New Study Suggests E-Cigs Less Harmful Than Tobacco Cigarettes

Results show low emissions of volatile organic compounds from electronic cigarettes

BOSTON -- The results of the first comparison of the level of volatile organic compounds emitted by electronic cigarettes as opposed to traditional tobacco cigarettes confirms e-cigarettes reduces a smoker's exposure to such dangerous chemicals.

The German researchers conducting the study had test subjects smoke either a tobacco cigarette or vaporize an electronic cigarette in an emission test chamber, with the concentration of a number of volatile organic compounds being measured using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The results of the study (which is currently available for purchase online and set to appear in Indoor Air) were broken down by professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University of Public Health Dr. Michael Siegel on his Tobacco Analyses blog.

According to Siegel, while 20 volatile organic compounds were found in tobacco smoke, only six of those compounds were detected in electronic cigarette vapor. The concentrations of these compounds in electronic cigarette vapor were also greatly reduced--ranging from 2.5% (for acetaldehyde) to 39.1% (for acetone) of the concentration found in the tobacco smoke. Additionally, researchers analyzed exhaled air from electronic cigarettes and the only compounds found were low traces of nicotine and flavorings, moderate levels of glycerin and high levels of propylene glycol, which is the main ingredient of e-cigarette liquid.

"This study confirms that electronic cigarette use greatly reduces the user's exposure to a wide range of chemicals in tobacco smoke," Dr. Siegel wrote in his blog. "The few chemicals for which exposure remains are at levels well below that of cigarette smoking."

The one chemical compound of concern found in electronic cigarette vapor was formaldehyde – whose presence was still five to ten times lower than the amount found in tobacco cigarette smoke. Siegel believes one hypothesis is the formaldehyde could be the result of the heating of propylene glycol.

"My sense is that in the long run, electronic cigarettes that use glycerin as an excipient may become the standard," said Siegel. "Using glycerin would probably avoid the production of most of the volatile organic compounds detected in this study, and would also alleviate any concerns about respiratory irritation."

Overall, this study is great news for retailers and manufacturers of electronic cigarettes. With previous studies having confirmed that the number of carcinogens is greatly reduced in electronic cigarettes (the levels of the only known carcinogen in the product are at trace levels), the Indoor Air study proves e-cigarettes also reduces a user's exposure to dangerous volatile organic compounds, likely reducing the risk of lung disease.


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