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Report: e-cigarettes are ‘potentially carcinogenic’
French actress Karole Rocher smokes an electronic cigarette on May 19, 2013. Are the devices more harmful than we thought? Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

Report: e-cigarettes are ‘potentially carcinogenic’

Published: 26 Aug 2013 09:42 GMT+02:00
Updated: 26 Aug 2013 09:42 GMT+02:00

Electronic cigarettes have come under yet more scrutiny in France with the association “60 million Consumers” raising health fears about the devices, in a new report.

Earlier this year France’s Minister for Health Marisol Touraine struck a blow against the booming industry by announcing her intention to ban electronic cigarettes in public places as well as restricting their use to over 18s.

The report by “60 million Consumers”, released on Monday, is also unlikely to go down well with manufacturers of the e-cigarettes after concluding that “they are not as safe” as they are made out to be and are “potentially carcinogenic”.

“Electronic cigarettes are far from the harmless gadgets that they presented as,” wrote Thomas Laurenceau editor of the magazine which reports the findings of France's “National Consumer Institute” (INC). Laurenceau said the results has been passed on to the French government.

“This is not a reason to ban them, but to place them under better control,” he added.

The association made its conclusions after testing 10 different models of e-cigarettes both disposable and rechargeable.

The device, which was first invented in China back in 2003 gives the user a similar sensation to smoking a cigarette. The battery powered, pen-sized products contain liquid nicotine that is turned into a vapour which is then inhaled.

Their obvious health benefit as opposed to smoking is that they don't contain tobacco and other carcinogens found in cigarettes.

However perhaps most worrying for France’s one million users of the devices was the new report's claims that, thanks to a new method of testing, they had found “carcinogenic molecules in a significant amount” in the vapour produced in the products.

“In three cases out of 10, for products with or without nicotine, the content of formaldehyde was as much as the levels found in some conventional cigarettes,” the report said.

Scientists also found traces of acrolein, a toxic molecule emmited in quantities “that exceeded the amount found in the smoke of some cigarettes.”

Traces of Acetaldehyde, another potentially toxic chemical, were also found, albeit at lower levels than conventional cigarettes and “potentially toxic” trace metals were also discovered in some of the models.

But Darren Moon, who runs e-cigarette store Vap Shop in Paris told The Local on Monday that e-cigarettes will always be safer than normal cigarettes, no matter what is in the vapour.

"The fact is, there have been no studies carried out into the long term affects of smoking e-cigarettes. We have no figures or feedback to go on," he said.

"E-cigarettes are only supposed to be used in the short term by people who want to stop smoking. Many of the chemicals used in the liquid are organic and no matter what is in the product they will never be as bad as normal cigarettes.

"Once people have used e-cigarettes to successfully give up smoking, then we recommend they give up using the electronic devices," Moon said.

The report also criticised the lack of a safety cap on some refills, given that nicotine is particularly toxic for children and potentially lethal if it is ingested in high doses.

Laurenceau said he had also alerted authorities to certain cases of incorrect labelling on the content of electronic cigarettes including the reference to the nicotine dose.

60 million Consumers has called on the government to act “in order to take into account the risks” associated with e-cigarettes.

Jordan Bork, who owns an e-cigarette store in New York dismissed the findings of the report, claiming the method of testing was not "realistic".

"Their "new method" of testing, that results in their flawed results, comes from them preforming non-realistic tests on the e-liquid of e-cigarettes such as heating it well over 1700 degrees (F)," Bork told The Local. 

"Far beyond the temperature any realistic e-cigarette would be capable of doing. Also, tests were preformed on various products derived from China, lower quality products which can sometimes contain contaminants.

60 million Consumers is not the first organisation in France to raise concerns over potential health hazards of smoking e-cigarettes with health experts previously expressing concerns about the compound propylene glycol, which is used in the liquid.

As far back as May 2011 the French health agency AFSSAPS advised against using the devices, saying they still contained nicotine, which even at a low concentration could lead to ‘damaging side effects’.

Tobacco kills around 73, 000 people in France each year. On Friday a report concluded that not enough was being done to tackle the rates of cancers caused by smoking, which were some of the highest in Europe. 

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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