While e-cigarettes are purportedly designed to help wean people off of real cigarettes, many smokers have merely switched to e-cigarettes permanently as a “healthier” alternative than the chemical-laced tobacco and nicotine butts people are more familiar with. Doctors have spoken out, hoping to alert smokers to the fact that e-cigarettes aren’t as harmless as they seem to believe.
That applies to habitual smokers, though. The more important question for us non-smokers is whether these e-cigarettes have any negative effects on us. We know to avoid the secondhand smoke of normal cigarettes, but now we see people smoking the e-cigarettes indoors and wonder just how unhealthy that is for our lungs. They don’t seem as smelly or annoying as regular cigarettes, but does that mean they’re okay?
The news is pretty good, actually: a new study conducted by the University of Southern California found that people subject to the secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes are exposed to only 10% of the gross chemicals found in normal cigarettes. Because the e-cigs don’t burn organic material, that cuts down on just about all of the cancerous substances you’d find in normal cigs.
Does that mean it’s not a big deal to hang around e-cigarettes if you can otherwise avoid them, though? No. There are still enough harmful particles that linger in the air that you should avoid breathing in if possible. One-tenth of the carcinogens are still carcinogens, after all.
On top of that, e-cigarettes introduce a couple of substances that you don’t find in normal smokes. In particular, there are certain dangerous metals that get released into the air with e-cigarettes. For starters: nickel, which is four times more harmful coming from an e-cig. Chromium, meanwhile, is a toxic metal that isn’t even present in other cigarettes, but can be inhaled via secondhand smoke of e-cigarettes. Other metals, like zinc and lead, are also emitted from e-cigs, but not at a rate higher than traditional cigarettes.
Though they can’t yet conclude it definitively yet, researchers assume that the presence of metals comes directly from the e-cigarettes themselves, which are manufactured with these metals.
This kind of study is critical since the lack of research has left legislatures clueless as to how to regulate these e-cigarettes. It’s almost more important to know what kind of damage the products can cause to bystanders, especially when deciding whether they can be utilized indoors. Finally having some scientific data will go a long way in informing the public discourse and helping communities to decide whether to permit people to smoke their “quitting” tools in bars, restaurants and places of work.
While that gets sorted out, the good news is that, for now, it seems that you can breathe easier around the e-cigarettes… just don’t breathe too easily.