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Metals inhaled from vaping are not a health risk

Posted on November 3, 2018


The daily exposure to metals from vaping are below established safety limits with normal use and are of minor health concern, according to a recently published study by leading researchers Konstantinos Farsalinos and Brad Rodu in Inhalation Toxicology.

Vaporisers use heating coils made of metals such as titanium, nickel, kanthal (iron-chromium-aluminium), nichrome (nickel-chromium with trace iron, copper, titanium, aluminum and others) and stainless steel. When the coil is heated, some metal is released into the surrounding e-liquid and then into the aerosol.

Assessing the risk from exposure to metals

Legitimate concerns have been raised about inhaled metals as some metals are carcinogenic (causing cancer) and are toxic to the body above a certain dose. However, some studies have used incorrect assessment methods and the risk has been exaggerated.

When assessing the risk, what is important is the daily dose of the chemical inhaled by the user and how that compares to recognised daily safety limits.

In this latest analysis, Dr Farsalinos used data from a previous study by Olmedo of 56 modern tank-style vaporisers. Dr Farsalinos compared the total daily amount of each metal inhaled with established, relevant safety limits for each metal. The safety limits were defined by the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Results

The analysis found that with normal use, the daily dose of metals inhaled from second generation devices was below the daily safety limits for all metals.

In the case of nickel, extremely heavy users could exceed the safety limit. However for all other metals, it was virtually impossible to exceed safety limits.

The authors of the Olmedo study had claimed that the metals were released at unsafe levels.  However, Dr Farsalinos explained that the study used the wrong methodology for calculating risk, 'The authors once again confuse themselves and everyone else by using environmental safety limits related to exposure with every single breath, and apply them to vaping. However, humans take more than 17,000 (thousand) breaths per day but only 400-600 puffs per day from an e-cigarette'

The results are similar to a 2015 study by Dr Farsalinos which assessed the risk from metal particles released in two studies of first generation vaporisers. That analysis found that 'Overall metal emissions were very low and below safety limits for inhalational medications and occupational setting limits'.

The dose makes the poison

The mere presence of a chemical is meaningless without a risk assessment. Trace metals are present everywhere in the environment, including in the air, water, food, dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals, even nicotine inhalers, and are of no concern.

It is likely that metal exposure from vaping will reduce over time as the technology and manufacturing and products used are improved.

But for now, the bottom line is that trace levels of metals released by vaping and are not a health risk

However, vapers can reduce their risk by avoiding high volumes of inhaled vapour. This is a consideration for users who sub-ohm, ie using large volumes of e-liquid with  low nicotine concentration and  low power devices to make large clouds. Using an e-liquid with a higher concentration of nicotine can help to reduce vapour production and reduce the inhaled chemicals.

Overall, vaping does have a low level of risk, but is far safer than smoking. Regular vapers are advised to quit if possible to eliminate any harm, unless there is a risk of going back to smoking.

Posted by Colin Mendelsohn, colin@athra.org.au


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