Freaking Formaldehyde

public reviewPublic Review

“Carbonyl Compounds in Electronic Cigarette Vapors: Effects of Nicotine Solvent and Battery Output Voltage”

doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntu078


Since this faulty study was obviously the inspiration for latest scaremongering bit, all this also applies to:

“Hidden Formaldehyde in E-Cigarette Aerosols”

DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc1413069

The problems with the original study seem to be based on honest mistakes. But this piece gives the impression of deliberate scaremongering propaganda.

My view:

This is a perfect example of how to ruin the value of scientific data by using erroneous assumptions to reach useless conclusions. Let’s start with:

Variable voltage EC allows user to change the voltage of the device to increase […] nicotine delivery.

Here the authors simply assume a typical usage for VV batteries. That is even more obvious in the NYT article:

Dr. Goniewicz, an assistant professor of oncology at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, said people using the systems “want more nicotine, but the problem is they’re also getting more toxicants.”

As any experienced vaper could have told this probably brilliant, but sadly ignorant man: If you want more nicotine, you simply use stronger liquids! Or vape more often.

The VV is used exclusively to find the “sweet spot”. To get the optimal vaping experience from that specific atomizer and liquid. And—for me—that is primarily the taste. Followed by the sensation qualities of the vapor itself.

And there is more: Increasing the power past the level the atomizer is designed for won’t increase the amount of vapor and nicotine. The possible liquid flow is the limiting factor. It is a dynamic system. As long as enough liquid keeps reaching the coil, all the power is consumed by the evaporation process. When the temperature rises because of the excessive power,  the amount of delivered nicotine is even lower, as nicotine is destroyed (oxidized) by higher temperatures.

There is also a huge variety of e-liquids on the market, which are manufactured and distributed by various companies. The aim of the study was to evaluate the extent to which nicotine solvent and battery output voltage affect the levels of carbonyls in the vapors of these second generation products.

And here is the next fatal assumption: All second generation products to be basically the same. So they tested only a single type of clearomizer. As I explained in ->Don’t Dismiss Differences there are huge differences in the designs and operating characteristics of advanced systems. Especially the atomizers.

Even worse: It’s one that usually is sold in a set with a “battery with voltage of 3.4V, and a battery voltage stabilization system.” So we can safely assume that this clearo was designed to have its best performance at about 3.4V. Operating it at 4V would already be pushing its limit. More would be totally useless. Even an inexperienced vaper would automatically reduce the voltage to avoid the excruciating taste of a “dry hit”.

It’s like evaluating a toaster. Assuming that people use the highest setting to get it especially crispy. Measuring the acrolein generated at the different settings. And then projecting alarm that burning the toast at the highest setting generated huge amounts. While true, it totally misses the point that it’s also completely inedible. Now drawing the conclusion that these settings schould be severely limited to protect the users from ingesting carbonized white bread misses the whole point of higher settings: They are used for other kinds of bread! There also is no need to protect people. If the smell and sight isn’t enough, one bite and such a piece of charcoal is trashed.

Next big problem: The puffing regime.

puff duration 1.8 s, […] pressed the button manually 1 s before each puff was taken

That is completely unrealistic. First of all, I don’t know any vaper who fires a whole second before puffing. Most begin to draw slowly at the same time as pressing the button. Then the duration: Vapers usually draw slower but longer than a smoker. It’s the first thing you have to adjust to when switching. Vaping is a physically much more complex dynamic process than smoking. One of the major factors and differences is the air stream:

  • Smoking: Rather linear correlation–drawing harder increases the conbustion and the amount of smoke and its temperature.
  • Vaping: More reciprocal.
    – Drawing too slow (worst case: not at all) will not remove the vapor fast enough. The vapor and the coil will get too hot. Depending on the atomizer design it may also hamper the liquid flow which may depend on lowered pressure.
    – Drawing much harder will get the vapor diluted with too much air. And cool the coil too much, so that less vapor is produced. It also may draw too much liquid to the coil so that it is “drowned” and even less vapor is produced.

So–very unlike smoking–you can’t just simply select an arbitrary puffing regime and expect it to represent an applicable model of real vaping. The individual optimum strength of the air stream depends on:

  • Power applied (not just voltage!)
  • Coil & airpath design
  • Liquid flow (design, wicking, liquid viscosity)

As a smoker I used to draw it directly into the lung (1-2 s). Now as a vaper I usually draw one or two mouthfuls of vaper and expell directly through the nose without inhaling (to savor the flavor) and inhale the last mouthful (5-8 s).

So the applied puffing regime probably renders the collected data inapplicable for reallife situations and almost useless.


Get some help from experienced vapers.

  • To tell you, when the “toast” is burned inedibly.
  • To set up realistic puffing regimes that model reality for applicable data.
  • Use Public Preview

Other Public Reviews:


Dr. Farsalinos (“Formaldehyde release in e-cigarette vapor / The New York Times story explained in detail”)

Please leave links to other reviews.

Update 2014-11-30

Some links to reactions on the latest scaremongering wave about formaldehyde swamping the media:

A correction:

Update 2015-01-21

Scaremongering reloaded. A few comments and analyses of the current formaldehype craze:
Translated to French:

Debunked by Dr. Farsalinos:
Follow up:

Professor Peter Hajek:

Dr. Michael Siegel:

Professor  Jacques Le Houezec (french):

Tom Pruen (ECITA):

Brad Rodu:

Jacob Sullum:

Fergus Mason.

