CDC research debunks claims that e-cig vapor contains toxic formaldehyde

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is finally weighing in on the formaldehyde conspiracy theory that has plagued the vaping industry for well over three years.   According to the nation’s top public health agency, e-cig vapors contains no more formaldehyde than the normal, everyday air found in the average American home.  In fact, many residences probably have much higher levels because formaldehyde can become trapped inside carpets, upholstery, curtains, and other textiles quite easily.   

The nasty rumor began when a paper was published in January 2015 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).  The authors’ findings allegedly indicated that after an extensive series of tests, the vapor from electronic cigarettes would found to contain potentially toxic levels of formaldehyde.

Already fully aware that the allegations were 100% untrue, vaping advocates immediately and vocally rebuked both the research and its co-authors.  Advocates began asking well-respected scientists to peer-review the document.  After doing so, several of the researchers came to the conclusion that the experimental processes utilized in the e-cig study were significantly improper, to say the least.

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The authors of the misleading vaping study had either intentionally or mistakenly cranked up the heat of the vaping devices used in their experiments to such ridiculously high temperatures that the resulting vapor was laced with all sorts of noxious substances.   In addition to formaldehyde, there were also off-the-chart levels of arsenic and other trace metals, many of which the scientists reviewing the paper suspected came from the metal vaping device itself being exposed to such excessive heating temperatures.

So many scientists and academic scholars took issue with the 2015 research that they banded together and demanded a printed retraction by the NEJM.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work.  The original paper entitled Hidden Formaldehyde in E-Cigarette Aerosols is still readily available online.

Overview of the CDC research on vaping and formaldehyde

Perhaps building upon this suspicious linkage between vaping and formaldehyde, the CDC has recently published the results of an air quality study of its own.  But instead of traditional laboratory research, the CDC chose to conduct their air quality studies within real-world vape shops.  The paper entitled Evaluation of Chemical Exposures at a Vape Shop is published on the CDC website.

To summarize the study, scientists from the CDC traveled to vape shops whose owners and management were more than happy to participate voluntarily.  The study took place through advanced coordination with representatives of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).   It was also not uncommon for both customers and employees to be actively vaping in the vape shop during the collection of air samplings taken from different venues and at different times of day.  Some of the “vaping related chemicals” that the scientists were looking for include the following.

  • 2,3-Hexanedione
  • 2,3-Pentanedione
  • Formaldehyde
  • Diacetyl
  • Propylene glycol
  • Acetaldehyde
  • Acetoin
  • Nicotine
  • Various Volatile Organic Compound (VOCs)

In addition to testing the quality of the air inside the vape shop, the CDC also swabbed countertops, storage systems, and “commonly touched surfaces” located in the back of the store.  They even swabbed the fingers and hands of several employees.


While the air quality testing did not produce measurable concentrations of formaldehyde or other toxins, the CDC noticed a few anomalies on the countertops and other surfaces.  For example, one employee had improperly stored liquid nicotine extract right next to someone’s lunch in a refrigerator in the back-of-house.  Other than these types of simple infractions involving basic human error, the CDC found nothing alarmingly wrong.

“Area sampling results showed that background formaldehyde concentrations were similar to the personal sampling results. Low concentrations of formaldehyde exist in many indoor environments because of off gassing from furnishings, clothing, and other materials.”

The CDC is not the first group of reputable scientists to actually prove the bogus paper from 2015 to be inaccurate.  World class cardiologist Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre in Athens, Greece, published his own research based on the scientific procedures used by the co-authors of the now-disproven report.

And just like the CDC, Farsalinos came to the similar conclusion.   The “vaping is filled with deadly formaldehyde” story is utter nonsense.  The Farsalinos replication study entitled E-cigarettes emit very high formaldehyde levels only in conditions that are aversive to users: A replication study under verified realistic use conditions can be located in the journal Science Direct.

Related Article:  New Farsalinos vape study debunks old NEJM ‘formaldehyde myth’

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