While smoke from electronic cigarettes may not have cancer-causing agents, it does have higher levels of some toxic metals compared to traditional cigarettes.
Electronic cigarette smoke contains the toxic element chromium, which is absent from traditional cigarettes, as well as nickel at levels four times higher than normal cigarettes.
Several other toxic metals such as lead and zinc were also found in second-hand e-cigarette smoke—though in concentrations lower than for normal cigarettes.
“Our results demonstrate that overall electronic cigarettes seem to be less harmful than regular cigarettes, but their elevated content of toxic metals such as nickel and chromium do raise concerns,” says Constantinos Sioutas, professor of engineering at University of Southern California.
Researchers began the study to quantify the level of exposure to harmful organics and metals in second-hand e-cigarette smoke, in hopes of providing insight for the regulatory authorities.
“The metal particles likely come from the cartridge of the e-cigarette devices themselves—which opens up the possibility that better manufacturing standards for the devices could reduce the quantity of metals in the smoke,” says Arian Saffari, a PhD student and lead author of the paper that is published in the Journal of Environmental Science, Processes, and Impacts.
“Studies of this kind are necessary for implementing effective regulatory measures. E-cigarettes are so new, there just isn’t much research available on them yet.”
Researchers conducted all of the experiments in offices and rooms. While volunteer subjects were smoking regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes, the researchers collected particles in the indoor air and studied the chemical content and sources of the samples.
“Offices and rooms—not laboratories—are the environments where you’re likely to be exposed to second-hand e-cigarette smoke, so we did our testing there to better simulate real-life exposure conditions,” Saffari says.
The researchers compared the smoke from a common traditional cigarette brand with smoke from one brand of e-cigarette. an Elips Serie The results could vary based on which type of cigarettes and e-cigarettes are tested, the researchers note.
Researchers from Cornell University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and LARS Laboratorio and the Fondazione IRCCS Instituto Nazionale dei Tumori in Milan, Italy, collaborated on the study.
The Fondazione IRCCS Instituto Nazionale dei Tumori provided funding.