New Research Rejects Vaping Formaldehyde Risk Scare Story


Tobacco control expert, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, released two of his famous replication studies earlier this week focusing on Formaldehyde concerns

Dr. Farsalinos has been working on tobacco harm reduction studies for decades and has built a reputation for being uncompromising in his resolve. For the last ten years, he’s focused almost exclusively on e-cigarettes, believing them to be a significant key in the fight against tobacco. Never having been afraid to ruffle a few feathers, Dr. Farsalinos has often rebuked the claims of vaping studies that he deems less than legitimate. To do this, he usually sets up “replication studies” to better judge that validity of anti-vaping claims.

Earlier this week he posted on his popular tobacco control blog, E-Cigarette Research, about two of his recently released replication studies. In December of last year, he predicted more replication studies would be needed to help quell concerns stoked by a media frenzy surrounding poorly designed reports. He lamented, “bad quality studies accompanied by impressive press statements are becoming increasingly frequent.”

Searching For The Truth

The primary study questioned by Dr. Farsalinos was a well-circulated report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers of this report supposedly found proof that vaping is 5 to 15 times more carcinogenic than smoking based on formaldehyde exposure. Such a scary result unsurprisingly gained a ton of media attention and quickly spread across the globe. But Dr. Farsalinos was never convinced of their findings, so he decided to conduct his own replication of their testing scenarios. The results of this study were made available to the public last week.

The original study was conducted by researchers at Portland State University in Oregon. To best replicate their tests, Dr. Farsalinos and his team used the same type of atomizer under the same conditions. This meant using the, now outdated, CE4 atomizer and testing in increments of 0.2V all the way up to 5.0V. The problem began when dry puffs were noted at only 4.2V, but the experiment didn’t produce numbers anything like what was initially reported until the voltage was raised to 5.0V. This proves their testing was at best flawed, and at worst rigged, as no one would ever have a vaping experience like that, especially not on a regular basis.

These results are even more conclusive when you understand that the CE4 atomizers used are no longer allowed in the EU for being much more likely to produce elevated levels of formaldehyde exposure. When Dr. Farsalinos attempted the same testing conditions using a modern Nautilus Mini atomizer, he was unable to reproduce any close results, even at 5.0V.

Second Replication Study

Dr. Farsalinos also conducted a replication study on research published in a 2016 issue of Environmental Science and Technology. The study claimed 5ml of e-liquid exposes users to as much aldehyde as 3200 combustible cigarettes. This study should immediately jump out as being false, but being a man of science, Dr. Farsalinos decided to attempt a fair replication anyway. What he found was that even given the worst possible circumstances, they could still not replicate the insanely poor results reported by the original researchers.

This test also used the old CE4 atomizers, but instead of not specifying a duration, they required pulls to last five full seconds. Once again, some of these circumstances are simply entirely unrealistic and misleading, such as anyone drawing for five seconds on a ridiculously high 4.8V. But even at these impractical settings, Dr. Farsalinos and his team were only able to get results nearly 25 times lower at the worst settings. When this set of conditions were tested using the modern Nautilus Mini atomizer, they concluded that 5ml of e-liquid is around 99.8% less carcinogenic than smoking 20 cigarettes.

What Does It Mean?

If you ask Dr. Farsalinos, he’ll tell you that the more significant problem is not the possibly unethical research practices, as much as it is the media’s over-reaction to poorly conducted research. We live in a world where everything gets sensationalized, and as a result, the media makes the most money off scaring people. The researchers who, intentionally or not, are publishing faulty data share in a significant portion of this blame. But ultimately it’s on the media for failing to adequately disseminate all of the overwhelming research that supports vaping for its harm reduction ability. Instead, choosing to only report on negative findings.

No matter who has a more prominent role, both are driving the misinformation that keeps millions of people from ever trying vaping. Considering the well-respected research that proves e-cigarettes are at least 95% safer than cigarettes as well as being a useful smoking cessation tool, it should be embarrassing that a recent poll by Action on Smoking and Health shows only 13% of people understand that vaping is a lot less harmful than smoking. What’s worse is that the same study found 26% of people believe that vaping is just as, if not more dangerous than tobacco. These stark numbers make it clear that something has to change if we value saving the lives of millions of more smokers.

Do you think that researchers are rigging their results to fit an agenda? Who do you blame more for the poor reputation of vaping, shoddy researchers or overly sensationalized media? Do you think it’s essential to improve this negative reputation? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Dustin has been vaping for almost a decade. He found e-cigarettes in 2008 and quickly became drawn to them as an early adopter. He's been writing reviews ever since and has established himself as a well-versed authority on the subject.

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