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Study Claims Toxic Metal In Vape

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg researchers find heavy metals in cigalike liquids.

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Researchers working for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health carried out an investigation, looking for the presence of toxic heavy metals in cigalike eliquids. They found the presence of five heavy metals, which might be some cause for concern, but the results are tempered by the limitations of the study.

The researchers “selected five popular brands of rechargeable 'cig-a-like' devices available in the United States. The retail environment and sales of cig- a-likes are difficult to determine. Brands increase and decrease in popularity rapidly as cig-a-like manufacturers bring new products to market (Zhu et al., 2014). We chose five brands based on national market share. Three of the brands we tested comprised 71% of the market share of cig-a-likes in 2015 (Craver, 2015). Three of the brands are manufactured by tobacco companies and two are not”.

While the focus was purely on cigalike cartridges, the official release failed to feature a single cigalike in the first image – preferring to draw the reader’s eye to advanced devices. While there may be similar concerns, these were not tested and it is irresponsible not to include images of the products that underwent testing.

Refill cartridges were dismantled and the internal pads spun to relinquish their store of eliquid. The collected juice was processed using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, analysing for a set of known heavy metals. The team found evidence of cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, and nickel in the eliquid.

The report states: “concentrations ranged from 4.89 (0.893) to 1970 (1540) μg/L for lead, 53.9 (6.95) to 2110 (5220) μg/L for chromium and 58.7 (22.4) to 22,600 (24,400) μg/L for nickel. Manganese concentrations ranged from 28.7 (9.79) to 6910.2 (12,200) μg/L. We found marked variability in nickel and chromium concentration within and between brands, which may come from heating elements.”

Ana María Rule was the teams lead, she explained: “We do not know if these levels are dangerous, but their presence is troubling and could mean that the metals end up in the aerosol that e-cigarette users inhale. One of the things that is troubling is that the metals in e-cigarette coils, which heat the liquid that creates the aerosol, are toxic when inhaled, so perhaps regulators might want to look into an alternative material for e-cigarette heating coils.”

The measured response to the findings by the team’s leader is welcome, and her call for further testing to be conducted (and for testing to be carried on vapour) is justified. What would be useful is to see how a similar study on advanced devices, using a range of coil materials, yields results.

The team discovered a range of results from the five sample brands and only small volumes were tested. This research is limited by virtue of the type of liquid analysed and the volumes covered. Heavy metal presence is of concern, but follow up testing needs to relate the findings to smoking and safety limits.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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