As electronic cigarettes gain popularity, more research about their effects on users - and those around users - is being conducted. While the battery-operated devices expose everyone to fewer toxins and no smoke, researchers are looking into just what happens when someone is "vaping."
The e-cigarettes often look like regular cigarettes, but there is no tobacco involved. An atomizer heats a liquid containing nicotine and turns it into a vapor that can be inhaled. There's no smoke, no fire, and e-cig users are able to get a nicotine fix without the tar and carbon monoxide that are found in tobacco cigarettes. There are no current federal regulations on these devices, and without that, cities and states are laying down the law themselves about where they can be used. Certain states ban them in public places like bars and restaurants, just as they do real cigarettes. While some feel that may be going a bit too far for a product that is much more benign than cigarettes, it actually turns out that bystanders may be exposed to nicotine. That's right: secondhand vaping is a real thing.
A recent study in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research showed that secondhand nicotine exposure is a legitimate concern. The study's aim was to evaluate the secondhand exposure to nicotine and other tobacco-related toxicants from e-cigarettes. Researchers generated vapor from three brands of e-cigs using a smoking machine and controlled exposure conditions. They also compared secondhand exposure with e-cig vapor and tobacco smoke. The results? Sure enough, e-cigarettes are a source of secondhand exposure to nicotine but not to combustion toxicants. So while the researchers found that the concentration of nicotine from smoking tobacco was 10 times higher than from e-cigarettes - which could be argued is a good thing for those using these devices to taper off nicotine and quit smoking - those around those using e-cigs are exposed to the vice as well.
It may be that secondhand vaping is far safer than being around secondhand smoke, but I'm hoping that e-cigarettes are regulated similarly to real cigarettes, even if they don't come with the same health consequences of secondhand smoke. I celebrated loudly when cigarettes were banned in restaurants; I won't be excited if I start seeing people vaping everywhere. I don't want to be exposed to secondhand nicotine if I'm in a restaurant, and I certainly don't want my kids to be either. So while vaping appears to be less harmful for everyone when compared to smoking, those vaping should probably still take it outside.
Researchers in the study said more research is needed to evaluate health consequences of secondhand exposure to nicotine, especially among vulnerable populations, including children, pregnant women, and people with cardiovascular conditions. Until that happens, I'd definitely like to know I'm breathing air that's as clean as it could be and free of nicotine.
-By Erin Whitehead