Study: More On The Stuff In Vapor

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A new study has taken a far more in depth look at the harmful constituents of electronic cigarette vapor.  The study is one of the most comprehensive to date and provides some much needed clarity to the impact electronic cigarettes might have on the health of their users.  The conclusion: Not as harmful as smoking, maybe more harmful than some experts suggest, but very promising for harm reduction.

The study comes from the individuals based in the United States, United Kingdom, and Poland.  A synopsis of the study can be seen here.

The Results

Researchers identified 11 of the most popular electronic cigarette brands in Poland and obtained them from local retailers.  A popular brand from the United Kingdom (Intellicig) was also tested.  A Nicorette Inhaler from Johnson & Johnson was also tested as a reference to what harmful constituents might exist in a currently approved medical inhaler.

Testing was done over 150 puffs across 10 puffing sessions of each electronic cigarette brand.  A puff ran about 1.8 seconds and an average volume of 70 milliliters.

Carbonyl compounds are those containing a carbon atom double bonded to an oxygen.  Of 15 carbonyl compounds tested for and commonly found in tobacco smoke, only 4 were found in electronic cigarettes.  Three of these were found in the inhaler, but at far lower rates.

Perhaps most concerning of the carbonyls is formaldehyde — a known and worrisome carcinogen.  Interesting though is the range at which formaldehyde occurred.  Although it occurred in a few e-cigs as high as 46-56 micrograms per 150 puffs, in two it only occurred at 3.2 and 3.9 micrograms (not far off from the inhaler’s 2.0 micrograms).  To compare, researchers say a single cigarette can deliver far more than 100 micrograms of formaldehyde.  Note: a microgram is one-millionth of a gram or one-thousandth of a milligram.

Similar trends can be found with the other 3 carbonyls found in electronic cigarettes — acetaldehyde, acrolein, and o-methylbenzaldehyde.  Of the four carbonyls found, only acrolein was not found in the inhaler (though that was the case for one of the e-cigs too).  At least two electronic cigarette brands tested within statistical similarity to the inhaler.  This means with proper research and development, the levels of carbonyls produced by electronic cigarettes could almost certainly match those of the inhaler.

Various volatile organic compounds (VOCs), tobacco-specific nitrosamines, and metals were also tested for.  Of 11 VOCs tested for, only 2 were found in any e-cigs ranging between none detected and a max of 6.3 micrograms (very little).  Only two tobacco-specific nitrosamines were tested for.  Neither was found in all electronic cigarettes, but both could be found in some ranging as high as 28.3 micrograms.  Neither of the VOCs or tobacco specific nitrosamines found in e-cigs were found in the inhaler.

Among 12 metals tested for, only cadmium, nickel, and lead were found in electronic cigarette smoke.  All three were also found in the inhaler (and in a number of cases actually tested higher in the inhaler than in select e-cig brands).  Totals in this instant were again very low, measuring from non-detection to .57 micrograms in 150 puffs.

In all instances, these toxins were found a levels far lower than in conventional cigarette smoke.  Formaldehyde occurs an average of 9-fold higher in cigarettes.  For Acrolein, it’s 15-fold higher.  For Acetaldehyde, it’s 450-fold higher.

The study further supports the theory that electronic cigarettes are far less harmful than conventional tobacco cigarettes.  The researchers do say that more research is required before the leap can be made that switching to e-cigs from smoking will reduce an individual’s health risk.  Still, this is yet another strong piece of the overall puzzle.

See a complete list of e-cig research here.

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