Is Secondhand Vapor Harmful? Summary of the Key Research Findings

By now, you’ve heard countless times the reasons against smoking regular tobacco cigarettes in public places. In fact, there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, secondhand tobacco smoke contains more than 7, 000 chemicals of which hundreds are toxic and causes numerous health problems including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ear infections, respiratory infections, severe asthma attacks, and certain types of cancers.

second hand vapor

But with the rise of e-cigarettes’ use and popularity, people have begun to question whether secondhand vapor can cause the same adverse health effects to bystanders as does tobacco smoke. If you vape at home, does this affect the little ones around you? And even if you don’t you may have found yourself near people who do and wonder if it affects you or your kid’s health. Let’s join the debate and uncover the truth about passive or secondhand vaping.

What is Secondhand Vaping?

Secondhand vaping (also referred to as passive vaping) is the act of inhaling e-cigarette vapor from a vaper near you. Those who argue against vaping in public contend that if you inhale vapor from someone using nicotine, you will inhale the same nicotine too. While their claim is true, you only inhale a tiny fraction of the amount nicotine they exhale. Jan Czogala et al. argue in their study that the use of e-cigarettes in indoor settings may expose nonusers to nicotine, but not toxicants from tobacco-specific products. However, the researchers argued that more research is warranted to evaluate the effect of secondhand exposure to nicotine especially among vulnerable populations such as people with cardiovascular conditions, pregnant women, and children.

What Studies Say about Risks of Secondhand Vapor

The studies conducted within this field are innumerable, but there is little (if any) evidence that suggests any risk of secondhand vapor (aerosol) exhaled from an e-cigarette. Conversely, numerous studies show a lack of correlation between secondhand vapor and adverse health effects. Let’s fleetingly take a look at some of these studies:

Nicotine Without Smoke

This study from the Royal College of Physician is quick to dispose of any claim that secondhand vaping is associated with any harm to the nonusers. In this report, the authors agree that users of e-cigs exhale a vapor that may be inhaled by others, leading to passive exposure to nicotine. However, as their study suggests, no direct link or evidence demonstrate that such passive exposure is likely to cause any significant harm. They also maintain that nicotine exhaled by the users can be deposited on surfaces, but at very low levels that there isn’t any plausible mechanism that such deposits can penetrate the body in amounts that can cause physical harm.

Peering Through the Mist

Peering Through the Mist remains one of the best and comprehensive studies on e-cigarettes and their benefits and potential harm to date. It is a systematic literature review funded by CASAA conducted by Drexel University’s Igor Burstyn. The researcher extracted more than 9, 000 studies on e-cig vapor from the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Search database and evaluated the findings. Burstyn tried to estimate the potential exposures from secondhand vapor from e-cigs and compare those potential exposures to occupational exposure standards. He concluded that, although risks from e-liquids may emerge in the future, the exposure to the bystanders are of less magnitude, and therefore pose no apparent concern.

Nicotine Exposure

Nicotine exposure is the only potential risk that is exhaustively highlighted by the vaping activists. They argue that e-cigarette refill cartilages may contain toxic amounts of nicotine which might pose dangers to the children when they are unsafely kept or disposed. Others argue that nicotine on indoor surfaces can lead to thirdhand exposure through ingestion, inhalation, and skin long after the aerosol has cleared the room. Supporting this claim, a certain study suggests that the exhaled nicotine can remain on the surface, which may react with ambient nitrous acid to produce TSNAs, leading to ingestion, inhalation, dermal exposure to carcinogens. However, plentiful studies show e-cigarette vapor dissipates very quickly and can therefore passive vaping possess very little risk if any. Other studies show that indoor air and normal exhaled breath contain more volatile organic compounds than the e-cigarette vapor!


The Bottom Line

There are a lot of stories about the ‘potential’ risks or secondhand vapor from e-cigarettes. But, if you asked me this question, the answer will be no. No sufficient evidence suggests any risk to bystanders from secondhand vapor (aerosol). Yes, some studies claim that exposure to nicotine (that remain on the surfaces) can pose several risks when inhaled, ingested, or comes into contact with the skin, but no sufficient evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, numerous studies suggest that nicotine from secondhand vapor dissipates quickly, therefore, pose no considerable concern.

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