On the heels of the Federal Drug Administration's (FDA) second public workshop to explore the public health considerations associated with e-cigarettes, nonprofit research organization RTI International released a new research paper "Exhaled Electronic Cigarette Emissions: What's Your Secondhand Exposure?," which explores the composition of e-cigarette vapor and the potential health impacts of secondhand exposure.
"As proliferation of e-cigarettes surges, understanding the health effects of e-cigarette use and exposure to vapors is essential," said Jonathan Thornburg, Ph.D., author of the study published by RTI Press, and director of Exposure and Aerosol Technology at RTI. "We need to be aggressively investing in and conducting research that answers lingering questions about the potential health impacts of secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes, while taking the necessary action to protect public health now."
The study finds e-cigarette emissions contain enough nicotine, and numerous other chemicals to cause concern. A non-user may be exposed to secondhand aerosol particles similar in size to tobacco smoke and diesel engine smoke. Meanwhile, e-cigarettes are a rapidly growing business with annual sales doubling yearly to $1 billion in 2013, and a current lack of regulation that has allowed for a surge in marketing.
Because e-cigarette products are not yet regulated, the chemicals and devices involved vary widely, as may the potential health impacts. Many factors — including the specific device used — influence the chemical makeup and toxicity of e-cigarette emissions. The full scope of health impacts of e-cigarette smoke, as well as secondhand exposure's impacts on children, is still unknown.
"Secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes is just one aspect of the research that must be considered as we make decisions about appropriate use of these products," said Annice Kim, Ph.D., senior social scientist at RTI. "It is critical that we explore the role of e-cigarette marketing — especially to children and youth — so that we can better understand motivators for use and put public health safeguards in place."
RTI hosted a press briefing today to answer questions about public health concerns associated with secondhand exposure to e-cigarette emissions and product marketing.
The briefing featured RTI experts Thornburg and Kim as well as Stanton Glantz, Ph.D., professor of medicine, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and director, UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
E-cigarettes are nicotine-delivering consumer products designed to closely mimic the experience of smoking conventional cigarettes. The courts have already determined e-cigarettes to be tobacco products, and the FDA has proposed following the same classification. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, secondhand smoke from traditional cigarettes has killed 2.5 million adults who were non-smokers, in the past 50 years. Secondhand smoke from traditional cigarettes is associated with the top four causes of death in America.