Recently, cigarettes and cigars have been largely replaced by a new kind of smoking apparatus: electronic cigarettes, also called vaporizers or e-cigs. Unlike more traditional methods of smoking, electronic cigarettes use nicotine vaporizer liquid instead of tobacco, which allows the device to be refilled and used without harmful secondhand smoke. Moreover, electronic cigarettes can use a variety of flavorful vapors, making an already pleasant experience even more enjoyable. For this reason, electronic cigarettes have become extremely popular, causing vendors to offer a wide variety of vaporizer nicotine liquids and accessories for vaporizers. However, in January 2015, a number of news outlets reported that a study had found that vaporizers could cause smokers to inhale significant amounts of formaldehyde, a well-known and dangerous chemical. Does this mean that electronic cigarettes are actually hazardous?
Not quite. The study in question, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine
, reported that the aerosol produced by an e-cigarette tank system did not produce any formaldehyde-releasing agents. This finding makes electronic cigarettes a preferable choice when compared to regular cigarettes, which can produce a significant amount of the chemical. However, media outlets quickly jumped on a caveat that the study included: while the research team found that no formaldehyde was produced when vaporizers are operated at low or normal voltages, operating an e-cigarette at high voltage can cause the device to produce four times as much of the cancer-causing chemical as an entire pack of cigarettes.
As dramatic as this data was, the situation was quickly derided by vaporizer advocates. Electronic cigarettes are smoked at a low voltage for a reason: high voltage overheats the vape juice, causing a dry, terrible taste often called the “dry puff phenomenon”. Even if this taste was even remotely tolerable, it would likely be unappealing to smokers, who often seek out a variety of flavorful vapors.
The research team did caution vaporizer users that smoking an e-cigarette at a high voltage could cause a cancer risk anywhere from five to 15 times higher than smoking cigarettes. However, even they admitted that this prediction was premature. In the end, studies do show that vaporizers are healthier than traditional smoking, making the formaldehyde risk is nothing more than another reason to avoid the “dry puff phenomenon”.