Toxic Metals E-Cig Study Leaves Vapers with Questions

March 2, 2018

It didn’t take long for the year’s first “groundbreaking” study on e-cigarettes to be released, and for the media to sensationalize its findings. In late February of 2018, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a study titled, “Metal Concentrations in e-Cigarette Liquid and Aerosol Sample: The Contribution of Metallic Coils.” You can find the abstract, and full report, here.

The study recruited 56 participants by canvasing at local vaping conventions and smoke shops in the greater Baltimore area. Users were told to bring their tank-style devices and refilling dispensers to the study. Researchers from Johns Hopkins first administered a survey to gather information on the brand of the vaping device, the voltage the users operate their device at, the type of coil used, and the frequency of coil change.

Testing of the actual devices and e-liquids involved 3 steps. The first sample was taken directly from the e-liquid container, the second sample captured some of the aerosol produced by each device, and the final sample was taken from the tank, following the device being used to produce vapor. A small side note that researchers did not mention in the press release is that final samples were not obtained from 7 of the devices, bringing the total number of devices sampled across all 3 areas to 49.

Flawed Transparency of E-Cig Studies

Research in the e-cig space is never a bad thing. With FDA regulations closing in, more and more studies will be released in the coming months in hopes of swaying the regulations in one way or the other. Where researchers drop the ball is putting their findings and methodology into a form that the affected public, along with irresponsible reporters, can easily understand. One Google search for “Do E-Cigs Have Metal in Them” will spit out pages of sensationalized headlines that attempt to “outline” the study. Here are a few of the overlooked portions of the study that have had quite an effect on how results are interpreted by e-cig users, vapers, and the general public.

The Study Didn’t Actually Test E-Cigarettes

E-Cig ModsThis one falls on the Johns Hopkins research team. In a press release from February 21st, the researchers from the Bloomberg School of Public Health unveiled the findings of their study and use the word e-cigarette throughout the release to describe the products they tested. However, in the second paragraph of the full report, the researchers make it very clear that they are not testing “cig-a-likes”, but rather reusable modified devices, known to the vaping community as “mods”, “box mods”, or “tank mods.” These types of devices are as far from an e-cigarette as you can get, allowing users to customize each device to operate at higher voltages and ohms.

Brands Remain a Mystery

One of the initial steps researchers took during this study was to document the manufacturer of the mod device, the voltage the mod was regularly used at, the materials used for the coils, and the regularity the coils are changed out. Where they came up short is in giving even the slightest bit of explanation as to what type of products they were grouping in as “e-cigarettes.” With hundreds and hundreds of brands of e-cigs and mods on the market, can a sample size of 50 unknown products really provide a clear and succinct determination on all e-cigarettes?

Not all E-Cigs are Created Equal

E-Cig Mod CoilsBox mods, the devices used in this study, are designed to operate at a very high wattage and temperature. “Cloud chasers” often use these devices because of the high vapor production they put out. A quick Google search for a box mod starter kits shows the operating wattage of a device to be adjustable between 5.0 and 234.0 watts, which is capable of heating e-liquids to 300-600 degrees. For comparison’s sake, White Cloud’s rechargeable cig-a-like batteries have a max operating wattage of 3.4 watts, which pushes out max temperatures of around 400 degrees.

To build off of this, mod devices require a metal “coil” to be used with the power source. Different flavored e-liquids taste differently at varying temperatures; so mod users will use a variety of different coils that are rated for different omhs. The lower the coil’s omhs, the more heat is generated. Operating coils at a “sub-oHm” setting can lead to burning out a coil quickly, and most likely is one of the main causes of metals being released into e-liquid vapor. Even in kits sold as “mod starter kits”, the coils that are often included are not designed to handle more than ½ of the wattage that the devices are capable of producing.

Key Takeaways from Johns Hopkins Study

Past studies have concluded that some brands’ e-liquid have traces of metals in them, so the results from this new study are not very surprising. What the study drives home to us is that mod users are lacking the education from brands to safely operate their vaping devices.

As the e-cigarette industry continues to progress, news sources rush to publish e-cig headlines that will attract eyes and clicks instead of giving the full story. The differences between cig-a-likes and mods are very well known by those who have used one or the other, but to the general public, e-cigarettes are unfortunately still one in the same. Here at White Cloud, we’ll continue providing our customers and readers with an industry-versed, researched, and concisely presented view on e-cigarette studies, research, and reports.