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Metallic toxicity of e-cig vapor similar to everyday air, says vaping study

Anti-vaping lobbyists often claim that the vapor from e-cigs vapor may be just as deadly as the second-hand smoke from combustible cigarettes.  Many have also tried to link vaping to allegedly causing popcorn lung while others have spread the false report that vaping propylene glycol is tantamount to vaping antifreeze.  Both accusations are proven to be totally false.   Now, a recent study conducted by scientists from two American universities debunks the myth that vaping is just as metallically toxic as conventional cigarettes. 

Led by Dr. Dominic Palazzolo of Tennessee’s Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) in accordance with researchers from LMU and William Carey University (WCU) of Missouri, the research team set out to measure the levels of multiple trace metals found in e-cig vapor while comparing them to those of combustible cigarette smoke.  After monitoring for an extensive list of metallic toxicities including arsenic, aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, lead, and zinc, the scientists concluded that the amounts of trace metals found in e-cig vapor is no more than that of normal, everyday, ambient air in most cases.

Overview of the vaping study on metallic toxicity

The Palazzolo study entitled Trace Metals Derived from Electronic Cigarette (ECIG) Generated Aerosol: Potential Problem of ECIG Devices That Contain Nickel is readily available via the Frontiers in Physiology website.  As a basis for comparison, the researchers measured the toxicity levels produced from an e-liquid with a nicotine concentration of 7ml vaped at normal temperatures that did not exceed 350 degrees Celsius.  The second-hand smoke was produced from a typical Marlboro cigarette purchased locally.

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There were, however, slightly higher levels of nickel found in the e-cig vapor as compared to ambient air.  The co-authors of the study suggest but do not confirm that this extra nickel may be from the vaping coil of the device itself, but the increase levels do not pose a significant health threat.

“In general, the findings of this study suggest that the concentrations of most trace metals extracted from cigarette smoke exceed the concentrations of trace metals extracted from ECIG-generated aerosol. While confident of these findings, it must be emphasized that these results are specific to the single ECIG device/E-liquid combination used. Nevertheless, a possibility for significant trace metal inhalation exists depending on the brand of ECIG device used. The present study illustrates this point. Given that Ni in the E-liquid is nearly undetectable, the source of Ni in the aerosol must be the ECIG device. From this study, it is unlikely that the ECIG-generated aerosol contains enough of the other trace metals to induce significant pathology.”

As if anticipating backlash from the anti-vaping community, the co-authors also go into significant detail as to why their findings do not mirror those of previous research which suggests that vaping is more highly toxic.  They note that in previous studies, the researchers either intentionally or accidentally escalated the vaping temperatures to levels that would be uncomfortable or distasteful for the vaper. In doing so, they may have heated the coil of the vaping device too high, which likely resulted in the increased metallic toxicities measurements.   

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