The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) today announced that the majority of e-cigarettes and other “vaping” products tested produce high levels of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, in violation of California’s Proposition 65.
The non-profit tested 97 samples at an independent lab from two dozen e-cigarette makers, including RJ Reynolds (Vuse brand e-cigarettes), Imperial Tobacco/ITG Brands (blu brand), NJoy and other major companies. The results indicate that 90 percent of the companies had at least one product that produced high levels of one or both chemicals, above the Proposition 65 Safe Harbor Limit. A test on one e-cigarette found the level of formaldehyde was more than 470 times higher than the California safety standard.
The CEH report, “A Smoking Gun: Cancer Causing Chemicals in E-cigarettes,” outlines the first-ever large sampling of actual e-cigarettes and vaping products tested simulating real-world use of the products, and demonstrating that the majority of e-cigarettes tested pose a serious cancer risk. CEH is initiating legal action against the companies producing the cancer-causing products for failing to warn consumers, as required under California’s strong consumer protection law known as Proposition 65. This follows CEH’s legal action earlier this year against e-cigarette makers for failing to warn consumers about risks from nicotine in e-cigarettes.
“For decades, the tobacco industry mounted a campaign of lies about cigarettes, and now these same companies claim that their e-cigarettes are harmless. Anyone who thinks that vaping is harmless needs to know that our testing unequivocally shows that it’s not safe to vape,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH.
Green said the results were especially troubling “given the reckless marketing practices of the e-cigarette industry, which targets teens and young people, and deceives the public with unfounded ealth and safety claims. Our legal action aims to force the industry to comply with the law and create pressure to end their most abusive practices.”
CEH purchased e-cigarettes, e-liquids, and other vaping products from major retailers including Rite-Aid, 7-Eleven, and from many online retailers and Bay Area vape shops between February and July 2015. The nonprofit commissioned an independent lab accredited by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation to test 97 products, including 15 disposable “cigalikes” e-cigarettes, 32 cartridge devices, and 50 refillable devices, for formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. The two chemicals are known to cause cancer and are also linked to genetic damage, birth defects, and reduced fertility. The lab used standard smoking machines that simulate how consumers use the products.
E-cigarettes from 21 of 24 companies had one or more products that produced levels of the carcinogens in excess of the Prop 65 Safe Harbor Level. According to the report seven of the samples were tested at levels more than 100 times the limit.
The e-cigarette industry heavily markets their products as safe, even claiming that e-cigarettes produce nothing more than “harmless water vapor.” A 2014 study of e-cigarette websites found companies market the products as healthier (60% of brands) and cleaner (95% of websites) than traditional cigarettes, and make unsubstantiated claims that the products do not produce secondhand smoke (76%) and can be used where smoking is banned or restricted. The study also found ads featuring doctors approving of e-cigarettes (22%). The industry also claims e-cigarettes are safe smoking cessation devices, but according to the report, experts say e-cigarettes are more likely a gateway to traditional tobacco: a recent study of high school students who used e-cigarettes found that they are almost twice as likely as non-users to start smoking traditional cigarettes.
The e-cigarette industry aggressively markets its products to teens and young people, yet the CEH testing exposing the prevalence of cancer-causing chemicals in e-cigarettes means that teen e-cigarette users are not only being exposed to the addictive, brain-altering chemical nicotine but also to what could end up being a lifetime of exposure to potent carcinogens. E-cigarette use is particularly problematic for pregnant teens and young women, since exposure to nicotine and other chemicals during pregnancy can contribute to small babies, premature birth, and stillbirth.
CEH notes that nicotine is especially dangerous for young children: A teaspoon of a typical e-liquid contains enough nicotine to be lethal to an adult; smaller amounts would be lethal to a child. Nationwide, the number of cases of child poisoning linked to e-liquids jumped to 1,543 in 2013, and almost 4,000 in 2014.
The California Attorney General’s office, which has litigated many tobacco cases since the 1990s, also sued several e-cigarette makers in 2009 and 2010.
The Attorney General settled a lawsuit against Smoking Everywhere and several other companies in November 2010. The Alameda County Superior Court entered a consent judgment against Smoking Everywhere very similar to a previous agreement reached with Sottera/NJOY.
Smoking Everywhere agreed to make their web sites age-restricted so that they will not sell any electronic cigarette products to minors, and not to sell flavors attractive to young people. Smoking Everywhere also agreed to stop making false or misleading claims concerning the safety or effectiveness of their products. They agreed to put systems for quality control in place and to place warnings on their products in compliance with Proposition 65, warning consumers that their electronic cigarettes contain a toxin which could cause reproductive harm. In addition, the company agreed to pay to the state monetary penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is one of several state Attorney Generals working to prevent the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. He is also concerned that users can “insert any type of drug into the devices to smoke.”