Electronic Cigarettes Contain Higher Levels of Toxic Metal Nanoparticles Than Tobacco Smoke

Electronic Cigarette

Story at-a-glance -

  • The aerosol from a leading manufacturer of electronic cigarettes was found to contain metals including tin, copper, nickel and silver, silicate beads and nanoparticles.
  • In some cases, the metal amounts were greater than you might be exposed to from smoking a conventional cigarette.
  • Electronic cigarettes contain nanoparticles, which, due to their ultramicroscopic size, can easily enter your bloodstream, blood vessels and other body tissues, causing unknown consequences.
  • If you’re thinking of quitting smoking, swapping conventional cigarettes for electronic cigarettes may simply expose you to a new set of health risks; quitting cold turkey after you’re leading a healthy lifestyle may be a better option

By Dr. Mercola

If you’re a smoker, you’ve probably seen the relatively new electronic cigarettes on the market. Maybe you’ve even tried them in an attempt to quit your cigarette habit.

My mom has been a smoker for over sixty years and I really don't hassle her about it because she is not taking any medications, has a really great diet and uses a device to poke holes in her cigarettes that reduces the amount of smoke she inhales by 95%.

I have learned that it is best to allow her to have this one vice and help control the other variables, which are far more damaging to her health, but she also recently asked me about the electronic cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes are touted as a safer, cleaner alternative to smoking, but new research suggests there’s more to the equation than meets the eye.

While they may not expose you to the thousands of toxic compounds in the average conventional cigarette, they do contain hazardous chemicals -- and in some ways these entirely manmade ‘tobacco alternatives’ may be even more dangerous to your health than regular cigarettes.

How do Electronic Cigarettes Work?

When you take a puff of an electronic cigarette – which one in five current smokers1 have tried -- a battery heats up a liquid that contains a flavoring (such as tobacco, menthol, cherry, vanilla, or java), a humectant (typically propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin) and, sometimes, nicotine.

As you inhale, you get a “dose” of flavored nicotine without the chemicals typically produced from burning tobacco. You also get the oral satisfaction of bringing a cigarette-like device to your mouth, which other nicotine replacements, such as the patch or gum, do not offer. While this sounds safer than traditional smoking, the short- and long-term health effects of electronic cigarettes are not entirely understood.

To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has detected a potentially deadly antifreeze chemical called diethylene glycol in an electronic cigarette cartridge,2 along with tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which are linked to cancer. In the latest study, researchers hypothesized that since electronic cigarettes contain various metal components, so too might the aerosol that you inhale, and their hypothesis turned out to be right.

Electronic Cigarettes Contain Toxic Metal Nanoparticles

After testing the aerosol from a leading manufacturer of electronic cigarettes, it was found to contain metals including tin, copper, nickel and silver, silicate beads and nanoparticles. In some cases, such as in the case of tin particles, the amounts were greater than you might be exposed to from smoking a conventional cigarette. The researchers concluded:3

“Cartomizer aerosol from a leading manufacturer of EC [electronic cigarette] contained metals, silicate beads, and nanoparticles. Poor solder joints appear to have contributed to the presence of tin in the aerosol. In cytotoxicity tests, cartomizer fluid containing tin particles inhibited attachment and survival of hPF [human pulmonary fibroblasts].

Other metals likely came from the wires (copper, nickel, silver) and other metal components used in the cartomizers, while silicate particles appeared to come from the fiberglass wicks.

While the outer fibers filtered out many of the tin particles, significant amounts of tin, other metals, and silicate beads escaped into the aerosol and would result in human exposure, in some cases probably greater than a conventional cigarette user would experience.
[emphasis added]

The effects of toxic metal exposures can range from subtle symptoms to serious diseases. Since metals build up in your body over time, symptoms are often attributed to other causes and people often don't realize that they have been affected by metals until it's too late. Further, once metals build up in your body they can cause irreversible damage.

Why Breathing in Metal Nanoparticles May be Dangerous

Adding to the potential risks are nanoparticles, which, due to their ultramicroscopic size, can easily enter your bloodstream, blood vessels and other body tissues, causing unknown consequences. As written by Sayer Ji, founder of GreenMedInfo.com:4

“One of the unintended, adverse consequences of nanotechnology in general is that by making a substance substantially smaller in size than would occur naturally, or though pre-nanotech production processes, the substance may exhibit significantly higher toxicity when in nanoparticle form.

Contrary to older toxicological risk models, less is more: by reducing a particle's size the technology has now made that substance capable of evading the body's natural defenses more easily, i.e. passing through pores in the skin or mucous membranes, evading immune and detoxification mechanisms that evolved millions of years before the nanotech era.

