A recently published scientific study has reported the detection of traces of metals in the aerosol from one brand of electronic cigarettes. This disturbing discovery frightened e-cigarette users, many of which have begun to doubt the safety of these smokeless devices.
The study conducted by Monique Williams, Amanda Villarreal, Krassimir Bozhilov, Sabrina Lin andPrue Talbot appeared in the PLoS ONE online journal at the end of March, and expressed concerns regarding the presence of metal particles (tin, silver, iron, nickel, aluminum, and silicate) in the vapor produced by electronic cigarettes. According to the published abstract “cartomizer contents and aerosols were analyzed using light and electron microscopy, cytotoxicity testing, x-ray microanalysis, particle counting, and inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry.” Scientists reported signs of cartomizer use prior to their packaging, evidenced by “burn spots on the fibers and electrophoretic movement of fluid in the fibers” on all tested samples. The filling of two of the examined cartridges presented green deposits that contained copper. Also, tin particles and tin whiskers were identified in cartridge fluid and outer fibers. Not very encouraging findings, but the thing that scared people the most was that “the concentrations of nine of eleven elements in EC aerosol were higher than or equal to the corresponding concentrations in conventional cigarette smoke. Many of the elements identified in EC aerosol are known to cause respiratory distress and disease.”
While the findings of this study raise some concerns regarding the safety of using e-cigarettes and manufacturing standards, Dr. Michael Siegel, of Tobacco Analysis, believes users should have been informed that the amounts of these potentially dangerous elements are significantly lower than the official USP standards for metals in inhalation medicines. The research reported the following levels of metals for 10 e-cigarette puffs (roughly the equivalent of a tobacco cigarette):
- Lead: 0.017
- Copper: 0.203
- Chromium: 0.007
- Nickel: 0.005
Assuming the average vaper inhales the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes per day, that adds up to 200 puffs. Using simple math, Dr. Siegel determined that the daily intake of above mentioned metals is significantly below the danger levels set by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention:
- Lead: 0.34/5.0
- Copper: 4.06/100
- Chromium: 0.14/25
- Nickel: 0.1/1.5
The table provided by the USP doesn’t include all the metals reported by the Williams study, but for the ones listed, it would appear the amounts are not a cause for concern.
However, for Sayer Ji, an advisory board member at the National Health Federation, an international health-freedom organization, the discovery of metal nanoparticles in e-cigarette vapor is troubling. “Contrary to older toxicological risk models, less is more: by reducing a particle’s size the technology has now made that substance capable of evading the body’s natural defenses more easily, i.e. passing through pores in the skin or mucous membranes, evading immune and detoxification mechanisms that evolved millions of years before the nanotech era,” Ji writes on his site. “For example, when nickel particles are reduced in size to the nanometer range (one billionth of a meter wide) they may actually become more toxic to the endocrine system as now they are capable of direct molecular interaction with estrogen receptors in the body, disrupting their normal structure and function. Moreover, breathing these particles into the lungs, along with other metals, ethylene glycol and nicotine produces a chemical concoction exhibiting synergistic toxicity, i.e. the toxicity of the whole is higher than the sum of their parts.”
Despite the claims of this recent e-cigarette study, I personally have no doubt vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking. That said, the results of this research raise some serious questions regarding quality control of e-cig components and e-liquid. Maybe instead of banning electronic cigarettes, authorities should focus their attention on helping the vaping industry develop in a safe environment by enforcing a more strict set of manufacturing standards