A study published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacologyfinds what many have suspected all along: E-cigarettes emit virtually no toxins as compared to their tobacco counterparts. In fact, the harmful and potentially harmful compounds found in e-cigarette vapour are on par with regular, outside air.
There’s perhaps no hotter topic in health these days than electronic cigarettes, devices that deliver the experience of tobacco cigarettes without burning any organic compounds. Smokers laud them as a step to giving up tobacco, while anti-smoking advocates are worried that they’re just as harmful as cigarettes. There’s been precious little research on the topic, until now: A study published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology finds that e-cigarettes contain about as many harmful compounds as a lung-full of fresh air.
E-cigarettes sell safety on one simple premise: Rather than burning tobacco, the e-cig vaporises a liquid made mostly of water, glycerin and/or propylene glycol. Nicotine is not a necessary addition, but most users turn to nicotine-enriched juices to get their fix. The vapour, the manufacturers say, is exponentially safer than the toxic smoke produced by burning tobacco. The study results appear to bear that out:
“Analysis of the smoke from conventional cigarettes showed that the mainstream cigarette smoke delivered approximately 1500 times more harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs) tested when compared to e-cigarette aerosol or to puffing room air. The deliveries of HPHCs tested for these e-cigarette products were similar to the study air blanks rather than to deliveries from conventional cigarettes; no significant contribution of cigarette smoke HPHCs from any of the compound classes tested was found for the e-cigarettes.”
The study focused on eight HPHCs found in traditional cigarettes: Carbon monoxide, carbonyls, phenolics, volatiles, metals, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, polyaromatic amines, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. In 99 puffs of a Blue e-cig (about half a pack’s worth of cigarette puffs, by my estimation), the combined weight of all eight HPHCs was 0.17 milligrams. That’s virtually indistinguishable from 99 puffs of clean air, which totaled 0.16 milligrams. The smoke from a single Marlboro Light, on the other hand, produced over 30 milligrams of HPHCs.
The results are not, by any means, an indication that e-cigarettes are totally safe for consumption. Most of them still contain nicotine, after all, which has recently been shown to be harmful in its own right. E-cigarettes also appear to be a gateway for kids to get into the real thing, which itself is worthy of scrutiny. But in terms of the promise these devices hold for weaning the public off of highly toxic tobacco, the study results are pretty exciting.
Own The Conversation
Ask The Big Question: Given the relative innocuousness of e-cig vapour, should they still be banned in public places?
Disrupt Your Feed: I guess now I really have no excuse to give up cigarettes.
Drop This Fact: The number of tobacco-growing farms in the U.S. declined from more than 500,000 in the 1950s to about 10,000 in 2007. The tobacco industry is still trucking along, though.
Expand Your Expertise
- Comparison of select analytes in aerosol from e-cigarettes with smoke from conventional cigarettes and with ambient air[ScienceDirect]