Should Non-Smokers Worry about Secondhand E-Cigarette Smoke?

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.


Maddie Reeze
Maddie Reeze2 years ago

I agree that ecigs can be a better tool for quitting as compared to things like nicotine gum.

Greg Baughman
Greg Baughman3 years ago

I'm a little dismayed that my comments about Big Pharma have mysteriously disappeared.

But... just for giggles... here's a fun link for you to look at. (Not mentioning any names)

... I think that you'll find it an interesting bit of information about who is really behind all of the e-cigarette propaganda.

Ian Brown
Ian Brown3 years ago

Come to that, it's not safe to walk the streets; all those exhaust fumes!

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

Children of smokers have no choice but to inhale all the second hand smoke and never get away from it. I speak from experience. So to say just stay away is not feasible. E cigs are still chemicals but maybe at a lower level. I hope the chance that the E's are healthier is accurate.

Dale O.

Very true, Linda M and Mary B, those in nursing are concerned about public health, but many don't realize that medical personnel often care for those who have smoked for years and have watched many a tragedy unfold.

Stardust N asked: "Why not just stop smoking , period!"

Some people can't, either they are addicted to it, or perhaps enjoy it somewhat as some will say that it relaxes them, a variety of reasons, not everyone is always going to quit smoking, it is a choice that they have made. Some may quit in the future.

M.N. J.stated: "...Unless you're living with a smoker (which would be a choice made by who? you!) "second-hand smoke" is a risk blown way out of proportion. Get a grip."

I imagine that a number of people continue to live with smokers, even if the second hand smoke is a threat to their health. If one has children, etc., sometimes it is hard to walk away from a partner who smokes. Not everyone ends a marriage or a relationship and sometimes the partner takes up smoking years later in the relationship.

Robert V, what in the world does a pedophile have to do with people who are smoking, a rather bizarre analogy.

Mary B.
Mary B3 years ago

Valerie K...... I hope you remember your words to Linda M if you even have to be admitted to hospital for an extended period of time (No, I don't wish you ill)......our concern as RN's is the risk you are to yourself as a smoker.....risk for anesthetics, risk for post op recovery, etc.......I have never smoked so I probably can't fully understand what you go through......It would be remiss of us as nurses NOT to explain these risks just as your doctor would and certainly any anesthetist, physio, or respiratory therapist...If E cigs contain ANY chemicals, I guess another problem could be created.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 3 years ago

OK - I'll just shut up. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Valerie K.
Val K3 years ago

Linda M. I get that you think your “mandate, oath & OBLIGATION is to teach good health practices.”, and if someone asked you it would be. But we are all adults here and if we want someone's advice we will ask for it. I have been trying to quit smoking for a very long time. I have tried everything and have a stack of books on the subject two feet tall. I am now qualified to write my own book. I have been studying this for years and know more about the subject than you will ever know, and I suspect I’m not the only one here. So for you to say it’s your “obligation” to educate me or any one else, unsolicited, no it is not.

And just as an FYI, while I appreciate your concern, nothing will make a smoker dig in his heels faster than someone taking the moral high ground and lecturing them about smoking. By continuing to do that you are doing more harm than good.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go have a cigarette.

Margie Szelmeczka

no comment

BJ J3 years ago

Wow! Being a smoker, ex-smoker or smoking e-cigarettes gets harsh criticism here but in other C-2 stories, prisoners (people who rape, torture, murder) complaining of "unfair" treatment, lousy food, etc. get sympathy & have petitions started to improve their conditions.