E-cigarettes continue to come under fire from numerous groups, as shown by several events in the last week. Scientists from Portland State University, in a January 22 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, contend that e-cigarette use may carry a risk of cancer 5 to 15 times greater than the risk associated with traditional cigarettes. That conclusion is based on data showing e-cigarette vapers may inhale formaldehyde-releasing agents. The researchers conceded that “[h]ow formaldehyde-releasing agents behave in the respiratory tract is unknown.” However, they estimated a vaper’s daily exposure to formaldehyde could be more than 4.5 times that of a pack-a-day cigarette smoker. This study relates exclusively to e-cigarettes used on high voltage settings – at lower voltages, the scientists detected no formaldehyde.  And the study extrapolated the results from a single test without considering real-world vaping habits, which have not been studied well to date.

Some commentators have disagreed with what they see as an alarmist interpretation of the results, pointing to the fact that study conditions did not come close to resembling actual vaping. One critic noted that even a steak, if cooked for 18 hours, would become carcinogenic – but it would also be inedible. And a 2014 Drexel University study found no evidence vapers were exposed to levels of hazardous substances in excess of recognized workplace exposure standards (known as Threshold Limit Values).

Regulators also intensified their focus on e-cigarettes.  New York governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a ban on e-cigarettes throughout the state, wherever traditional cigarettes are banned.  Governor Cuomo wants to add e-cigarettes to the NYS Clean Indoor Air Act, which restricts where people can smoke traditional cigarettes. The proposal would also ban sales of all flavored nicotine for e-cigarettes. Critics fear that such campaigns threaten the value of e-cigarettes as harm-reduction tools, pointing to studies that show e-cigarettes are effective at helping people quit traditional cigarettes.

[A] vaper’s daily exposure to formaldehyde could be more than 4.5 times that of a pack-a-day cigarette smoker . . .

In California, the state Department of Public Health in a 32-page report declared e-cigarettes a “community health threat” and called for e-cigarettes to be treated like traditional cigarettes. The CDPH observed that e-cigarette use among young adults tripled in the last year. The report also announced the launch of an educational campaign to “inform the public about the dangers of e-cigarettes.”

Lastly, the FAA on January 23 warned airlines that they should require passengers to pack e-cigarettes in carry-on bags, not checked bags. The FAA fears that the heating element inside e-cigarettes poses a fire risk if accidentally activated or left on inside baggage, citing to recent incidents in Boston and Los Angeles where e-cigarettes were blamed for causing fires.