μg. The researchers note that this exposure is more than 1,000 times lower than exposure allowed in the workplace, but also that “users of cherry-flavored products may inhale significantly higher doses of benzaldehyde compared with users of other flavored products.”
“Although e-cigarettes may be a promising harm reduction tool for smokers, the findings indicate that using these products could result in repeated inhalation of benzaldehyde, with long-term users risking regular exposure to the substance.”
The substance can caused cough and sore throat when inhaled, according to previous research, and in small doses can cause depression of the CNS, but that research was not specifically examining amounts found in e-cigarettes.
— E-Cig Reviews (@ECig_Reviewer) January 30, 2016
The media reports have caused controversy, as usual. The study in Thorax by Dr. Maciej Goniewicz of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) takes into consideration the dose, but media reports about the study, according The American Vaping Association, have presented the research as a major health concern when it isn’t, the Association’s president, Gregory Conley, says.
“Commenting to HealthDay, our friends at the the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association point out that it would take three years of vaping to reach the maximum levels of benzaldehyde that a worker is allowed to be exposed to during an eight-hour shift.”
Conley pointed out that Dr. Goniewicz made it clear that the research needed to be kept in perspective.
“If [e-cigarette users] notice irritation, maybe a cough or sore throat, when they use e-cigarettes, they might want to consider switching to a different flavoring. And it’s also important to keep these findings in perspective. The potential harm, if any, from inhaling flavored e-cigarettes would probably not even approach the dangerous, deadly effects of tobacco. It will be important to follow this work up with studies that assess the long-term effects and chronic toxicity of e-cigarette flavorings in humans.”
Conley reprimanded authors for what he called irresponsible reporting.
“At Newsweek (archived version), Jessica Firger irresponsibly declared that whether vaping is less hazardous than smoking ‘may depend on which flavor you choose..
“At the Daily Mail (archived version), it somehow took two reporters — Lisa Ryan and Anna Hodgekiss — to get the story completely wrong. ‘Cherry flavoured e-cigarettes may be more harmful to health than other types – or even regular cigarettes, new research suggests,’ they write.
“Others, like Salynn Boyls of Medpage Today, didn’t actively mislead, but instead declined to report on either the extremely low levels found or Dr. Goniewicz’s statement about relative risk.”
Conley wrote, “It’s one thing to be lazy when you’re handed an irresponsible press release — it’s an entirely different matter when, as is the case here, you ignore the press release and just make up your own facts for the sake of creating a salacious story.”
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