E-Cigs and Indoor Air Quality: New Research on Secondhand Vapor

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Everyone knows that tobacco smoke is dangerous not only to smokers but everyone around them; however, how does secondhand vapor affect indoor air quality? A new e-cigarette study presented at the 2016 Workplace and Indoor Aerosols conference in Barcelona claims that the particles in e-cig vapor disappear within seconds after being exhaled.

Compared to breathing in secondhand smoke, which can pose significant health risks, sharing the same space with a vaper may be just as harmless as being in a room with an air freshener.

Secondhand Vapor vs. Secondhand Smoke: A Comparison

Second-hand vapor vs. second-hand smoke

While public health organizations and vaping critics in the US continue to claim more research is needed to determine the health risks of electronic cigarettes, plenty of e-cigarette research already exists and continues to suggest vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking.

Back in 2014, a study that was published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology measured the harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs) in both e-cig vapor and tobacco smoke. Scientists discovered that tobacco smoke contained 1,500 times higher levels of HPHCs like toxic metals and carbon monoxide than e-cig vapor. Repeat experiments using different brands of tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes produced identical results.

Another study published in Toxicology in Vitro investigated the impact of smoke and vapor on living lung cells. When researchers exposed cell cultures to both substances, they found that smoke completely killed the cells, yet the cells subjected to vapor were consistent with the control group that was exposed only to air. In other words, directly inhaling vapor appears to be just as harmless as breathing in ambient air. Keep in mind that these experiments were meant to test the effects of direct inhalation, so if vaping is relatively safe for vapers, it makes sense that they would pose even less risks to bystanders.

Related: Evidence-Based Review Prompts Public Health England’s Positive View of E-Cigs

Does Secondhand Vapor Exist?

Is there such a thing as second-hand vapor?

The most recent study on secondhand vapor, which was a collaboration between three major European universities, discovered that the contents of exhaled e-cig vapor disappear within seconds after vaping. Investigators asked a group of vapers to use their e-cigs as normal in a room with no ventilation. They tracked the air particle concentrations in the room before, during and after the vaping session, and they found that the liquid vapor droplets evaporated and decayed almost immediately, returning the room’s air quality back to control levels in just seconds.

Dr. Grant O’Connell, who represents the company that funded the study, announced in a press release, “E-cigarettes – similar to other consumer aerosol-based products – release liquid primary particles into the air that disappear extremely quickly.” Like hairspray, furniture polish and deodorizer, e-cig vapor doesn’t indefinitely taint the air. Dr. O’Connell added, “This also tells us how fundamentally different exhaled e-cigarette particles are compared to those emitted by smoking conventional cigarettes, the latter of which are reported to linger in the air for long periods of time.”

This study falls in line with other studies suggesting secondhand e-cig vapor has no negative effect on bystanders or indoor air quality, including one from Roswell Park Cancer Institute that concluded: “Using an e-cigarette in indoor environments may involuntarily expose nonusers to nicotine but not to toxic tobacco-specific combustion products.” The researchers note that their findings are consistent with the positions of organizations like Public Health England, Cancer Research UK and the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health, which have all concluded that, “Vaping indoors is unlikely to pose an air quality issue to bystanders and non-vapers.”

The 3 Stages of Tobacco Smoke

We now know that e-cig vapor is safer than what most people originally believed, but the dangers of tobacco smoke have only become clearer. Tobacco smoke delivers a trifecta of health hazards. Firsthand smoke is directly inhaled by the smoker while secondhand smoke comes in two varieties: mainstream smoke, which is exhaled by a smoker; and sidestream smoke, which is emitted from the lit end of the tobacco cigarette.

Because tobacco smoke can continue to linger for hours, healthcare professionals have coined the term “thirdhand smoke” for the invisible yet still very toxic particles that still pollute the air long after the tobacco is gone. Second and thirdhand smoke can cause all of the same health issues as firsthand smoke including cancer, heart disease and respiratory complications. E-cig vapor, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be dangerous to vapers or their friends.

Related: The Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Cigarettes

Clear Evidence: Vaping is Not Smoking

Vaping is not smoking sign

Nonsmokers should be afraid of tobacco smoke because it is a well-documented threat to bystanders. It is only natural to be worried about e-cigs because they look so similar to tobacco cigarettes; however, the whole point of e-cigs and tobacco harm reduction is to deliver an alternative to tobacco without posing a public health crisis. So far, research continues to suggest e-cigs may not only be a safer alternative for tobacco users but may also be harmless to bystanders as well.