Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Friday, November 28, 2014

Study: E-Cigarettes May Contain More Carcinogens Than Cigarettes

Catharine Candelario, an employee at the newly opened Henley Vaporium, vapes, or smokes an electronic cigarette, on December 19, 2013 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Catharine Candelario, an employee at the Henley Vaporium, vapes, or smokes an electronic cigarette, on December 19, 2013 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A new study finds that that e-cigarettes contain more cancer-causing agents than traditional cigarettes. One brand tested contained as much as 10 times more.

The carcinogens include chemicals such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, found in several forms of e-cigarette liquid.

The study, commissioned by Japan’s Health Ministry, is the latest blow to the fast-growing industry that markets itself as a safer alternative to satisfying nicotine cravings, by using vaporized liquids instead of smoke.

Still, e-cigarettes are relatively new and the research conducted thus far is minimal and often contradictory, with other studies showing positive effects.

Thomas J. Glynn, former director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society, spoke with Here & Now’s Robin Young about where the latest study stands in the debate over e-cigarettes.

Read More:

Interview Highlights: Thomas J. Glynn

On the findings and significance of the study

“What this study does is it adds yet another piece to the very complex e-cigarette puzzle, and it’s more confirmatory than it is groundbreaking. This is a good team in Japan that did this study. But we do know that when the e-cigarette liquid is heated, some carcinogens — things that cause cancer — are created. The question is, how much and how many? As you pointed out, one of the main things in this is that the headlines have primarily been, ‘e-cigarettes contain 10 times more formaldehyde,’ and the fact is there was one out of 10 samples. I think also importantly, in the U.S. now we have more than 450 different kinds of e-cigarettes available, and that also makes this complex.”

On using e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool

“I was and I remain concerned about the issue, in that we need to have a laser focus in the U.S. and globally on getting people to stop smoking regular combusted, burned cigarettes. And the question is really still out there: can e-cigarettes reduce the number of cigarettes that people smoke? And certainly a study like this can perhaps worry people into not using e-cigarettes at all, and I think that would be unfortunate. Because people do need to consider — and I emphasize consider — e-cigarettes as one way to stop smoking the combusted cigarette.”

On whether e-cigarettes are less dangerous than cigarettes

“It’s an excellent question and it’s one of the reasons we have good scientists out there working on this. And I know that sounds like it’s a cop-out, but e-cigarettes have only been available in the U.S. for about seven years, they’ve only — really were only invented about a decade ago, so we are still in the infancy of research on them. And again, with all the different kinds of e-cigarettes available, we’re going to see a wide range of materials that are in them — some relatively harmless, and some, as in the Japanese study, quite harmful.”

On not knowing what’s in the e-cigarette you’re buying

“That’s the key issue right now in the U.S. When a consumer goes into the store right now to purchase an e-cigarette, they’re basically buying a lottery ticket. They don’t know what exactly what it is they’re buying. They could be buying one of the ones in the Japanese study that has 10 times the amount of formaldehyde in a normal cigarette. They could be buying a product that might help them get off cigarettes forever, and not be that harmful.”


  • Thomas J. Glynn, professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

May 26 5 Comments

As Lethal Heroin Overdose Numbers Rise, Families Find Solace In Organ Donation

Organ banks around the country have noted an increasing number of organs from donors who have died of overdoses.

May 26 3 Comments

NEADS Assistance Dog Bailey Graduates From Service Dog Training

NEADS provides dogs like Bailey, a yellow Labrador, for deaf and disabled Americans.

May 25 Comment

Celebrating The Class Of 2016: Peace Odiase

Odiase is one of two valedictorians at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee.

May 25 8 Comments

NEADS Service Dog Meets His Match

Here & Now has been tracking service dog Bailey, who recently met his new owner, since last year.