Electronic cigarettes are unsafe and pose health risks, UC Riverside study finds

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes), also called “electronic nicotine delivery systems,” are increasingly used worldwide even though only sparse information is available on their health effects. In the United States, e-cigarettes are readily available in shopping malls in most states and on the Internet. But how safe are e-cigarettes?

To address this question, researchers at the University of California, Riverside evaluated five e-cigarette brands and found design flaws, lack of adequate labeling, and several concerns about quality control and health issues. They conclude that e-cigarettes are potentially harmful and urge regulators to consider removing e-cigarettes from the market until their safety is adequately evaluated.

Unlike conventional cigarettes, which burn tobacco, e-cigarettes vaporize nicotine, along with other compounds present in the cartridge, in the form of aerosol created by heating, but do not produce the thousands of chemicals and toxicants created by tobacco combustion. Nothing is known, however, about the chemicals present in the aerosolized vapors emanating from e-cigarettes.

“As a result, some people believe that e-cigarettes are a safe substitute for conventional cigarettes,” said Prue Talbot, the director of UC Riverside’s Stem Cell Center, whose lab led the research. “However, there are virtually no scientific studies on e-cigarettes and their safety. Our study — one of the first studies to evaluate e-cigarettes — shows that this product has many flaws, which could cause serious public health problems in the future if the flaws go uncorrected.”

Study results appear in this month’s issue of Tobacco Control.

Talbot, a professor of cell biology and neuroscience, was joined in the study by Anna Trtchounian, the first author of the research paper. Together, they examined the design, accuracy and clarity of labeling, nicotine content, leakiness, defective parts, disposal, errors in filling orders, instruction manual quality and advertizing for the following brands of e-cigarettes: NJOY, Liberty Stix, Crown Seven (Hydro), Smoking Everywhere (Gold and Platinum) and VapCigs.

Their main observations are that:

  • Batteries, atomizers, cartridges, cartridge wrappers, packs and instruction manuals lack important information regarding e-cigarette content, use and essential warnings;
  • E-cigarette cartridges leak, which could expose nicotine, an addictive and dangerous chemical, to children, adults, pets and the environment;
  • Currently, there are no methods for proper disposal of e-cigarettes products and accessories, including cartridges, which could result in nicotine contamination from discarded cartridges entering water sources and soil, and adversely impacting the environment; and
  • The manufacture, quality control, sales, and advertisement of e-cigarettes are unregulated.

The study was funded by a grant to Talbot from the University of California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP).

“More research on e-cigarettes is crucially needed to protect the health of e-cigarette users and even those who do not use e-cigarettes,” said Kamlesh Asotra, a research administrator at UC TRDRP. “Contrary to the claims of the manufacturers and marketers of e-cigarettes being ‘safe,’ in fact, virtually nothing is known about the toxicity of the vapors generated by these e-cigarettes. Until we know any thing about the potential health risks of the toxins generated upon heating the nicotine-containing content of the e-cigarette cartridges, the ‘safety’ claims of the manufactureres are dubious at best.

“Justifiably, more information about the potential toxic and health effects of e-cigarette vapors is necessary before the public can have a definitive answer about the touted safety of e-cigarettes. Hopefully, in the near future, scientists can provide firm evidence for or against the claimed ‘safety’ of e-cigarettes as a nicotine-delivery tool.”

UC TRDRP supports research that focuses on the prevention, causes, and treatment of tobacco-related disease and the reduction of the human and economic costs of tobacco use in California.

About electronic cigarettes:

E-cigarettes consist of a battery, a charger, a power cord, an atomizer, and a cartridge containing nicotine and propylene glycol. When a smoker draws air through an e-cigarette, an airflow sensor activates the battery that turns the tip of the cigarette red to simulate smoking and heats the atomizer to vaporize the propylene glycol and nicotine. Upon inhalation, the aerosol vapor delivers a dose of nicotine into the lungs of the smoker, after which, residual aerosol is exhaled into the environment.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California’s diverse culture, UCR’s enrollment has exceeded 20,500 students. The campus will open a medical school in 2012 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Graduate Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.

11 COMMENTS

  1. We don’t need to over-react to e-cigarettes’ existence. This product was created to help heavy smokers control their nicotine addiction and gradually stop smoking, and it has succeeded. There are health risks, but these are often caused by faulty products or low quality. Still, e-cigarettes pose much less health risks compared to conventional tobacco cigarettes.