For example, when nickel particles are reduced in size to the nanometer range (one billionth of a meter wide) they may actually become more toxic to the endocrine system as now they are capable of direct molecular interaction with estrogen receptors in the body, disrupting their normal structure and function. Moreover, breathing these particles into the lungs, along with other metals, ethylene glycol and nicotine produces a chemical concoction exhibiting synergistic toxicity, i.e. the toxicity of the whole is higher than the sum of their parts.”

Graphic Warning Labels Won’t be Mandated for Cigarette Packages

Conventional cigarettes obviously carry significant health risks of their own, and some of these were intended to be displayed prominently on cigarette packages. But the FDA’s campaign to put such graphic images of people dying from smoking-related disease, as well as other gruesome images portraying the health damages of smoking, on cigarette packages has been abandoned. Instead, the Agency said it plans to revise package labels with less-shocking approaches.

The graphic label images surely would have created a much larger market for electronic cigarettes as more people became motivated to quit. But tobacco companies filed lawsuits over the campaign, claiming it was not simply providing factual information but rather was promoting an anti-smoking agenda. A US District Court later ruled that the graphic-image mandate would violate the US Constitutions free speech amendment.

People With Mental Illness 70 Percent More Likely to Smoke

New data from two federal health agencies revealed that more than one in three adults (36 percent) with a mental illness smoke cigarettes, compared with about one in five adults (21 percent) with no mental illness.5 According to the CDC, there has been direct tobacco marketing to people with mental illness, a population that generally has more stressful living conditions that make it more challenging to quit. Plus, the mood-altering effects of nicotine may make people with mental illness an easy target for addiction. Some mental health facilities even use smoking as a reward for progress!

Most Apartment Dwellers Exposed to Secondhand Smoke

One area where electronic cigarettes have an advantage over conventional cigarettes is the fact that they lessen exposure to secondhand smoke. By now most everyone is aware of the risks of secondhand smoke. Children who grow up with smokers in their homes are more likely to develop lung cancer in their later years than those children who come from non-smoking homes.

And children who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to suffer from pneumonia, bronchitis and other lung diseases, while those who have asthma and who breathe secondhand smoke have more asthma attacks. Secondhand smoke also accounts for as many as one-quarter of cases of lung cancer in non-smokers. It’s obvious that you’re exposed to secondhand smoke if you live with a smoker, but even people who live in smoke-free apartments are often unknowingly exposed.

A new study by CDC researchers found that up to 46 percent of apartment dwellers were exposed to secondhand smoke in their apartments during the last year.6 The smoke can seep from one apartment to another through insulation, cracks and power outlets. The problem potentially affects an estimated 44 million Americans who live in multi-unit buildings, including the nearly 29 million with supposedly “smoke-free” units.

What’s the Best Way to Quit Smoking?

If you’re thinking of quitting smoking, swapping conventional cigarettes for electronic cigarettes may simply expose you to a new set of health risks. This is also the case with drugs designed to help you quit. Take the stop-smoking drug Chantix, for instance. This drug may cause an inordinately high number of serious side effects, including suicides and psychotic reactions where people with no history of violent behavior suddenly kill themselves or others after taking the drug.

So, what's the trick to quitting smoking?

I believe the "secret" is to get healthy first, which will make quitting all that much easier. Exercising is part and parcel of this plan, and as research shows people who engage in regular strength training double their success rate at quitting smoking compared to those who don't exercise.7 Healthy eating is another crucial aspect that can't be ignored. In short, if you want to quit, here are the three basic tips to get you started:

  1. Read through my recently revised and very comprehensive free nutrition plan to get started eating right.
  2. Develop a well-rounded exercise regimen. It is your ally to fighting disease and to quitting smoking. Strength training is an important part, but also remember to incorporate high-intensity interval exercises like Peak Fitness, core-strengthening exercises and stretching.
  3. Find a healthy emotional outlet. Many people use exercise, meditation, or relaxation techniques for this, and these are all great. I also recommend incorporating the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), as this can help clear out emotional blockages from your system (some of which you might not even realize are there), thus restoring your mind and body's balance and helping you break the addiction and avoid cravings.

Once you are regularly doing these three things, then you can begin to think about quitting smoking. The best method to do so appears to be cold turkey, as research shows that two-thirds to three-quarters of ex-smokers stopped unaided.8 The best choice for your health, and the health of those around you, is to quit smoking in order to reduce your exposure to toxins.

However, if you’re a current smoker you should know about astaxanthin, which has been found to be powerful enough to help prevent oxidative damage in smokers.9 Astaxanthin is produced by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis, and is currently thought to be the most powerful antioxidant found in nature. It’s found in sea creatures that consume the algae, such as salmon, shellfish, and krill, as well as in higher doses in supplement form.