E-cigarette manufacturers often advertise their products as being safer than traditional cigarettes because they don’t include tobacco or any of the related cancer-causing chemicals. But several recent studies are now calling that claim into question, as the nicotine solutions used in these devices contain other chemicals and byproducts tied to health problems.
On March 8, 2017, for example, the scientific journal PLoS One published a study showing that electronic cigarettes can produce a vapor that includes the chemical benzene. The American Cancer Society states that benzene is known to cause cancer.
Study Shows E-Cigarettes Can Release Cancer-Causing Benzene
Most nicotine solutions created for use in e-cigarette devices contain nicotine as well as propylene glycol, glycerol, diacetyl, and flavoring chemicals. When users “vape” on the devices, they suck on the e-cigarette, and a heating element heats up the solution to create the inhaled nicotine vapor.
Though the chemicals in the solution may be considered safe while in liquid form, some studies show that when they are heated, they can produce byproducts that are dangerous to human health.
For the study, researchers tested three e-cigarette devices, including the JUUL pod system, the EVOD atomizer, and the Subtask Nano tank-type atomizer. The nicotine solutions tested included the ingredients propylene glycol, glycerol benzoic acid, and the flavor chemical genzaldehyde.
Benzene was not detected in the JUUL system. However, results showed that benzene was detected in the other two products, which are tank-type devices. With these devices, benzene was formed from propylene glycol and glycerol, and from the additives benzoic acid and benzaldehyde, especially at high power settings.
For example, one device used at high power to heat an e-cigarette solution that included additive chemicals benzoic acid and benzaldehyde produced benzene levels thousands of times higher than that present in normal ambient air. The levels were, however, still 50 to 100 times lower than with conventional cigarettes.
In a press statement, the researchers added that significant benzene was also detected “in one device at power levels well within the manufacturer’s recommended range of power settings,” and that the power levels used in the study were far below those accessible to users with some devices.
Lead researchers James F. Pankow stated: “The fact vaping can deliver benzene levels many times higher than those found in the ambient atmosphere—where it’s already recognized as a cancer risk—should be of concern to anyone using e-cigarettes.” He advised users to choose low-power settings.
Benzene Linked to Leukemia
Benzene is a colorless, flammable chemical with a sweet odor. It’s formed naturally from volcanoes and forest fires and is used in to make many commercial products, including plastics, rubbers, dyes, detergents, and pesticides. It’s also a natural part of crude oil and gasoline and is present in vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that outdoor air contains low levels of benzene from exhaust, industrial emissions, and tobacco smoke. Indoor air levels are typically higher in the chemical because of glues, furniture waxes, detergents, and paints. Both animal and human studies have linked the chemical to cancer, most commonly to leukemia.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the National Toxicology Program, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have all classified benzene as a known human carcinogen.
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