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Are Electronic Cigarettes a.k.a. E-Cigs Dangerous to Non-smoking Bystanders?

Tim Boyer's picture
Electronic Cigarettes

In a recent article published in the journal Indoor Air about the safety issues of smoking electronic cigarettes, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research WKI in Braunschweig have put electronic cigarettes, also known as E-cigs, to the test by analyzing the emissions of electronic cigarettes on volunteers in an 8-cubic-meter test chamber.


Electronic cigarettes are proposed as a healthy alternative to smoking typical tobacco-containing cigarettes. An e-cigarette is constructed of a cigarette-like holder that possesses inside a battery, a reservoir for vapor-producing liquids, a heating coil and an atomizer. The smoke from an e-cigarette is result of the heating coil and atomizer working together at the touch of a button to vaporize the liquid somewhere between 65 and 120 degrees Celsius.

The liquids used in e-cigarettes comes in both nicotine and nicotine-free forms with added flavorings to suit individual tastes. The solvent for the liquids typically is a chemical that is also used as an additive in regular tobacco-containing cigarettes— Propylene glycol, which gives the e-cigarette its natural cigarette smoke-like appearance as an atomized mist.

Mechanistically, the primary difference between an e-cigarette and a regular cigarette is that while a regular cigarette continuously burns and releases smoke, an e-cigarette does so only while being sucked on or a button is pressed.

Chemically, however, researchers have found that the volatile products released in the “smoke” of e-cigarettes also differs somewhat from the smoke released from a regular cigarette—at least in the size and exposure of the volatile particles released.

“In the e-cigarette, vaporized substances create an aerosol of ultrafine particles which become even finer when inhaled into the lungs. These tiny nanodroplets disperse over time. In contrast, the combustion process discharges solid particles that can remain in the surrounding air for a considerable time," says Dr. Tobias Schripp, a scientist at Fraunhofer WKI and co-author of the study.

The significance of this is that it shows that the volatile products released from an e-cigarette might be less damaging to both the indoor environment and to passerby’s who inhale the electronic smoke secondhand in comparison to the volatile products released from a typical tobacco cigarette.

However, what remains unclear is whether toxicity is still a concern among both the smokers and the non-smokers.

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As part of their study, the researchers tested what types of compounds were emitted by both e-cigarettes of various types with and without nicotine in comparison to tobacco-containing cigarettes.

What the researchers found and reported at the 2012, 10th German Conference for Tobacco Control was that overall, e-cigarettes yielded less volatile organic compounds and ultrafine particles into the air and lungs in comparison to tobacco-containing cigarettes, and that there was no emission of mutagenic and toxic formaldehyde from the e-cigarettes.

“In general, the emissions of VOCs and ultrafine particles when smoking an e-cigarette were lower than the equivalent emissions from a standard cigarette,” says Dr. Schripp.

However, what has some health authorities and lung disease researchers concerned is that the vaporized propylene glycol that was detected in BOTH the e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes in the study may be doing harm to both smokers of e-cigarettes as well as non-smokers inhaling the secondhand e-smoke.

“While it is true that the electronic cigarette contributes less to indoor air pollution than tobacco cigarettes, it is not entirely emission-free. Consequently, it seems reasonable to assume that bystanders are exposed to the released vapor and thus ‘passive vaping’ is possible,” says Dr. Schripp.

Health authorities, pulmonologists who specialize in lung disease related to smoking, and the researchers of the study are in agreement that toxicological studies need to be done to access the extent of harmful effects of the byproducts resulting from electronic cigarette smoke.

For more information of the potential hazards and debate concerning smoking e-cigarettes, follow the links to two earlier Emaxhealth articles titled “Smoking Alternative E-cigarettes Not Safe Study Says,” and “Study: Are e-cigarettes definitely safe?”

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Reference: “Does e-cigarette consumption cause passive vaping?” Indoor Air (Dec. 2012); T. Schripp et al.



so basically the study has pretty much said very little and has shown its pretty much less dangerous than walking down a high street with car car pollution pretty much