A new study has found that while e-cigarettes may be less harmful compared to regular cigarettes, they are toxic nonetheless and their toxicity increase as they age.
In a paper titled “Emissions from electronic cigarettes: Key parameters affecting the release of harmful chemicals,” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have not only identified two additional carcinogens not previously reported in e-cigarette vapor, but they have also identified that some e-cigs emit more toxic chemicals than others and it all depends on temperature, type, and age of the device.
Researchers have found emissions of toxic chemicals such as acrolein and formaldehyde due to thermal decomposition of propylene glycol and glycerin, two solvents found in most “e-liquids”. Scientists say that while advocates of e-cigarettes continue trumpeting the benefits of e-cigs over tobacco cigarettes, the one thing to note and remember is that regular cigarette are super unhealthy, and the e-cigarettes are just unhealthy.
One of the important findings of the study is that the first and last puffs produce widely varying emissions. To measure the emissions, researchers used a custom-built vaping apparatus emulating realistic vaping habits and drew on the e-cigarette by taking puffs lasting 5 seconds every 30 seconds. They found that vapor temperature rose quickly in the first 5 to 10 minutes until reaching a steady state temperature at around the twentieth puff.
Correspondingly, emissions levels between the first few puffs and the steady state increased by a factor of 10 or more in some cases, depending on the device, the battery voltage, and the emitted compound. For example, for acrolein, a severe eye and respiratory irritant, a single-coil e-cigarette operated at 3.8 volts emitted 0.46 micrograms per puff in the first five puffs, but at the steady state it emitted 8.7 micrograms per puff.
To test the impact of e-cigarette aging on toxic chemical emissions, researchers used a single device over nine consecutive 50-puff cycles without cleaning. They found that emissions of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein—all either carcinogens or respiratory irritants—increased with usage.
During the tests, the researchers detected significant levels of 31 harmful chemical compounds, including two that had never been previously found in e-cigarette vapor—propylene oxide and glycidol, both of which are probable carcinogens.