“Some E-Cigarettes put out Tobacco-like Levels of Carcinogens…” That’s what the fear-peddling title of a recent Gizmodo article would have you believe. In all actuality, countless websites and news-sources have published almost this same exact article. I chose to focus this criticism on Gizmodo primarily because they are (or were until I read this tragically misinformed article) one of my favorite Internet news sources. The article goes on to suggest (without sourcing said suggestion) that the vapor produced by the more expensive, direct-drip (RDA) models of E-cigarettes contains “cancer-causing formaldehyde.” I reiterate that this claim is not sourced anywhere in the article. The article mentions a study made by the Nicotine and Tobacco Research journal. Now, I’m not saying that there is no such study, but I am still unable to find this mythical scientific experiment, days later. I’ve found more than a few references to it, but never the actual account of the experiment itself. I’m guessing that Gizmodo couldn’t find it either, since the study is neither sourced nor linked in any way. In fact, the only attempt at sourced material in Gizmodo’s article is to a NY Times story that also refuses to source the various studies being discussed by the author. This sourcing of non-sourced sources goes on in an infinite circle, landing nowhere within a hundred miles of an actual recording of a real scientific study.
However, just in case we’re dealing with some sort of highly-classified, 007, top secret scientific study here, let’s examine the claim itself to see if it could possibly be true. The nicotine liquid used in electronic cigarettes contains four ingredients (and occasionally caffeine); pure, unadulterated nicotine (diluted to the desired strength), propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, and flavorings (generally suspended in propylene glycol). Every E-juice company I’ve come across is VERY open about disclosing exactly which ingredients are used in production. There are no 4,000 “other ingredients.” And these four ingredients have been selected specifically because of their non-toxic natures (aside from the nicotine, of course, which as stated above is highly diluted before being bottled for sale to the public). We know that the occurrence of formaldehyde requires combustion of carbon compounds like gasoline, tobacco leaves, forest fires, etc. In addition to this, we also know that heated propylene glycol simply vaporizes. The heat doesn’t change the chemical makeup of the glycol, which is why it has been so widely used in so many industries. It is stable, and it is safe. Again, If vegetable glycerine changed to formaldehyde when heated, then we’d all be dying of more than just excessive cholesterol from eating deep-fried foods. Nicotine also remains unchanged when heated, which is the exact reason why second-hand smoke still retains nicotine upon combustion. To be fair, exhaled vapor also retains some nicotine, although not to the extent of tobacco smoke.
What Gizmodo seems to be suggesting here (and let’s not leave out the hundreds of other publications that went to press with this ridiculous story) is that formaldehyde is magically formed out of substances that cannot ever form formaldehyde (because, um, I guess vapor kinda looks like smoke, just like clouds look kinda like volcanos). And this is somehow caused by adding more heat. Gizmodo’s article suggests that dripping E-liquid directly onto the atomizer, or heating element, is somehow more dangerous than the E-liquid that comes in direct contact with the heating element anyways, thanks to the wicking properties of… well, of wicks. This demonstrates a gross level of ignorance in Gizmodo’s writing staff, in that they obviously did not even take the time to understand the basic, inner-workings of an electronic cigarette (an almost laughably simple invention, by the way). In your basic cigarette-like E-cig, a wicking material with a heating element either wrapped around it, or in direct contact with it, draws the E-liquid in to where it is vaporized by the heating element, normally kanthal wire. In the advanced dripping “mods,” a wicking material with a heating element either wrapped around it, or in direct contact with it, draws the E-liquid in to where it is vaporized by the heating element, normally kanthal wire. Notice that there is no difference between the two? That was done on purpose, and is backed by empirical data and scientific facts.
The rest of Gizmodo’s article goes on to laud the upcoming FDA regulations, reiterating that tired, old excuse of “all of the various manufacturers of E-cigarettes and E-liquid are currently non-standardized.” This is an entirely false accusation, and in fact the EXACT opposite is true. The constitution of existing E-cigarettes is almost completely homogeneous across the board (again, caffeine occasionally rears it’s ugly… but completely legal… head). All manufacturers use those same four ingredients. Now the FDA wants to “standardize” something that already adheres to very sensible, safety-oriented, set-in-stone standards. The large tobacco corporations are VERY supportive of this move, because they remember vividly that the “standardization” of tobacco was the precise moment when all of those infamous 4,000 “other chemicals” began to find their way into simple tobacco leaves in the form of “reconstituted tobacco.” So, if and when these regulations go through, that might be the day when we begin to see harmless electronic cigarettes actually become harmful. To put this into perspective… once upon a time, each small town had a bakery. Each of those bakeries used pretty much the exact same ingredients to make bread; flour, eggs, water, salt, maybe a little buttermilk, etc. While unregulated by the all-knowing, all-powerful government, all of these bakeries still somehow magically managed to regulate themselves… Enter the regulations. Nowadays, our bread generally has a dozen or more ingredients that only a student of dead languages can properly pronounce. And many of those ingredients have been found to be… surprise!… bad for your health!!
I entreat Gizmodo to publish a correction to this article, and promote it with all the same voracity as the original. Your readership, my dear Gizmodo, are generally of a younger age group, and many of them are struggling with nicotine addiction. Younger, tech-savvy cigarette smokers who decide that they are finally ready to give up the cancer-sticks, are actually very likely to flock to E-cigarettes in their efforts… and this is working. Let me repeat that… “This is WORKING!” People are successfully getting off of cigarettes by using E-cigs, and are enjoying healthier lives thanks to this wonderful technology. Who are you to attempt to strike unnecessary and unfounded fear in the hearts of those who have triumphed where so many others have failed and paid the ultimate price for their failure? I for one am going to try to take up the slack where you, Gizmodo, are refusing to carry the weight of social responsibility. I will lead as many as I can to this amazing technology that has saved my life and the lives of millions of other people. And I refuse to stand by and watch you try to destroy that hope in the name of running an eye-catching headline. Shame on you!
Sources: (Pay careful attention, Gizmodo)