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Vaping study: Trace metals of e-cig vapor ‘below detection’ levels

There has been much debate regarding the alleged dangers of vaping and electronic cigarettes, especially surrounding the perceived toxicity levels as compared to combustible cigarettes.  However, a recent study published by a collaborative team of scientists from Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) and William Carey University (WCU) indicates that the measurable levels of numerous trace metals are essentially nondetectable.

There have been other, less reliable studies which suggest the opposite results, most of which have already been debunked by the scientific community.  As the LMU/WCU team notes in the contents of their published report, the levels of trace metals found in e-cig vapor can be easily manipulated by simply cranking up the heat of the related vaping device.  However, in order to achieve such alarming high toxicity amounts that mimic those of conventional cigarettes, the researchers would need to turn up the temperatures to such a degree that vaping would be terribly uncomfortable for the user, if not impossible. 

Overview of the trace metals vaping study

The study entitled Trace Metals Derived from Electronic Cigarette (ECIG) Generated Aerosol: Potential Problem of ECIG Devices That Contain Nickel is readily available for review via the Frontiers in Physiology website.  While the scientists could not assign e-cig vapor a definitive toxicity level of the nearly thirty trace metals evaluated, they note that the quantities will vary according to device and the material used in the wick and coil. 


They also note that the toxicity levels of tobacco cigarettes will also vary.  After all, some cigarettes have filters.  Others do not. 

On the other hand, heating temperatures of both methods are a non-issue.  Combustible tobacco usually burns at approximately 800 degrees Celsius.  The e-liquids in vaping devices only need about 300 degrees Celsius to vaporize.  Anything higher would result in a throat hit that would be excruciating for the vaper. 

For the basis of their research, the LMU/WCU scientists compared the second-hand smoke of a Marlboro cigarette to the vaping of 7mg/ml of e-liquid using the same device and heated to very respectable 350 degrees Celsius.  What they discovered is that the resulting e-cig vapor produced trace metals measurements that were essentially “below the detection limit.”  Meanwhile, the Marlboro cigarette produced enormously high amounts of all associated trace metals, including arsenic. 

"The concentrations of Al, As, Cd, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, Pb, and Zn in E-liquid (μg/L) and in the tobacco and paper of Marlboro cigarettes (μg/g) along with their contents (μg) based on 15 puffs (140 μL of E-liquid) of the ECIG device or 15 puffs of a cigarette...With the exception of As, these results indicate that the content of all trace metals, on a per cigarette basis, are at least an order of magnitude higher in the tobacco and paper of a cigarette as compared to the E-liquid. Although, the content of As in the E-liquid is quite low, the As in the tobacco and paper is below the detection limit."

Lead author of the LMU/WCU team also notes that vaping participants involved with their research were sent to an entirely different laboratory than the Marlboro-smoking volunteers.  The scientists wanted to eliminate any possibility of cross contamination.

And unlike many of the less reputable studies involving excessively high heating temperatures, the LMU/WCU team document their specific high-tech equipment used to measure the trace metal toxicity levels.  In short, the scientists estimate that e-cig vapor contains no more trace metals than normal, everyday air. 


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