Study says e-cigarettes may contain carcinogens similar to regular cigarettes

Eric Pfeiffer

Hopes for a healthy cigarette may be nothing more than a pipe dream. A new study suggests that e-cigarettes may contain a level of carcinogens comparable to regular cigarettes.

In recent years, e-cigarettes have become a popular alternative for smokers. The devices use heat to vaporize nicotine but do not actually contain tobacco.

For smokers trying to kick their habit, or at least reduce health risks, e-cigarettes appeared to provide a desirable third way, allowing smokers to get their nicotine fixes while avoiding most of the health risks commonly associated with smoking, including cancer.

However, a report released in France’s National Consumer Institute magazine on Monday says that many e-cigarettes actually contain "a significant quantity of carcinogenic molecules."

According to the study, researchers found that 3 in 10 e-cigarettes contain levels of formaldehyde and acrolein that are nearly equal to levels found in standard cigarettes.

"This is not a reason to ban them, but to place them under better control," National Consumer Institute’s editor in chief Thomas Laurenceau said.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is already considering new potential regulations for e-cigarettes, including a ban on online sales. Because e-cigarettes do not actually emit tobacco smoke, users have largely been able to avoid restrictions applied to traditional smokers.

On Tuesday, the Seal Beach, Calif., City Council announced it was placing a 45-day ban on e-cigarette vendors so the city could spend more time examining the potential health risks of the devices.

However, proponents of e-cigarettes say there is just as much, if not more, evidence suggesting that vaporized nicotine is not only less harmful, but has helped countless cigarette smokers give up their habit.

"I am a ex-smoker (35 years). I tried many times to quit with no success," Michael Eveliegh, owner of Oklahoma based Royal Vapor told Yahoo! News in an email interview. "E-cigs are the only thing that worked! Please know that the tobacco company's and their lobbyists are trying to discredit and confuse the issue," he said. "3 in 10 E-cigs contain levels of formaldehyde, which ones? What flavors? What nicotine level? These are vital to understanding if there is really a cause for concern or not."

The e-cigarette market has been booming. In 2012, the e-cigarette industry recorded more than $1 billion in sales, with profits expected to reach $10 billion within five years. Some estimate that e-cigarette sales could surpass traditional cigarette sales in the next few decades.

The Verge notes that a recent report from Wells Fargo pointed to the public’s belief that e-cigarettes are healthier than traditional smoking as the reason behind their surge in popularity, describing their growth potential as a “promising opportunity” for investors.

"E-cigarettes are more than just a fad," reads an excerpt from the report. "E-Cigarettes' appeal stems from a variety of perceived advantages over traditional cigarettes, most commonly the perceptions that e-cigarettes are healthier, cheaper, and can be used almost anywhere."

However, the future of the e-cigarette industry could change with those potential FDA regulations coming as soon as this fall.

"It is true that more research is needed on the health effects of e-cigarettes,” Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, told the WSJ. “However, we do not need more research on whether e-cigarettes should or should not be included in proposed FDA regulations.”