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Study Finds E-Cigarette Vapor Is Considerably Safer Than Cigarette Smoke but Contains Some Toxic Elements

An international team of researchers recently published the results of a scientific study meant to quantify the levels of exposure to harmful organic compounds and toxic metals in second-hand electronic cigarette vapor, in order to provide insight to regulatory authorities. They found that while e-cigarette vapor does contain increased levels of toxic metals like chromium and nickel, they are overall much healthier than tobacco cigarettes.

e-cigarette-tip“Our results demonstrate that overall electronic cigarettes seem to be less harmful than regular cigarettes, but their elevated content of toxic metals such as nickel and chromium do raise concerns,” said Constantinos Sioutas, professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and corresponding author of the study.

He and his colleagues at Fondazione IRCCS Instituto Nazionale dei Tumori (National Institute of Cancer Research) in Milan, Italy gathered a series of air samples from offices and rooms where volunteers were using either electronic cigarettes of analogs. They opted for these spaces instead of a controlled environment because that’s where people are likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke and vapor. “Offices and rooms– not laboratories – are the environments where you’re likely to be exposed to second-hand e-cigarette smoke, so we did our testing there to better simulate real-life exposure conditions,” said Arian Saffari, a PhD student at USC Viterbi and lead author of the paper.

During their study, researchers compared the smoke for a common tobacco cigarette brand with e-cigarette vapor produced by an Elipse Serie C vaporizer sold by Ovale, one of the most popular e-cig brands in Europe. They noted that results could vary based on what kind of electronic cigarette is used during experiments.

Their study, published online on August 22 in the Journal of Environmental Science, Processes and Impacts, reported a 10-fold decrease in exposure to carcinogenic particulate matter in second-hand e-cigarette vapor, compared to tobacco smoke. Better yet, the level of exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – well-known cancer causing compounds – was reduced to almost zero in second-hand e-cig vapor. Old-fashioned cigarettes, on the other hand, contain high levels of these particles because they burn organic matter.

However, the scientists’ research did reveal some concerning findings. Second-hand electronic cigarette vapor was found to contain increased levels of chromium, which is absent in tobacco cigarette smoke, as well as nickel in quantities four times higher than in regular cigarettes. Traces of other toxic metals, like zinc and lead were also detected, but in much lower concentrations than tobacco cigarettes.

The sliver lining, if one can even call it that, is that the researchers believe the toxic metals come from the e-cigarette cartridges, and not the e-liquid. “The metal particles likely come from the cartridge of the e-cigarette devices themselves – which opens up the possibility that better manufacturing standards for the devices could reduce the quantity of metals in the smoke,” Arian Saffari said.

“Studies of this kind are necessary for implementing effective regulatory measures. E-cigarettes are so new, there just isn’t much research available on them yet,” Saffari added. I would have to agree with him on this. Instead of focusing their efforts on completely banning electronic cigarettes or making them virtually inaccessible to people who need them, regulatory groups should instead direct their attention to manufacturing standards and overall quality of these products. It would really be a win-win situation for everyone involved. 

Well, maybe not everyone… Big Pharma and anti-tobacco groups are already losing a great deal of money because of electronic cigarettes. Imagine what would happen if they would actually be allowed to compete with traditional cigarettes and nicotine replacement products long-term.

Unfortunately, the well-oiled propaganda machine is working in their favor. The findings of this study were published on popular news sites around the world with headlines like “E-cigarettes ‘contain higher levels of certain toxins than regular cigarettes”, “E-cigarettes: secondhand smoke contains too many harmful metals” or “Electronic Cigarettes Contain Higher Levels of Toxic Metal Nanopartices Than Tobacco Smoke”. If you were a smoker looking for an alternative, would you consider trying electronic cigarettes after reading any of these?

Photo credit: Li Tsin Soon/Flickr

2 Comments/Reviews

  • Psymon says:
    5 stars

    A really good review of the data, this sentence is a little suspect – “there just isn’t much research available on them yet” i suppose it depends on what you call much? I’ve found nearly 400 studies conducted over the last 4 years? whats the benchmark for having data?

    Thanks for the info 🙂

  • Ronald BeLieu says:
    5 stars

    The findings need to be displayed which what items were used. Different items can produce different results they are not all the same, different e juices, different wire, different voltages being used. all these things make a difference. How hot the wires heated to makes a huge difference as does the juice used, it;s not rocket science surely our scientist’s and labs can figure this out

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