A new study of e-cigarettes by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has been useful to peg the source of toxic chemical compound emissions and has discovered that temperature, type, and age of the device make a difference in the amount of chemical emissions produced.
The study confirmed that the thermal decomposition of two solvents found in e-liquids, or “e-juice,” produces acrolein and formaldehyde when it is vaporized. Also found in most e-liquids is diacetyl, a chemical used in flavorings to mimic the creamy taste of butter.
Diacetyl can be found in baking mixes, candy, alcohol, flavored yogurt, snack foods, cheese, and coffee. According to the FDA, diacetyl is safe when consumed in trace amounts. But when it is inhaled, the person is at risk for developing serious lung diseases such as bronchiolitis obliterans.
The lung disease, better known as “popcorn lung,” was first linked to diacetyl when several microwave popcorn plant workers were diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, which is only treatable by lung transplant, in the early 2000s.
Hugo Destaillats, Berkeley Lab researcher and corresponding author of the study, advised, “Advocates of e-cigarettes say emissions are much lower than from conventional cigarettes, so you’re better off using e-cigarettes. I would say, that may be true for certain users — for example, long time smokers that cannot quit — but the problem is, it doesn’t mean that they’re healthy. Regular cigarettes are super unhealthy. E-cigarettes are just unhealthy.”
The study also found that there is a striking difference in chemicals produced between the first and last puffs of an e-cigarette. The temperature of the vapor rose drastically in the first 5-10 minutes. The danger of elevated diacetyl exposure has also been linked to higher temperatures reached by e-cigarettes. The toxic build-up on the coils is also a concern, known as “coil gunk” or “caramelization.”
Another recent study confirmed the concern of diacetyl exposure in e-cigarettes. The study’s lead author, Joseph G. Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said, “The flavoring is in a liquid form and our concern is that the exposure pathway is similar to that of the workers who are getting sick,” pointing out that inhaling heated flavoring chemicals is similar to the exposure that the microwave plant workers experienced.
Allen explained further, “There are no defined safe limits to these chemicals at all for exposure through these e-cigarettes.” To the high frequency and duration vapers, Allen warns, “frequency and duration of exposure could be higher than those of workers.”