E-Cigarette Smokers May Cause Secondhand Nicotine Exposure: Study

As concerns over the safety of e-cigarettes continues to increase, new research suggests that users of the increasingly popular “smokeless” electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, may be causing secondhand nicotine exposure for other people.

In a study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research on December 11, researchers found significant levels of secondhand nicotine emitted by “smoking” inhalable vapors from e-cigarettes, which may pose a potential public health threat.

The report looked at thenicotine and other tobacco-related toxicants emitted by smokers of e-cogs. Dr. Maciej Goneiwicz and a team of researchers measured airborne markers of secondhand exposure of nicotine, aerosol particles, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

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Researchers generated e-cig vapor from three brands of electronic cigarettes using a smoking machine under controlled conditions. They also compared secondhand e-cigarette exposure and tobacco smoke from five users.

E-cigarettes were a significant source of secondhand nicotine, but not of other toxins, like carbon monoxide or VOCs. Air concentrations of nicotine emitted by e-cigarettes, while significant, still remained 10 times lower than secondhand nicotine emitted by tobacco cigarettes.

Researchers indicate that more research is needed to determine the health effects of secondhand nicotine exposure.

Increasing E-cigarette Use

E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that deliver a nicotine solution in aerosol form. The solution is heated to create a vapor which is inhaled into the lungs. One cartridge offers 200 to 400 puffs, the equivalent of two to three packs of tobacco cigarettes.

Estimates suggest that the e-cigarette market may reach $2 billion in sales by the end of 2013. In fact, sales in the U.S. alone will likely top $1 billion this year, with some analysts projecting sales will soar to $10 billion by 2017 and surpass sales of tobacco cigarettes.

E-cigarette solutions do not contain tar, like tobacco cigarettes, and are made in nearly 100 different flavors, including teen friendly flavors like bubble gum and peanut butter and jelly. With the emergence of new flavors, a rise in the popularity of e-cigarettes among teens is a growing concern.

A recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found e-cigarette use among middle and high school students has more than doubled in the last few years. Those statistics may translate into nearly 2 million teen users nationwide.

Promoted As A Way To Quit

E-cigarettes are often marketed to traditional tobacco cigarette users as an alternative to the unhealthy cancer causing products as a way to quit the habit. The products are promoted as a “safe” alternative to tobacco cigarettes. However, critics say using e-cigarettes may draw smokers deeper into an already risky habit. They also say users may be swapping one health risk for another, a concern which is renewed following the reports of secondhand nicotine exposure from e-cigarettes.

Federal health officials recently warned five e-cigarette makers that marketing the devices as a quitting tool to tobacco smokers is unfounded and illegal. The companies run advertisements claiming their product will help people quit smoking. The FDA warned the companies, that needs to stop.

The U.S. Surgeon General asserts there is no safe level of secondhand tobacco smoke, but has not evaluated the risk of secondhand nicotine exposure through e-cigarette vapor.

In 2009, the FDA issued a warning concerning the dangers of e-cigarettes. The warning revealed laboratory analysis of some e-cigarettes contained levels of toxic chemicals like diethylene glycol, which is often used in anti-freeze. Other chemicals found included nitrosamine, which is a known cancer causing agent.

The devices have already been banned in countries like Brazil, Norway and Singapore. In the United States, legislation has recently been passed in Utah, North Dakota and New Jersey banning e-cigarette use wherever tobacco smoking is prohibited.

The FDA currently has no regulations governing e-cigarettes, though the agency contends it has authority over all tobacco products. In September, more than 40 state attorneys general signed a letter urging the FDA to begin regulating the products. In response, the FDA is expected to craft e-cigarette regulations in the near future.


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