American Vaping Association:

Rursus (german):

Vapor Soul:

Ivo Vegter:

Collections of these links and more on the topic:

Update 2015-05-21

Dr. Farsalinos: E-cigarettes generate high levels of aldehydes only in “dry puff” conditions (irrespective of the power levels)
En français: Les émissions d’aldéhydes sont bien dues au phénomène de surchauffe


Gillman et al. Effect of variable power levels on the yield of total aerosol mass and formation of aldehydes in e-cigarette aerosols

Update 2017-09-19

New comments by Peyton and Dr. Farsalinos on Hidden formaldehyde in e-cigarette aerosols.

See also:



Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Details, Public Review, Studies & Surveys, Vaping
19 comments on “Freaking Formaldehyde
  1. well said! And I love the example with the toaster. Yeah, some people have no flipping idea what they are talking about. But -unfortunately – that does not stop them from talking about it. 😦

    Liked by 3 people

  2. erick says:

    For me it is the reverse. I like the direct lung inhale while vaping. Could never do it while smoking.
    I think for me it has more to do with feel of smoke vs vapor. While I could feel the smoke going in and out. I do not feel the vapor going in or out. And I do not mean the throat hit.

    Liked by 2 people

    • devinna says:

      I agree with all these comments .I used to miss the sensation of the thicker smokestream,but now I have been Vaping for such a long time now that I sm more than comfortable with the hit and that for me is my main pleasure in Vaping ❗

      Liked by 2 people

  3. devinna says:

    The other item I wanted to mention,is how is it possible to extrapolate data for a baseline,when only using one cart.Each cart has it’s own characteristics ❗ Then there are numerous models to choose from,each having a different outcome,pending on how they are set up.To me,these”scientists”are doing their own careers no help,by setting themself up as experts,and making erroneous statements.How can these people be experts in this particular field,when Vaping has only been on the go for about 8 years.Too many people trying to make a name for themselves.In the long run who is going to remember them anyway.The only word that may come out of this whole episode may be Glantzing,ie,submission of inane statements!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dean Lake says:

      The funding for tobacco-related studies are drying up. There really isn’t any point in studying it further; smoking tobacco kills and is a well-established fact.

      So, where to go for more research funds in this field? E-cigs, of course. And who would want to fund this research, and why? Trial lawyers, of course. E-cig manufacturers are the new honey pot.

      Case in point is this newest study. One of the authors, James Pankow, did a lot of studies on the dangers of cigarette smoke in the past. He has now switched to e-cig studies. In the “conflicts of interests,” Pankow lists Patrick J. Coughlin as “philanthropy to support reasearch.”

      What is Patrick J. Coughlin’s line of work?

      “Mr. Coughlin has tried more than 50 jury and non-jury trials, including a large private RICO trial against the major tobacco companies on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Ohio Taft-Hartley health and welfare fund participants. Mr. Coughlin also helped end the Joe Camel ad campaign, a cartoon ad campaign that targeted children and secured a $12.5 billion recovery for the cities and counties of California in the landmark 1998 state settlement with the tobacco companies.”

      And there you have it. Trial lawyers supporting “scientists” who supply ammo for…trial lawyers.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Dean Lake says:

        Also of note is that another of the authors, David J. Peyton, recently spoke at a local Health Commission board meeting. The only quote from him in an article I read about the meeting was about him railing against “flavors” that attract kids.

        That sounds a lot like what Coughlin went after Ceml for, except he went after the “Joe Camel” cartoon angle.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Margaret Hermon says:

    Formaldehyde? They’re even more effing desperate than I thought – Farsalinos kicked the crap out of that months ago!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. […] Il s’interroge sur les conséquences que peuvent avoir ce qu’il n’hésite pas à appeler « des calculs sur le coin de la table ». Et s’en ouvre ici*, ce dont Norbert Zillatron fait écho en complément d’un article précédent consacré au même sujet […]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. VERY well outlined and explained! Thank you NZ!


    Liked by 2 people

  7. […] scientists, researchers and Tobacco Control experts.  Despite the stories blatantly lying (Formaldehyde anyone?), restrictions on what vendors can advertise (no health or cessation claims allowed), the […]

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Norbert! VERY well explained! Thank you!


    Liked by 2 people

  9. […] Vaping looks so much like smoking. Putting something to your mouth, inhaling, and exhaling a cloud. This leads many people to jump to the erroneous conclusion that the physical processes involved might be similar, too. Even scientists trying to measure emissions fall for it. Like all those finding the Freaking Formaldehyde. […]


  10. […] Vaping looks so much like smoking. Putting something to your mouth, inhaling, and exhaling a cloud. This leads many people to jump to the erroneous conclusion that the physical processes involved might be similar, too. Even scientists trying to measure emissions fall for it. Like all those finding the Freaking Formaldehyde. […]


  11. […] completely unpleasant that no one would willingly breathe in.  If you want the full details, here’s a post about someone very passionate on the topic, who analyzes that report and links to multiple discussions on the […]

    Liked by 1 person

  12. […] reached, thus avoiding the excruciating taste of burned wick and liquid that comes with creation of Freaking Formaldehyde and […]


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