What’s in vapes? Toxins, heavy metals, maybe radioactive polonium

If you asked me what’s in e-cigarettes, disposable vapes or e-liquids, my short answer would be “we don’t fully know”.

The huge and increasing range of products and flavours on the market, changes to ingredients when they are heated or interact with each other, and inadequate labelling make this a complicated question to anBut understanding the health impacts adds another level of complexity. E-cigarettes’ risk to health varies depending on including which device or flavours are used, and how people use them. So vapers just don’t know what they’re inhaling and cannot be certain of the health impacts.

What do we know?

Despite these complexities, there are some consistencies between what different laboratories find. Ingredients include nicotine, flavouring chemicals, and the liquids that carry them – primarily propylene glycol and glycerine. Concerningly., we also find volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and carcinogens (agents that can cause cancer), many of which we know are harmful. Our previous research also found 2-chlorophenol in about half of e-liquids users buy to top-up re-fillable e-cigarettes. This is one example of a chemical with no valid reason to be there.

It’s not just the ingredients

Aside from their ingredients, the materials e-cigarette devices are made from can end up in our bodies. Toxic Metalsand such as arsenic, lead, chromium and nickel can be detected in both e-liquids and vapers’ urine, saliva and blood. These substances can pose serious health risks (such as being carcinogenic). They can leach from several parts of an e-cigarette, including the heating coil, wires and soldered joints.

Colourful, disposable vapes on a blue background
Chemicals from the device itself can end up in our blood, urine and saliva.

That’s not all

The process of heating e-liquids to create an inhalable aerosol also changes their chemical make-up to produce degradation products.

These include:

  • formaldehyde (a substance used to embalm dead bodies)
  • acetaldehyde (a key substance that contributes to a hangover after drinking alcohol)
  • acrolein (used as a chemical weapon in the first world war and now used as a herbicide).

These chemicals are often detcted in e-cigarette samples. However due to different devices and how the samples are collected, the levels measured vary widely between studies.Often, the levels are very low, leading to proponents of vaping arguing e-cigarettes are far safer than tobacco smoking.But this argument does not acknowledge that many e-cigarette users (particularly adolescents) were or are not cigarette smokers, meaning a better comparison is between e-cigarette use and breathing “fresh” air.An e-cigarette user is undoubtedly exposed to more toxins and harmful substances than a non-smoker. People who buy tobacco cigarettes are also confronted with a plethora of warnings about the hazards of smoking, while vapers generally are not.

Ilja Nedilko

Make sure to read more findings to see why Lumenary is working to create cleaner diffusion devices and technologies.

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Gemma Ware

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