Scientists at the Japanese Institute of Public Health revealed their findings on Thursday: that e-cigarettes can contain up to ten times more cancer-causing substances than traditional cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes work by heating a flavored liquid that users inhale as vapor, not smoke, thus differentiating them from tobacco-based cigarettes and sidestepping many of the regulations and laws that apply to them.
The liquid in e-cigarettes, the scientists found, often contains not only nicotine, the addictive chemical in tobacco, but higher levels of many other carcinogens, such as acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, a chemical found in construction materials. Carcinogens are any substances that cause cancer in the human body. “In one brand of e-cigarette the team found more than ten times the level of carcinogens contained in one regular cigarette,” said Naoki Kunugita, one of the researchers commissioned by Japan’s Health Ministry, about the findings.
E-cigarettes, generally perceived as more healthy than regular cigarettes, have become very popular in the past few years, among adults and especially young people, who can often purchase them without any legal hindrance. American health authorities found, earlier this year, that the number of youth who have tried e-cigarettes tripled in the past three years.
Japan’s pharmaceutical laws do apply to electronic cigarettes containing nicotine (ENDS – electronic nicotine delivery systems) but the country, like many others, does not regulate non-nicotine electronic cigarettes. “You call them e-cigarettes, but they are products totally different from regular tobacco,” said one of the Japanese officials.
This past August the World Health Organization recommended that governments ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and the smoking of e-cigarettes indoors, citing the “potential for fetal and adolescent nicotine exposure (to have) long-term consequences for brain development.”
The negative health findings involving e-cigarettes are battling a surging wave of popularity: tobacco companies are quickly buying up the producers of electronic cigarettes, trying to gain a foothold in an industry already worth three billion dollars globally. Supporters of the new technology benefit from a technicality: the lack of extensive research on the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, for which researchers need time – whereas tobacco cigarettes have already conclusively been proven to cause cancer, heart disease and strokes, and lead to death in many cases.