Vaping 'pumps' cancer-causing substances into the lungs

E-cigarettes have gained popularity as a "safer," and increasingly more fashionable, alternative to traditional cigarettes. Yet recent research questions their actual safety, claiming that the e-liquid and vapors contain cancer-causing substances that can linger.

Many studies conducted over the past couple of years have found that, despite being advertised as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) actually hide numerous threats to health.

One study that Medical News Today covered revealed that e-cigarette flavorings are toxic when it comes to heart health.

Another study even reported that "e-cigarettes might be just as bad as cigarettes."

Also, one study paper published this year explains that e-cigarettes may produce dangerously high levels of formaledhyde.

Formaldehyde and other aldehydes are chemical compounds that harbor carcinogenic properties, meaning that prolonged exposure to these substances has the potential to cause cancer.

The question, however, is whether these substances are present in large enough quantities and linger in our bodies for long enough to actually cause harm.

A new pilot study from the University of Nevada in Reno suggests that the aldehydes released by e-cigarettes do get absorbed into the lungs in large quantities, which may pose significant health risks.

"Until now," says lead study author Vera Samburova, "the only research on the respiratory uptake of aldehydes during smoking has been done on conventional cigarette users."

"Little is known about this process for e-cigarette use," she adds, "and understanding the unique risks vaping poses to users is critical in determining toxicological significance."

High quantities of aldehydes in users' breath

In the new study — the findings of which appear in the journal Toxics — Samburova and colleagues worked with 12 participants who used e-cigarettes.

To be able to quantify the level of toxic substances that were absorbed into the e-cigarette users' respiratory systems, the researchers developed a technique whereby they were able to establish what the concentration of aldehydes was in the participants' breath both before and after vaping (or e-cigarette use).

The team subtracted the quantity of aldehydes found in the e-cigarette users' exhaled breath from that of the chemicals found directly in the vapors produced by the devices. This way, they were able to calculate the concentration of toxic chemicals absorbed into the participants' lungs.

"We found that the average concentration of aldehydes in the breath after vaping sessions was about 10 and a half times higher than before vaping."

Vera Samburova

"Beyond that," she goes on to note, "we saw that the concentration of chemicals like formaldehyde in the breath after vaping was hundreds of times lower than what is found in the direct e-cigarette vapors, which suggests that a significant amount is being retained in the user's respiratory tract."

Throughout the study, the researchers also did their best to make sure that the participants' vaping practices corresponded, as closely as possible, with how they used e-cigarettes normally (outside the laboratory).

Almost all of the participants used their own e-cigarettes and e-liquids of their own preference, and they vaped for just as long as they typically would.

This suggests that study results indicating that e-cigarettes produce high levels of toxic chemicals, which are then assimilated by the users, actually do apply to day-to-day usage practices, and not just to laboratory conditions.

"Our new pilot study underlines the potential health risk associated with the aldehydes generated by e-cigarettes," explains Samburova.

However, she also points out that "[i]n the future, e-cigarette aldehyde exposure absolutely needs to be studied with a larger set of participants."