The Secondhand Sham: Another E-Cig Myth DeMISTified

The Secondhand Sham: Another E-Cig Myth DeMISTified

August 31, 2015

We all know that news outlets are prone to hyperbole, but it’s disconcerting to hear elected officials with political power making outrageously false statement about e-cigarettes. For example, California congressman Mark Leno has gone on record saying, “We’re going to see hundreds of thousands of family members and friends die from e-cigarette use, just like we did from traditional tobacco use.” Such proclamations are fueling public fears that secondhand e-vapor is just as dangerous as cigarette smoke, but what does the research say about the effects of vaping on bystanders?

The Truth About Secondhand Vapor

First, let’s compare the contents of e-vapor to cigarette smoke. White Cloud is proudly transparent with our ingredients. A U.K. study measured the contents of other popular brands’ e-liquids found formulas: 70-85 percent glycerin or propylene glycol, 10-19 percent water, 3-11 percent flavoring and 1-2 percent nicotine. The study found trace levels of HPHCs, or harmful and potentially harmful constituents, which has been a talking point of e-cig opponents, but the researchers note that, “levels of HPHCs in e-vapor were consistent with air blanks” and, “cigarette smoke HPHCs were 1,500 times higher.” Basically, secondhand e-vapor is as harmless as the air we breathe.

A Breakdown of Secondhand Smoke

On the contrary, second hand smoke from tobacco is full of cancer-causing chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene, toxic metals such as arsenic and poisonous gases including carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.

When someone smokes a traditional cigarette, secondhand toxins are not only released from their exhaled smoke but also from the stream of smoke emitted from the lit tobacco. The former is called “mainstream smoke,” and the latter is “sidestream smoke.” Believe it or not, sidestream smoke carries greater concentrations of carcinogens and toxins than mainstream smoke, which makes it more hazardous to bystanders. E-vapor is only produced when the vaper exhales, so sidestream vapor is not an issue.

The Claims of Secondhand Vapor Danger

Concerns over secondhand e-vapor stem from a few problematic studies. The now infamous formaldehyde study, which involved heating e-liquids to unrealistically high temperatures to produce the researchers’ desired results, seems to be successfully debunked. However, vaping opponents are now pointing to a Johns Hopkins University study to stir public panic. Researchers pumped e-vapor into cages of mice infected with streptococcus pneumonia and found that the rodents’ immune systems had a harder time fighting off illness than a control group of sick mice in normal conditions. While some mistakenly believe the experiment was designed to test the effects of secondhand vapor, the concentrations of vapor used in the study were intended to mimic direct inhalation, so study results cannot be extrapolated to secondhand effects. While that news isn’t great for vapers (if they were to vape in a cage), non-vapers need not worry.

The study also claims that, “e-cigarette vapor contained free radical toxins similar to those found in cigarette smoke,” yet the authors later note that such toxins are present at less than 1 percent of what tobacco smoke contains. Likewise, research from the National Institute of Cancer Research in Milan claims secondhand vapor contains measurable amounts of toxic metals, yet University of London professor Peter Hajek says such toxins are “a small fraction of those from cigarettes, and the metal compounds [an e-cig] releases are at levels unlikely to pose a risk.”

American Vaping Association president Gregory Conley has also pointed out that the levels of metals and chemicals identified in the Milan study are identical to those found in the Nicorette Inhaler, which has been approved by the FDA as a smoking cessation tool, adding that the Milan study confirms e-cigs are “far less hazardous than smoking, likely in the range of 98 to 99 percent.”

What is Really in Vapor?

Several studies have concluded the only substance released in e-cig vapor in significant quantities is nicotine, and even nicotine levels are very low when compared to traditional cigarettes. A study from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York analyzed vapor from various brands of e-cigs looking for aerosol particles, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds common in secondhand smoke. The researchers only found nicotine, leading the authors to conclude, “E-cigarettes are a source of secondhand exposure to nicotine, but not to combustion toxicants.”