Study: Metallic content of Marlboro smoke ‘order of magnitude’ higher than e-cig vapor

Public health officials often claim that more research is needed before they can openly and publicly endorse vaping as a smoking cessation tool.  Meanwhile, decades of documented research already exists showing that conventional tobacco cigarettes are laced with tar, hundreds of chemicals, 70 different carcinogens, at a variety of different metals.  

While “more research” into e-cigarettes is always a good idea, common sense dictates that they are significantly less harmful than combustible tobacco.  The e-liquids used in e-cigs are 100% tobacco-free, which means they also lack the carcinogens, chemicals, and tar.  Furthermore, e-liquids are manufactured with only three primary ingredients:  vegetable glycerin (a sweetener used in ice creams), propylene glycol (a sweetener used in many bakery products) and special flavorings.

But what about the metallic content of vaping versus smoking?  A collaborative group of scientists from two American universities set out to find the answer. 

Synopsis of the vaping study

Led by Dr. Dominic Palazzolo of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, he and his team asked other researchers from William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Missouri, to participate in the experiment.  The results were then published in the Frontiers in Physiology in a paper entitled Trace Metals Derived from Electronic Cigarette (ECIG) Generated Aerosol: Potential Problem of ECIG Devices That Contain Nickel. 

Related Article: NYU study shows FDA endorsement of vaping would save ‘millions of life years’

The scientists began by testing the metallic content of e-cig vapor produced from a typical 7ml nicotine e-liquid.  They then compared the related toxicity levels to the cigarette smoke produced by an over-the-counter Marlboro cigarette.  Of the various metals associated with combustible tobacco products, the Palazzolo team focused on nine of the most dangerous:  arsenic, aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, lead, and zinc.  What they ultimately determined is that the metallic content of e-cig vapor is essentially the same as every day, ambient air.

“The concentrations of Al, As, Cd, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, Pb, and Zn in E-liquid (μg/L) and in the tobacco and paper of Marlboro cigarettes (μg/g) along with their contents (μg) based on 15 puffs (140 μL of E-liquid) of the ECIG device or 15 puffs of a cigarette (0.687 g of tobacco and paper) are listed in Table 3. With the exception of As, these results indicate that the content of all trace metals, on a per cigarette basis, are at least an order of magnitude higher in the tobacco and paper of a cigarette as compared to the E-liquid. Although, the content of As in the E-liquid is quite low, the As in the tobacco and paper is below the detection limit.”

There was only one anomaly.  The levels of the metal nickel in e-cig vapor registered slightly higher than that of ambient air, but it was also about 97 percent lower to that of the Marlboro cigarette smoke.   

“In general, the findings of this study suggest that the concentrations of most trace metals extracted from cigarette smoke exceed the concentrations of trace metals extracted from ECIG-generated aerosol. While confident of these findings, it must be emphasized that these results are specific to the single ECIG device/E-liquid combination used...”

"With the exception of As, these results indicate that the content of all trace metals, on a per cigarette basis, are at least an order of magnitude higher in the tobacco and paper of a cigarette as compared to the E-liquid."

The study’s co-authors also explain why their research is so significant.  Many studies in the recent past have also analyzed the comparative toxicities between e-cig vapor and tobacco smoke, and an alarming number of these studies tend to form conclusions which favor Big Tobacco rather than vaping. According to the Palazzolo team, the other “researchers” conducting these studies either did not know how to vape properly or are trying to intentionally mislead the general public about the “dangers” of vaping.

By simply cranking up the heat on a vaping device – to abnormally high temperatures that would be excruciating to inhale for the vaper – researchers can quite easily create inaccurate data and false conclusions.  In other words, if the heat of a vape pen is turned up too high, then little metal fragments will naturally begin to appear in the resulting vapor due to the coil and tank essentially burning in the high heat.  In truth, vaping is not more metallic in content than the typical air found in an office building or restaurant. 

Related Article: Public health expert says ‘Fear Profiteers’ are behind FDA push to kill vaping

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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