E-cigarettes have been proven to be a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, but is second-hand vaping safe to the people around you? Instead of burning a tobacco mixture, e-cigarettes use a heating element to heat a liquid solution containing nicotine. Instead of exhaling a cloud of smoke, a person who is vaping exhales mostly water vapor.
But the question is does vaping pose and secondhand dangers to bystanders? A new study, one of the first to look at the issue of secondhand e-cigarette vapor, finds that while you might get a small amount of nicotine from being close to someone who is vaping, you most likely won’t be receiving any other harmful chemicals.
“We were interested in whether people who are in close proximity of users of electronic cigarettes can be exposed to any toxic substances or nicotine,” study author Maciej Goniewicz, a researcher at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., said.
Goniewicz and colleagues looked at three different kinds of e-cigarettes. They conducted several experiments using smoking machines and human volunteers to puff automatically on e-cigarettes or conventional ones. The scientists collected the resulting vapors of smoke and analyzed the samples.
They found that both e-cigarette vapor and regular cigarette smoke contained nicotine. However, the average concentration in e-cigarette vapor was about 10 times lower, on average, than the amount found in the tobacco smoke. But the e-cigarette vapor did not contain some of the other toxic products found in cigarette smoke.
“The key finding of this study is that e-cigarettes emit significant amounts of nicotine but do not emit significant amounts of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds,” the authors wrote.
Goniewicz notes that their study is limited, they were only looking for a few of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke, which contains more than 5,000 elements. Future studies will be needed to look for other potentially dangerous components like formaldehyde. There is also the question of what the long-term effects of secondhand nicotine vapor might be.
“We don’t know how to answer this question yet,” Goniewicz says. “Before, we never had a device that released just pure nicotine into the air.”
“While we know that smokers aren’t getting cancer from nicotine by itself, Goniewicz says, there may be some subpopulations including pregnant mothers and people that already have cancer, where nicotine exposure could potentially do some harm. It is also known that occasional exposure to e-cigarette vapors at a bar or a restaurant is a much different situation than living with a constant user.