It is a friend’s birthday and we are finishing up dessert. His girlfriend pulls out a device; which I thought at first glance to be a tube of lip gloss; but turned out to be an e cigarette. She “lit it up”, sucking on the little tube for all she was worth before exhaling a cloud of grape scented vapour. She continued to puff away until an employee from the restaurant came over and asked her to stop. I began to wonder, what was in the “smoke” exhaled by e cigarettes and should I be concerned about any potential health risks.
E cigarettes deliver nicotine via a heated coil which atomizes or vapourises the chemical which allows the drug to be taken into the lungs. The fluid used in e cigarettes contains propylene glycol, glycerine and flavouring. The liquid is also available without nicotine. I began to wonder if all of the nicotine atomized made its way into the user or whether some of it was exhaled in the vapour. In addition, I wondered what chemicals were in the grape aroma that I was smelling.
I began my research on Wikipedia; a reasonable first step. Interestingly, at the time of writing, all edits to the electronic cigarette article were closed by Wikipedia staffers due to an ongoing conflict between article contributors. This seems to be the case in most of the literature I found on the subject. Although there is wide agreement that e cigarettes are less harmful for both the user and the people around them; it is unclear how much harm, if any, is acceptable for bystanders. Most studies agree that there are trace amounts of nicotine and other chemicals released when an e cigarette user exhales. The difference of opinion lies in how much nicotine is in the exhalation and how much risk it poses. As for the grape flavouring, well; it is likely as harmful, or benign, as the case may be of any artificial smells we encounter every day.
So; the answer… is second hand e cigarette vapour harmful? Yes; but less so than actual cigarette smoke.