Researcher Naoki Kunugita at Japan’s National Institute of Public Health recently fueled anti-e-cig hysteria with this unverifiable claim: “In one brand of e-cigarette the team found more than 10 times the level of carcinogens contained in one regular cigarette.”
The charge came not in a peer-reviewed study, but in comments to the press publicizing favorable e-cig research. His group looked at 13 Japanese e-cigs and reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that they had lower levels of formaldehyde than cigarettes (here).
Formaldehyde is everywhere, even in the air we breathe. Individuals inhale about 1,000 micrograms per day, according to the World Health Organization (here), and a microgram is a very small amount – one-millionth of a gram.
The Japanese researchers collected from 0 to 34 micrograms from 10 puffs of e-cigarettes – at most, about one thirtieth of normal daily exposure from air. In contrast, 10 puffs of a cigarette deliver 150 to 200 micrograms.
Apparently, after the controlled research was completed, Kunugita recorded 1,600 micrograms (10 times the cigarette level) using another e-cig brand. That single observation generated the worldwide headlines. Not only is the finding completely out of range with respect to all other studies, the claim is unverifiable.
Publishing a scientific report showing low formaldehyde levels and then publicizing an unsubstantiated claim of 10-fold carcinogenicity is irresponsible. The announcement was rightfully condemned by e-cigarette expert Konstantinos Farsilanos in his research blog (here).
The unvalidated claim undercuts legitimate science and sends smokers a horrific message: keep lighting up, because e-cigarettes are more dangerous.