Study: E-cigarette aerosols contain thousands of potentially harmful chemicals

6 October 2021

Brian P. Dunleavy. Source: UPI

 E-cigarettes and other vaping devices contain thousands of unknown chemicals and substances not disclosed by manufacturers, including industrial materials and caffeine, a study published Wednesday by Chemical Research in Toxicology found.

The aerosols produced by these devices contained more than 2,000 chemicals, the vast majority of which are unidentified, the data showed.

Of that could be identified, six were potentially harmful, including three chemicals never previously found in e-cigarettes, according to the researchers.

Two of the four vaping devices tested contained the stimulant caffeine, even when the flavors were not either coffee or chocolate.

The findings suggest people who vape are using a product whose risks have yet to be fully determined and could be exposing themselves to chemicals with adverse health effects, the researchers said.

“More and more young people are using these e-cigarettes and they need to know what they’re being exposed to,” study co-author Carsten Prasse said in a press release.

“E-cigarette aerosols contain other completely uncharacterized chemicals that might have health risks that we don’t yet know about,” said Prasse, an assistant professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Previous studies of e-cigarettes have looked specifically for evidence of the hazardous chemicals found in traditional cigarettes.

Although their chemical compositions differ, vaping devices may cause similar health harms, including heart and lung complications, research suggests.

In addition, vaping aerosols containing vitamin E acetate have been linked with serious lung injury.

For this study, however, Prasse and his colleagues did not focus on specific chemicals, but rather sought to identify all of those present in aerosols.

Using a chemical fingerprinting technique based on liquid chromatography and high-resolution mass spectrometry, which can identify organic compounds in wastewater, food and blood, the team tested four popular products: Mi-Salt, Vuse, Juul and Blu, testing only tobacco-flavored products.

E-liquids contained thousands of unknown chemicals, and vaping aerosols had even more, the researchers said.

These included hydrocarbon-like compounds, typically associated with combustion, which manufacturers claim are not produced during vaping, according to the researchers.

In traditional cigarettes, the condensed hydrocarbons generated during smoking are toxic, they said.

In addition to caffeine, the products produced three industrial chemicals, a pesticide and two flavorings linked with possible toxic effects and respiratory irritation, the data showed.

“People just need to know that they’re inhaling a very complex mixture of chemicals when they vape,” Prasse said.

“And for a lot of these compounds we have no idea what they actually are,” he said.

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