In November of last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it intended to ban smoking in select units of public housing. While the ruling did not definitely rule out a possible vaping ban as well, many vapers in lower income households were assuming the worst. According to HUD, the smoking ban was meant to prevent increases in childhood illnesses related to second-hand smoke.
Coincidentally, at about the same time as the HUD announcement, a team of scientists from San Diego State University (SDSU) was just wrapping up an e-cig study focusing on air pollution levels of these same types of lower income households. The research team led by environmental scientist Neil Klepeis began their research by selecting nearly 300 families residing in public housing to participate. The goal was to evaluate the air pollution levels of smokers’ homes compared to those of vapers and non-smokers.
Overview of the SDSU vaping study
To qualify for the study, the household was to consist of at least one child under the age of fourteen and at least one adult smoker. The scientists then installed automatic air particle monitors in each dwelling. One was placed in the area most commonly used for the smoking of cigarettes. The second was installed near the child’s bathroom. Over a period of three months, the research team closely monitored the related air quality levels.
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As control groups, the researchers also installed similar air monitoring systems in homes of non-smokers and vapers-only. The team also conducted random in-home visits and interviews with each of the groups of participants, asking about such daily activities as cooking, cleaning, and the times of day that these types of events typically take place. The theory was that in-home air pollution can come from any number of sources, including automobile emissions, fungal spores, cooking grease, everyday dust particles and of course, smoking or vaping.
Vaping households are at least 50% less toxic
At the end of the three-month study, the SDSU team published their results in a paper entitled, Fine particles in homes of predominantly low-income families with children and smokers: Key physical and behavioral determinants to inform indoor-air-quality interventions. The report is available for review in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) and includes the following conclusions.
- Households allowing in-home smoking contained twice the levels of air pollution compared to those whose members traveled outside to smoke.
- Air pollution particles derived from combustible cigarettes were the primary contributor to the doubled levels of air pollution. Marijuana smoke came in second place.
- Of the 14.1 percent of households that allowed indoor vaping but not indoor smoking, there were no significantly measurable variations in air pollution levels compared to the outdoor smoking group or compared to the non-smoking households.
According to the conclusions sections of the paper, the SDSU team is so confident of their results that they are encouraging the scientific community to continue building upon their past research.
What can be drawn from these conclusions? Vaping seems to be less pollutive than smoking by at least half. If HUD is truly concerned about childhood ingestion of second-hand smoke, perhaps they should encourage vaping as a healthier alternative to smoking. While HUD is very unlikely to make such an announcement, perhaps research like that conducted by the SDSU team will cause the agency to consider strongly whether to include vaping in their future anti-smoking campaigns for low income housing.
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