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27 Mar

New study finds e-cigarettes generate almost no toxins

Posted by Frederick Ling, PhD in News

One of the main concerns that critics often cite with regards to e-cigarettes is that the content of the vapors generated by e-cigarettes are unknown and could potentially be more harmful than conventional cigarettes.


To address this concern, many studies have studied the aerosol contents generated by e-cigarettes and have all found them to be much safer than conventional cigarettes (for example, see 1 and 2).  Adding to the list of growing evidence is a new study published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, which found that e-cigarettes generate levels of hazardous chemicals that are almost indistinguishable than ambient air.

Some of the key findings of the paper include:
- E-cigarettes contained and delivered mostly glycerin and/or PG and water
- Aerosol nicotine content was 85% lower than cigarette smoke nicotine
- The levels of hazardous and potentially hazardous chemicals (HPHCs) in aerosols were consistent with air blanks (<2 μg/puff)
- E-cigarette HPHCs were 1500 times lower than cigarette smoke HPHCs
- No significant contribution of tested HPHC classes was found in e-cigarettes

The researchers first looked at the main ingredients of the aerosols from e-cigarettes and compared them to conventional cigarettes.  The primary ingredients in the e-cigarette samples were glycerin/ propylene glycol (>75%), water (18%), nicotine (~2%), and flavors (~7%).  In comparison, conventional cigarettes contained about 30% water and 5% nicotine, with the rest of the 65% made up of predominantly combustion byproducts (~41%) and carbon monoxide (~34%).

They then further analyzed the presence of hazardous and potentially hazardous chemicals (HPHCs) generated by e-cigarettes, conventional cigarettes, and ambient air.  The HPHCs that were analyzed include carbon monoxide, carbonyls, phenolics, volatiles, metals, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, polyaromatic amines, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons.

They found that the total amount of HPHCs detected in conventional cigarettes is about 3069–3350μg per puff.  By contrast, e-cigarette samples contained HPHCs at about 1.5-2.0μg per puff. So the HPHCs generated in e-cigarettes are about 1500 times lower than those in conventional cigarettes.  They are present at such a low level, which are actually comparable to ambient air, which contained 1.6μg of HPHCs.

The majority of the HPHCs detected in e-cigarettes are also present in ambient air at similar levels.  Only a handful (5 out of 55) were detected in e-cigarettes but not in ambient air.  Of the 5 HPHCs that  were shown to be present in e-cigarettes, they were present at 50-900 times lower than conventional cigarettes.

So does this mean vaping is as safe as breathing air?  Not quite, since there are still a couple of HPHCs detected in e-cigarettes at very minute amounts.  Also long-term effects of inhaling glycol and glycerin are still under research.  E-cigarettes is a new technology after all, and to study long-term effects take time.  But based on the evidence so far, we can conclude, with confidence, that e-cigarettes is a lot less harmful than conventional cigarettes.

All this is good news to us.  However, there is a catch to this study.  Some critics have already discredited the results of this study due to the potentials of conflict of interest since the researchers are employed in the e-cigarette industry.  Nonetheless, we believe that it is foolish to disregard a study based purely on potential conflicts without any supporting data.  The methodology presented in this study is sound and easily replicable.  So if critics have doubts about the data, they can repeat the experiments and prove us wrong otherwise.

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