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Does Conservation of Mass Make This "Health Study" Invalid?

  1. Apr 14, 2015 #1
    This is a study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine done on the safety of e-cigs or better known as vaping.

    The article states, "They found that vaping 3 milligrams of e-cigarette liquid at a high voltage can generate 14 milligrams of loosely affiliated or "hidden" formaldehyde."

    How does 3 milligrams of matter, or mass, turn into 14 milligrams of mass?

    If I understand Conservation of Mass correctly mass can neither be created or destroyed, it just changes forms.

    Is what I'm suggesting completely off-base, or is the above citation entirely impossible, physically?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 14, 2015 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Welcome to the PF.

    I'm guessing it has to do with the act of combustion (using oxygen from the air). I'll move this thread to the Chemistry forum where it will get better answers on this chemistry question.
  4. Apr 14, 2015 #3
    But there is no "combustion" during vaping, that's the whole point.
  5. Apr 14, 2015 #4
    Oh, and thanks.. just trying to reach out to smart people lol
  6. Apr 14, 2015 #5


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    Staff: Mentor

    You are right, it doesn't make any sense. Formaldehyde is one of the products of the decomposition, I suppose it can also appear between products of a partial combustion. While it is definitely possible to decompose delicate organic compounds at the temperature required to vaporize e-cigarette liquid, there is no way of producing 14 mg formaldehyde out of 3 mg of any decomposing compound. Even taking combustion and air oxygen into account there is simply no way to get that high increase in mass. Clearly something is wrong.
  7. Apr 14, 2015 #6
    Thank you for the reply
  8. Apr 14, 2015 #7


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    Science Advisor
    2017 Award

    Are you reading the source correctly? Here's a link to the NEJM article: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1413069

    Here's the relevant quote:
    3 mL would have a mass of >3g, so you're off by three orders of magnitude!
  9. Apr 14, 2015 #8
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