Lung-Irritating Chemical Found in Flavored E-Cigs
Highest levels seen in cherry versions, but levels still far below federal safety standards
By Dennis Thompson
FRIDAY, Jan. 29, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- People using flavored e-cigarettes, particularly ones that taste like cherry, are likely inhaling a chemical that can irritate their airways, a new study suggests.
"It might be the case that if the user of an electronic cigarette experiences some side effects, like coughing, it might be attributed to the flavorings," since the chemical benzaldehyde was detected in 108 of the 145 flavored cigarettes tested in the study, said senior author Maciej Goniewicz. He is an assistant professor of oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.
Benzaldehyde is a widely used flavoring agent found in foods as well as medicines, such as cough syrup, Goniewicz said. It can taste like cherries or almonds.
"It's safe when we eat it, or when we apply it to our skin, but inhalation is a completely different mode of exposure," Goniewicz explained.
Benzaldehyde can irritate the airways when inhaled, and vapor from the chemical also can irritate the eyes, he said.
However, the researchers also noted that the estimated daily inhaled dose of benzaldehyde from even cherry flavored e-cigarettes was more than 1,000 times lower than the maximum workplace exposure level set by federal regulators.
And the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, an e-cigarette industry group, said in a statement that these findings prove e-cigs are a better alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes.
"Let's not lose sight that vaping presents substantially less risk than combustion cigarettes, which expose smokers to over 7,000 chemicals including more than 60 known or suspected carcinogens," the statement said. "This research shows that even with cherry e-cigs, it would take three years of vaping to reach the 8-hour work shift permissible occupational exposure limit."
But Dr. Norman Edelman, senior scientific advisor for the American Lung Association, said the study really shows the need for proper regulation of e-cigarettes.
"To me, it's another piece of evidence that we don't know what's in those things," Edelman said. "It's terribly important that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration use its power to regulate them. The first thing they can do is find out what is in them."