As part of its investigation into the potential health effects of electronic cigarettes, the California Department of Public Health has been conducting air sampling and personal exposure monitoring in vape shops throughout the state. The results of sampling in one of these vape shops, obtained by The Rest of the Story, reveal that "secondhand vaping" appears to result in minimal exposure of bystanders to hazardous chemicals.
In this particular vape shop, sampling was conducted under quite adverse conditions. Many of the employees vaped throughout the sampling and 13 customers vaped while in the shop. There was no active ventilation system, and visible clouds of vapor were visible at times. So this seems to represent a high level of exposure compared to what one might expect in a public place outside a vape shop (e.g., a restaurant, bar, or office workplace)
Here are the major results of the air sampling:
Nicotine: Not detected
Glycidol: Not detected
Formaldehyde: 7.2 ppb
Diacetyl: Not detected using standard method
2,3-Pentanedione: Not detected using standard method
Acetyl butyryl: Not detected using standard method
Acetoin: Not detected using standard method
Acetone: Not detected
Ethyl benzene: Not detected
m,p-Xylene: Not detected
o-Xylene: Not detected
Toluene: Not detected
Acetaldehyde: Not detected
Acetonitrile: Not detected
alpha-pinene: Not detected
Benzene: Not detected
Chloroform: Not detected
d-Limonene: Not detected
Methylene chloride: Not detected
Methyl methacrylate: Not detected
n-Hexane: Not detected
Styrene: Not detected
The level of formaldehyde detected is consistent with normal indoor and outdoor air levels of formaldehyde under baseline conditions.
Other than the small concentration of formaldehyde, the only other chemicals that were quantified were ethanol (alcohol) and isopropyl alcohol.
This study, although conducted under very high exposure conditions in a small, non-ventilated vape shop with many employees and customers vaping and clouds of vapor visible, did not document any dangerous levels of exposure to any hazardous chemical. Nicotine exposure was essentially non-existent. Formaldehyde exposure was no different than in many indoor and outdoor environments at baseline. Acetone, acetoin, other aldehydes, toluene, benzene, and xylene were not detected. Chemicals that have been associated with "popcorn lung" were also not detected by the standard method.
This study adds to the evidence that under real-life conditions, "secondhand vaping" does not appear to pose any significant health risks.
Despite the claims of many anti-vaping organizations, the documented health risks of "secondhand vaping" appear to be minimal. And this is in an environment with relatively extreme conditions -- there was a visible cloud of vapor at times.
Based on the current scientific evidence, I fail to see the justification for banning vaping in most public places. And remember, this is coming from a guy who has devoted virtually his entire career to banning smoking in bars, restaurants, casinos, and every other indoor workplace (and even outdoor seating areas of restaurants). So I'm certainly not one to minimize the health risks of preventable environmental exposures.
However, I believe that there must be reasonable evidence before the government intervenes to ban a behavior such as smoking or vaping. With regards to vaping, I just don't see any reasonable evidence at this time that it poses any significant health hazard to bystanders.
Dr. Siegel is a Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health. He has 25 years of experience in the field of tobacco control. He previously spent two years working at the Office on Smoking and Health at CDC, where he conducted research on secondhand smoke and cigarette advertising. He has published nearly 70 papers related to tobacco. He testified in the landmark Engle lawsuit against the tobacco companies, which resulted in an unprecedented $145 billion verdict against the industry. He teaches social and behavioral sciences, mass communication and public health, and public health advocacy in the Masters of Public Health program.