  2. My only concern is this: What are the long-term effects of inhaling proylene glycol? I’ve noticed that with heavy usage (inhaling constantly throughout the day), I develop a headache towards the evening. The F.D.A. has approved this substance for use in everyday products such as skin moisturizer and prepared foods, but it has not conducted research into the long-term effects of inhaling propylene glycol on the human brain or lungs. I hope they do so soon so I can know whether or not I’m jumping from the frying pan into the fire!

  3. The article states “e-cigarettes are potentially harmful and urge regulators to consider removing e-cigarettes from the market until their safety is adequately evaluated”. I don’t think we should over react to E-Cigarettes. Because the statement “e-cigarettes are a safe substitute for conventional cigarettes” is false. They are a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes. Anything can be harmful to you if you don’t use it right. Drinking too much water can cause health issues, but we are not going remove water from the market to test it. E-Cigarettes provide people with an alternative to smoking. They feel and some look like regular cigarettes. They also provide nicotine if you choose to have it in your e-liquid. But what they don’t have is the 4000+ chemicals you get from regular cigarettes. So ask yourself, are they safer?, yes they are. Last I checked, food grade propylene glycol, nicotine, food flavoring are not carcinogenic.

  4. I do agree with the leaking issue. I have had several different brands leak and it is absolutely disgusting. There are very few companies out there that do any type of quality control.

  5. I tend to agree with Michael Siegel’s conclusion in his e-cigarette study that although electronic cigarettes are not safe in absolute terms, they pose far less dangers than traditional tobacco.

    Scott, you are on to something. It’s kind of a little suspicious how many cheerleaders of the gum, patch, and other nicotine replacement therapies propose the argument that e cigarettes could get kids addicted to nicotine and thus start smoking. As if the gum and patch couldn’t do the same thing. Hypocrites.

  6. I agree with both comments. Something seems wrong. Up until now, there are no conclusions as to whether e-cigs are safe or not. There are no mention as to how e-cigs can damage the users health. Only guesses. I’ve checked with a few articles about the safety of e-cig but none show any actual danger (if there is any). They only mentioned about the disposable of batteries and leakage of the nicotine catridges.

    Are they going to suggest next that e-cig actually caused global warming?

  7. I agree with Nick here, I have now transferred from smoking cigarettes to using electronic cigarettes, after years of unsuccessful attempts to quit using ‘conventional’ methods. The headline for this article I feel is misleading, and could perhaps read ‘More research required to evaluate the safety of electronic cigarettes’.

  8. This study only concludes that the safety of e-cigarettes have not been thoroughly evaluated, and mentions potential risks as being exposure to nicotine in e-liquid and disposal of batteries. None of these assertions demonstrate that e-cigarettes are unsafe, particularly when compared to conventional cigarettes. They do, however, offer smokers a safer alternative, for those who want to quit but do not want to take mind-altering drugs like Chantix, or quit cold turkey, or use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).Both Chantix and NRT have a dismal record of keeping smokers off cigarettes (between 88-95% failure rate) and it can take smokers several attempts over a long period to successfully quit going cold turkey. However, many smokers, including myself have been able to give up cigarettes instantly using e-cigarettes, and I have not gone back in over a year. I wonder how much Pru(d)e Talbot is getting paid by Pfizer and GSK to trash e-cigarettes. We all know that the Tobacco Control Enterprise wants to ultimately prohibit all tobacco products and prevent anyone from marketing alternatives that are not peddled by their Big Pharma benefactors.

    • That’s a great response Nick. You hit the real issue right on. If this product that is most likely a hundred if not a thousand times better than using tobacco is “potentially dangerous” then why don’t they take 80% of the pharma drugs off of the market until they can do more research on them “to protect the health of those” who take pharma and doctors words on the safety of those products. I’d like to see who is funding UCR’s research on this and other “potentially dangerous products.”

    • I’m on the side of e-cig supporters, having successfully quit sucking carcinogens into my lungs now for 18 months, after 45 years of roller coastering between cigarettes and other tobacco products, and smoking cessation products which did not work, and cold turkey. Quitting with e-cigs took me 45 seconds.

      The “study” is no study at all (they haven’t done anything more than I have in evaluating a variety of these devices for personal use). This is just another hit job being given media hype (I first saw a brief, slanted article on AOL “News,” with no opportunity to post comments–since apparently taken down).

      I do disagree with people who think many of these organizations, such as the FDA, American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and TRDRP want to make smoking go away. Why would they want to lose their guaranteed meal ticket? They just want to deny us alternatives, because they know that even if we spend a fortune on Chantrix, patches, gum, inhalers, etc., most will eventually go back to smoking, and eventually may wind up in the hospital, where we’ll spend another fortune on useless treatments like radiation, chemo, surgery, and finally become a useful statistic they can broadcast in their advertising and fund-raising.

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