E-Cig Vapors May Contain Brain-Damaging Toxic Metals, Says New Study

We know smoking causes cancer. But do you know why?
Researchers have determined that aerosol produced by e-cigarettes contain harmful metal toxins, furthering the debate on whether vaping is truly harmless. Nickel, chromium, lead, are just some of the harmful chemicals found.  ( Matt Cardy | Getty Images )

It appears e-cigarettes might not be as harmless as they purport to be. As vaping continues to become a passable alternative to smoking, which is harmful, a new study sheds light on the potentially hazardous effects of vaporizers.

The study, conducted by researchers from the John Hopkins University and published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal on Feb. 22, suggest that the vapors from e-cigarettes might be exposing individuals to toxins such as lead and arsenic.

E-Cigarettes And Harmful Toxins

They studied battery-powered e-cigarette devices owned by 56 users and determined that aerosols produced contained unsafe levels of lead, manganese, chromium, and nickel — or combinations of these. These toxins, when inhaled, could potentially damage a person's lungs, liver, heart, and brain.

They tested whether the e-liquids in the devices' refilling tanks and the aerosol produced contain any toxic metals. They found low levels of metals when testing the dispenser alone, but when the liquid was heated into an aerosol, many of the samples then produced high levels of the toxins.

Four metals didn't make the cut — uranium, titanium, tungsten, and arsenic — because of their low levels. However, high levels of arsenic were found on 10 of the devices.

In an earlier study, the researchers also found that e-cigarette users had a high level of nickel and chromium in their urine and saliva, meaning they were exposed to those chemicals from the aerosol.

The use, benefits, and hazards of vaping are still a topic of significant debate. Some argue that it's a harmless alternative for those trying to quit smoking, while others suspect its side effects. Just for perspective, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't regulated e-cigarettes yet.

Why Are There High Toxin Levels?

So what's causing the high toxin levels? Well, the researchers are nearly certain that it's the metal coil used to heat the liquid. Ana María Rule, senior author of the study, said that e-cigarette companies and vapers must be aware that the way these coils are currently made appears to cause them to leak harmful toxins.

The study is the latest to suggest that smoking e-cigarettes is not entirely benign and that they carry their own body-damaging risks despite being significantly less harmful than smoking actual cigarettes.

The researchers say they want to conduct more studies to more accurately determine the risks carried by e-cigarettes. Thus far, they have determined that there's a link between e-cigarette devices and exposure to harmful metal toxins. The next step would be to prove whether there are actual harmful effects.

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