Vaping or electronic cigarettes have grown in popularity recently. Many believe that using “smokeless” tobacco can help an individual curb their addiction to regular cigarettes. In addition, vaping does not generate heavy smoke. But how safe is the vapor that is emitted from “smokeless” tobacco? This blog post will discuss vaping products and their impact on indoor air quality.
How Vaping Works
Unlike tobacco smoking, vaping does not require a flame in order to operate the device. Because there is no flame, there is no combustion and therefore no combustion by-products. Some of the toxic and carcinogenic by-products in tobacco smoking include “nitrosamines, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and carbon monoxide“ 1. To extract the liquid nicotine from the vaping device, a battery is used instead of a flame. Different vaping devices contain different amounts of nicotine. Nicotine, however, is not the only substance in vaping devices. Additives such as various flavorings, erectile dysfunction drugs, or even weight loss drugs have been included in some vaping devices 2.
Other chemicals include propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin. PG and vegetable glycerin are chemicals used in vaping products to generate the vapor 3. One major problem with vaping devices is that the advertised concentrations of nicotine or other chemicals in the product are often incorrect, due to poor quality control and lack of regulations.
Indoor Air Quality Impacts
Volatile organic compounds, aerosolization of various flavoring chemicals, ultrafine particulates, and even metal and silica particles can be emitted from vaping devices which can impact the indoor air quality. One major constraint with providing recommendations and exact numbers is that there is not a lot of research regarding all of the vaping by-products and their effects on indoor air quality. For example, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) is an organization that is responsible for the safety of flavoring products. FEMA has not conducted any research on “the safety of the use of these flavorings in e-cigarettes” 4.
In contrast to aerosolized flavorings, there is more research available on how vaping products impact the levels of VOCs in the air. Several studies found that VOCs are usually only slightly increased from vaping. Some of the VOCs present from vaping included formaldehyde and toluene but the chemicals varied depending on the vaping product. It should be mentioned that the slight increase in VOCs pales in comparison to the much higher VOC levels that would occur from traditional tobacco smoke. Similarly, ultrafine particles are emitted from vaping products depending on the product but these levels are much lower than from traditional tobacco smoking. One major difference between both methods is that a lit cigarette is continuously emitting particles but vaping devices generally only emit particles when exhaling the vapor.
Much more research is needed to determine how vaping products impact indoor air quality not to mention that “secondary exposure to e-cigarette aerosol (passive vaping) will soon become a pressing public health issue in the world” 5. From the information that is currently available, it appears that vaping products are not 100% “clean” and negatively impact indoor air quality by adding VOCs, ultrafine particles, and other compounds in the air. However, they are less damaging to indoor air quality when compared to regular tobacco smoke.