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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Harvard: E-cigarette Emissions Appear to Contain Pollutants

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now regulates electronic cigarettes, it has not yet developed standards for testing them or for acceptable levels of chemicals emitted when users exhale. A study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers found that emissions from tobacco and menthol flavored e-cigarettes do contain some industrial pollutants, warranting further research.

The study was published April 27 in Environmental Health.

Using an automatic puffing machine, the researchers assessed the content of e-cigarette emissions for five groups of pollutants found in tobacco smoke: nicotine, particles, carbonyls, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and trace metal elements. They found that e-cigarette emissions contain measurable amounts of nicotine, fine and nanoparticles, and some toxic VOCs such as benzene and toluene. The level of nicotine emitted was comparable to secondhand exposure from tobacco cigarettes. Particles emitted from e-cigarettes are not directly comparable to those emitted from combustible tobacco products, as they have different physical and chemical properties.

“Our study demonstrates that electronic ‘vaping’ releases more than just nicotine, depending on the way it is formulated, and the common brands we tested contained toxins. Some of these, like benzene and toluene, are known carcinogens,” said study director Dr. David Christiani, Elkan Blout Professor of Environmental Genetics and director of the Environmental and Occupational Medicine and Epidemiology Program.

The findings suggest that e-cigarette emissions are a source of environmental pollution and require more investigation using additional brands and flavor compounds.

The study’s lead author was Dr. Mi-Sun Lee, research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health.

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