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Research shows metals toxicities of e-cig vapor are comparable to everyday air

The general public has a great many misconceptions surrounding smoking, vaping, and nicotine.  Statistics vary, but many reports indicate that anywhere between 50-75 percent of the public mistakenly believe that electronic cigarettes are just as deadly as combustible tobacco products.  Meanwhile, scientists from two major American universities have released a vaping study which attempts to clarify many of these false beliefs involving the metallic toxicity differences between smoking and vaping.

The study is entitled Trace Metals Derived from Electronic Cigarette (ECIG) Generated Aerosol: Potential Problem of ECIG Devices That Contain Nickel (Frontiers in Physiology). Led by Dr. Dominic L. Palazzolo, the research team is comprised of members of academia from William Carey University in Hattiesburg, MS and Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, TN.  After months of dedicated study, these researchers determined that e-cig vapor contains about the same level of trace metals as that of normal, everyday air.

Overview of the vaping study

The project abstract was rather simple.  The scientists essentially pumped e-cig vapor and the smoke from combustible cigarettes into specially constructed but separate chambers that would measure the toxicity levels of various trace metals including the following.

 “To mimic this trapping, peristaltic pumps were used to generate and transport aerosol onto mixed cellulose ester (MCE) membranes where aluminum (Al), arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), and zinc (Zn) were subsequently captured and quantified.”

The researchers were already well-aware of several previously published reports claiming that e-cig vapor contains high metallic content and is therefore hazardous to the health of the vapor.  Throughout the course of the Palazzolo study, the researchers would identify and quantify the corresponding levels of metallic toxicities, but strangely, the levels would often vary.

Sometimes they would match the exorbitantly high levels of previously published studies, and sometimes the levels would be significantly lower.  Why were there such wide swings in toxicities?

Related Article:   Switch to vaping? Study shows cigarette smoke stays trapped indoors for decades

Through a series of exhaustive tests, they ultimately determined that these variances occur due to several mitigating factors, such as the heating temperatures of the vaping device itself.  However, they further determined that when e-cigs are used properly and per the recommended vaping practices provided by the manufacturer, the levels of trace metals were not significantly different than those associated with ambient air.

“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.”

The researchers identified some possible causes of the higher toxicity levels published in prior research studies.  For example, they discovered that many past studies used vaping temperatures that were excessively high and that would likely result in a dry hit effect that would be very downright excruciating for the vaper.

Furthermore, these higher temperatures would essentially cause the metal coils, tanks, and other components of the vaping device to essentially burn away incrementally, thus increasing the trace metals toxicities levels in the resulting e-cig vapor.   

While several prior research studies claim that e-cig vapor is highly saturated with trace metals, the Palazzolo team refrains from accusations of intentional falsification of data by the former studies’ co-authors.  Instead, they warn the scientific and academic communities to be more careful in their research protocols before publishing information that may alarm and discourage the general public regarding the many health benefits of vaping. 

Related Article:  Switching to vaping can add 20 years of life to patients with severe mental illness

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