E-cigarettes have long been thought of as a healthier alternative to smoking, but scientists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health have uncovered evidence that e-cigs might not be as safe as we once thought. They published a new study in Environmental Health Perspectives that claims the devices may contain "harmful toxins and carcinogens, like lead, chromium, and even arsenic."
The scientists took a new approach to their tests by sampling the e-cigarettes of 56 actual e-cig users, whom they enlisted at "smoke shops and vape conventions." Though many studies have been done on e-cig devices, very few study them after they've been used for a long period of time and often modified by their owners. The researchers suspected the heating coil, which is used to convert the liquid inside the vape pen's chamber from a liquid to a vapor, might over time start to generate harmful chemicals.
They were right to be worried. Over half of the e-cigarettes' vapors tested positive for "significant levels of chromium, nickel, and lead." Lead is notoriously harmful to the human body, and can damage a person's brain or lungs. Chromium and nickel are also dangerous, and have been connected to "respiratory disease and lung cancer" according to the researchers at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Ana María Rule, senior author on the study, released a statement saying:
It’s important for the FDA, the e-cigarette companies and vapers themselves to know that these heating coils, as currently made, seem to be leaking toxic metals—which then get into the aerosols that vapers inhale.
Most scientists still agree that even with these trace amounts of unhealthy elements, vaping is healthier than smoking real cigarettes. Studies have shown vape pens contain far fewer toxic substances and are 99% less likely to cause cancer in a user. Though Dr. Ana María Rule thinks the levels of chromium, nickel, and lead are comparable between e-cigs and normal cigarettes, she claims the study wasn't meant to compare the two (which is hard to do since everyone smokes different amounts).
Dr. Rule believes the comparison should be between using an e-cig and not smoking at all:
We know there are many young vapers that have never smoked. A better comparison for them is to breathing ambient air, so for them this represents an increase in risk.
The researchers behind the study hope their work prompts the FDA to further regulate e-cigarettes, writing:
Our results add to the existing evidence that e-cigarettes are a relevant source of exposure to a wide variety of toxic metals. Due to potential toxicity resulting from chronic exposure to metals in e-cigarette aerosols, additional research is needed to more precisely quantify metal exposures resulting from e-cigarette use and their implications for human health, and to support regulatory standards to protect public health.
That's some bad news for all the vape users of the world. On Twitter, many seemed skeptical:
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