'Panic over e-cigarettes can harm more than help'

Sophie Inge
Sophie Inge - [email protected]
'Panic over e-cigarettes can harm more than help'
Panicking over e-cigarettes? That carries a health warning. "The worry is that negative reports could send smokers back to tobacco." Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP

Earlier this week, a French report claiming that e-cigarettes were “potentially carcinogenic” spread shockwaves around the world. However, a researcher tells The Local that there was a danger that the study would be misinterpreted.


Earlier this month, the French consumer association ‘60 million Consumers’ warned in a report that electronic cigarettes are “not as safe” as their manufacturers make them out to be and could even be “potentially carcinogenic”.

The report claimed that, thanks to a new method of testing, scientists had found “carcinogenic molecules in a significant amount” in the vapour produced in the products.

“In three cases out of ten, 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” as well as traces of Acetaldehyde, another potentially toxic chemical.

'Worrying reports could send smokers back to tobacco'

But according to Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, a cardiology researcher at University Hospital Gathuisberg in Belgium, who has published five studies on e-cigarettes, the study has been misinterpreted and could have a negative impact on people trying to give up smoking. 

“To be clear, this is not the first time that formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein have been found in e-cigarette vapour, so we already knew these were present. But the level found in e-cigarettes are by order of magnitude lower than in [normal] cigarettes,” he told The Local.

“So I don’t know why they announced that some chemicals were found in higher quantities than in normal cigarettes.”

“Findings such as these should always be compared to [the risks] of smoking ordinary cigarettes,” he said.

“The worry is that people will now go back to smoking tobacco products after reading the report. This is absolutely wrong and will have adverse effects on their health,” he said.

However, Dr Farsalinos stressed that this does not necessarily mean that e-cigarettes are an “absolutely safe product” that should be recommended for everyone.

“E-cigarettes are an alternative to smoking, there is no reason to recommend them to non-smokers,” he said, adding that he supported regulation that protects young people from using them.

Currently, e-cigarettes are banned from public places and restricted to over-18s in France. 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.

This Saturday, Dr Farsalinos will present a study about the immediate effects of e-cigarettes on coronary circulation (blood flow to the heart muscle) at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

In the study, the researcher found that e-cigarettes have no adverse effects on coronary blood flow compared to the almost 30 percent reduction of blood flow caused by smoking tobacco cigarettes.

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