So, we all know the dangers of secondhand smoking; they can include increased risks of cancer, heart disease and strokes; but what about secondhand vaping?
The Public Health England agency in the UK maintains that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking but that does not mean we have all the evidence. While the science may still be out on the long-term effects of vaping, there are a few key things we do know. Let’s have a look.
Firstly, a large portion – if not a majority – of secondhand smoke comes from what is called ‘sidestream smoke’, that is, the smoke that comes from the lit end of a cigarette, cigar or other combustible tobacco product. ‘Mainstream smoke’ is the smoke that is inhaled and then exhaled. Some toxins in sidestream smoke can be present in significantly larger amounts of that found in mainstream smoke due to the fact sidestream smoke is produced at a lower temperature, leading to incomplete combustion. There is no sidestream equivalent when it comes to vaping. In general use, e-cigarettes only produce aerosol when activated, which is then inhaled and exhaled.
A common buzzword that the media loves to throw around is “chemicals”. I could talk for days about the contempt I have with the use of the word chemicals in the media and daily conversation. When a scientist says “chemicals”, they’re talking about literally everything. Water, oxygen, food, phones, you, me; anything made up of matter is “chemicals”. So, don’t panic the next time you hear that word.
Anyway, before I go off on a rant, back to vaping. A chemical commonly thrown around in regards to vaping is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that is present in highly toxic amounts in cigarette smoke. It is also a product of thermal breakdown of propylene glycol. In 2014, following a press release in Japan, media around the world were touting things like “E-cigarettes contain 10 times the carcinogens of regular tobacco”. This was based on a study that wasn’t published – so, details were hard to find but it was stated that the liquid was overheated. It was seemingly verified with a 2015 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The report found that at low power levels, there was negligible amounts of formaldehyde present in the aerosol but at higher levels, if inhaled, would expose a vaper to between 5 and 15 times the amount present in cigarette smoke.
It turns out that the “high power levels” were leading to dry hits, so not anything you should or would want to encounter in day to day vaping. We’ve all had them. That disgusting, burnt, hot, cloud of demonic presence when you forget to top up your juice. A study was done, replicating these conditions with vapers and confirmed that aldehydes – the family that includes formaldehyde – were only present in high levels during the occurrence of dry hits. Given that, they concluded that normal vaping leads to minimal exposure to the aldehydes, amounts that aren’t significantly different to the amount you’re exposed to when breathing ambient air. It has also been shown that the aerosol from vaping dissipates faster than cigarette smoke which can contribute to a lower overall risk.
A major concern that people have with being around vapers is becoming addicted to nicotine, either through third-hand nicotine delivery or environmental aerosol. Third-hand nicotine delivery comes from nicotine settling on surfaces, such as a sofa or counter-top, and then being absorbed by someone who comes into contact with it. One study compared the nicotine content found on surfaces in the homes of smokers and vapers. It found that nicotine was present in the homes of vapers at levels 169 times lower than that of smokers. This, in part, can be attributed to the fact that 93.8% of nicotine produced when vaping is absorbed and a lack of a sidestream source, leaving very little left over to settle.
So, there are a lot of positive signs in the evidence surrounding secondhand vaping but does that mean you should go around blowing clouds in people’s faces in every room you walk into? No, of course not. Don’t be that person. Nobody likes that person. Most of all, obey your relevant laws and policies regarding where to vape. Just as importantly, in my opinion, listen to others. If someone asks you not to vape around them – even after you’ve listed all the evidence and bugged the hell out of them – just don’t. Etiquette is important and remember that you may be representing the vaping community. Maybe pick up a mouth-to-lung device for times when you’re going to be vaping around others. It is also worth noting that there is limited evidence when it comes to vaping around animals, children, pregnant women and other at-risk groups. So, exercise caution. Obey the rules, be kind and consider potential implications on others.
If you have the time and curiosity, I highly recommend reading the full report from Public Health. Some excellent work done by them in reviewing over 400 studies, leading the fight to get people off the smokes.
-Super Vape Store Charlestown
1 Ann McNeill, Leonie S Brose, Robert Calder, Linda Bauld, Debbie Robson, Evidence review of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products 2018, A report commissioned by Public Health England, Public Health England (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/e-cigarettes-and-heated-tobacco-products-evidence-review, accessed 15 October 2020).
- California Environmental Protection Agency, Proposed identification of environmental tobacco smoke as a toxic air contaminant. Sacramento, CA, California Environmental Protection Agency, (https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/sites/default/files/classic//toxics/id/summary/etspt_a.pdf, accessed 7 October 2020).
- The Japan Times. E-cigs pose much higher cancer risk than thought: Japanese study. 28 November 2014.
- Jensen, R.P., et al., Hidden Formaldehyde in E-Cigarette Aerosols. New England Journal of Medicine, 2015. 372(4): p. 392-394.
- Farsalinos, K.E., et al., Evaluation of electronic cigarette use (vaping) topography and estimation of liquid consumption: implications for research protocol standards definition and for public health authorities’ regulation. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2013. 10(6): p. 2500-2514.
- Konstantinos E Farsalinos, Vassilis Voudris, Konstantinos Poulas, E-cigarettes generate high levels of aldehydes only in 'dry puff' conditions. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25996087/, accessed 15 October 2020).
- Gerald A. Long, Konstantinos Farsalinos, Comparison of Select Analytes in Exhaled Aerosol from E-Cigarettes with Exhaled Smoke from a Conventional Cigarette and Exhaled Breaths (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4245607/, accessed 15 October 2020).
- Jolanda Palmisani, Alessia Di Gilio, Laura Palmieri, Carmelo Abenavoli, Marco Famele, Rosa Draisci, Gianluigi de Gennaro, Evaluation of Second-Hand Exposure to Electronic Cigarette Vaping under a Real Scenario: Measurements of Ultrafine Particle Number Concentration and Size Distribution and Comparison with Traditional Tobacco Smoke (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6958336/, accessed 15 October 2020)
- Bush, D. and M.L. Goniewicz, A pilot study on nicotine residues in houses of electronic cigarette users, tobacco smokers, and non-users of nicotine-containing products. International Journal of Drug Policy, 2015.
- Gideon St Helen, Christopher Havel, Delia A Dempsey, Peyton Jacob 3rd, Neal L Benowitz, Nicotine delivery, retention and pharmacokinetics from various electronic cigarettes, National Center for Biotechnology Information (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26430813/ accessed 7 October 2020).