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‘E-cigarettes as harmful as tobacco’

Contain carcinogens, hormones, unspecified levels of nicotine


Electronic cigarettes may be no alternative to the real thing.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced Thursday that e-cigarettes contain carcinogens, or cancer causing substances, just as cigarettes with tobacco do. They also contain environmental hormones that could damage the endocrine system.

Health authorities asked people to pay extra attention when they choose e-cigarettes as a means to “gradually curb smoking.”

A research team under the ministry studied 121 e-cigarette items released by 13 distributors across the nation, and found that all of the e-cigarettes had excessive amounts of nicotine. While tobacco cigarettes contain 0.05 milligrams of nicotine, some e-cigarettes contained up to 36.15 milligrams of nicotine in each one-milliliter liquid nicotine cartridge. The amount is equivalent to 723 tobacco cigarettes, the authorities said.

“Moreover, the manufacturers did not express the amount of nicotine contained in a single e-cigarette on the packages of the products, which could mislead users that it is less health-threatening than tobacco,” a ministry official said.

Among those researched, 82 e-cigarettes were found to contain 0.08-2,274.04 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of diethyl phthalate and 15 were detected with 0.3-99.49 mg/l of diethylhexyl phthalate.

DEP and DEHP block male hormones and mimic female hormone activities. DEHP is banned from use in Europe.

Also, all liquid cartridges were found with acetaldehyde in a density of up to 11.91 mg/l, which could be critically unhealthy when inhaled. It can cause damage to the lungs, kidneys, respiratory organs and the throat.

Moreover, four of the products were detected with a small amount of nitrosamine, graded as a class-1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

A total of 103 products were found containing formaldehyde. But the authorities said formaldehyde could naturally be added during the manufacturing and storing process.

“The research results break the common belief that e-cigarettes do not contain carcinogens or other critical substances. If exposed to the e-cigarette ingredients through inhaling, it could pose critical health damage to the consumers,” the ministry said.

The government admitted that e-cigarette management has been in its blind spot because most of the products are manufactured in China. The fact that the monitoring responsibility lies with local administrations also led to loose management, the ministry said.

A bill is pending at the National Assembly to include e-cigarettes under the cigarette management law.

“We should monitor the manufacturing and distribution processes more tightly,” a ministry official said.

Health authorities said the ministry will study the harm of vapors from e-cigarettes to humans. They also plan to examine the effects of secondhand smoke from the product later this year.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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