Many smokers have taken to electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, as a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes. However, a new study suggests that e-cigarettes contain a high concentration of formaldehyde, which is a probable human carcinogen.

E-cigarettes have gained a lot of popularity in the last few years and many tobacco-based cigarette smokers in many countries, who want to quit smoking, have switched to e-cigarettes. Unlike, regular cigarettes that throw smoke, the e-cigarettes throw out water vapor.

Researchers at the Portland State University suggest that the vapor produced by e-cigarettes have high concentrations of formaldehyde, which is also present in industrial disinfectants. Formaldehyde is also an ingredient in glues, plywood and some other common household products.

"We've found there is a hidden form of formaldehyde in e-cigarette vapor that has not typically been measured. It's a chemical that contains formaldehyde in it, and that formaldehyde can be released after inhalation. People shouldn't assume these e-cigarettes are completely safe," says James Pankow, the co-author of the study.

Previously, scientists believed that e-cigarettes were free from any dangers and did not produce any carcinogens. However, new versions of e-cigarettes can allow smokers to adjust the gadget to deliver nicotine quickly at high temperature.

Researchers explain that they used a tank system type of e-cigarette to produce nicotine vapor, which was captured in a tube and then examined. The samples contained 10 puffs of e-cigarette vapor collected within five minutes.

The researchers used the e-cigarettes on different voltages to compare the concentration of formaldehyde. The study found no formaldehyde when the e-cigarette was used at 3.3 volts. However, when the voltage was increased to 5 volts the scientists measured 380 micrograms of formaldehyde on an average per sample.

The study suggests that e-cigarette users, who set their smoking gadget at high voltage and who vaped 3 milliliters (ml) of e-liquid each day, will breathe at least 14.4 milligrams of formaldehyde. The study authors believe that e-cigarettes may increase the risk of developing cancer by up to 15 times.

Cigarette advocacy organizations suggest that the study is flawed as users do not use e-cigarettes at high voltage.

Regulations that govern e-cigarettes are pending in many countries. In the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also proposed new regulations for e-cigarettes. Currently, the FDA regulates only e-cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes.

The study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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