The Secondhand Vaping Trap: How E-Cigarettes Quietly Poison Children's Health

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While you may believe your vaping habit is a personal choice, the toxic chemicals you exhale are anything but a choice for the children breathing them in

Parents who vape around their children may be putting them at risk for health problems, a new study from Emory University researchers has found. The study discovered that children aged 4 to 12 who were regularly exposed to vaping had higher levels of metabolites linked to harmful chemicals found in e-cigarette vapor, compared to children who did not grow up around vaping.1

The researchers tested the blood, saliva and breath of children whose parents vaped daily and compared the results to a control group of kids with no secondhand vape exposure. They found increased levels of molecules produced by the body in response to chemicals from e-cigarette aerosols. These substances can lead to inflammation, cell damage, and health conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.1

"Many people who smoke have switched to using e-cigarettes, thinking it's safer for them and others nearby," said lead author Jeannie Rodriguez, an associate professor at Emory. "However, there are chemicals in the liquids used in a vape that are hazardous for you and those that you care about who are exposed to the vapors you exhale."1

E-cigarettes have been marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. However, more studies are showing that vaping may not be risk-free, especially for children exposed secondhand. Vapes produce an aerosol containing a complex mix of over 7,000 chemicals, some of which are toxic.2

In addition to the chemicals in e-liquids, recent research has uncovered another stealthy threat: toxic metals in vapor clouds. A study examining popular pod-style e-cigarette brands found that formulas using lactic acid to form nicotine salts yielded far higher levels of airborne chromium, zinc, and especially nickel compared to those using benzoic or levulinic acids.3 In some cases, just 10 puffs of lactic acid vapor contained hundreds of times more nickel than inhaling from a traditional cigarette.3

Nickel and chromium compounds pose well-established respiratory health hazards, including inflammation, weakened lung function, and cancer upon chronic exposure.4 The study authors suggest that harsher corrosion from lactic acid salts likely boosted metal transfer from device components into the aerosol.3

Vaping has also been linked to numerous other short-term and long-term health effects. A recent study found associations between vaping and respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.5 Other research has shown impacts on cardiovascular health, with some e-cigarettes delivering high levels of nicotine that may be as harmful to the heart and lungs as traditional cigarettes.6

In a survey of parents from the Emory study, many were surprised by the findings and unaware of the potential dangers of secondhand vaping for kids. Some believed vaping was significantly less harmful than smoking.1 About 1 in 10 high school students now vape, often drawn in by flavored products and youth-focused advertising.7 Health experts worry this number will continue to rise.1

The researchers hope their findings will raise awareness about limiting children's exposure to e-cigarette aerosols. More studies are still needed to fully understand the long-term health impacts of vaping and secondhand vapor for both kids and adults, including the effects of metal particulates versus the inherent toxicity of chemicals in vapor.3 But these studies suggest erring on the side of caution and avoiding vaping around children. Manufacturers and regulators should also vigilantly monitor e-cigarette brands for stealth metal amplification and clearly inform users of risks.3





4. Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry, Toxicological Profile for Nickel (Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 2005).




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