Secondhand e-cig “vaping”– harmful for you and your family?

Where I live, cigarette and tobacco bans are really prevalent. You can’t smoke inside a business, you can’t even smoke within eight feet of an entrance. I completely understand the frustration of smokers, who now have to go to designated areas outside, in crappy weather, to smoke. Although smoking is really bad for you, I assume most smokers are adults, understand the risks and I think they should be free to smoke… away from myself and my family.

The truth is, as a non-smoker, smoking bans are pretty nice. I love leaving a pub and not reeking of smoke. I love enjoying a meal without cigarette smoke wafting in my face. I love not being exposed (or at least not as exposed) to the negative health effects of secondhand smoke. I’m glad my child isn’t as exposed to secondhand smoke. Sorry, smokers.

Naturally, since it’s getting less and less convenient to smoke, new alternatives have entered the marketplace for smokers– most popular probably being vaping. Basically, smokers use electronic cigarettes to inhale and exhale propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin based liquid, mixed with nicotine, flavoring and other… stuff that is vaporized in a small battery powered atomizer. The first advertisement I saw for e-cigarettes featured Jenny McCarthy, vaping in a crowded club and saying, “it’s just water vapor” in between puffs.jenny-mccarthy-e-cig

If I were to make a list of people I don’t trust for public health advice, Jenny McCarthy might top the list.  So I was a little skeptical that it was really “just water vapor”.

E-cigarettes are largely regarded as a method of harm-reduction because evidence suggests they’re less harmful than traditional cigarettes. Since they’re advertised as having varying levels of nicotine, some smokers use e-cigarettes as cessation tools to help them quit smoking, although they have not been approved by the FDA as such. Actually, the long-term effects of vaping have not really been studied extensively. Since clinical studies have not been submitted to the FDA, smokers (err, vap-ers?) have no way of knowing if it’s really safe, how much nicotine they’re inhaling and what chemicals the e-cigs contain. The research is way behind the booming popularity of vaping and trying to access the harm is really confusing.

I referred to my favorite research tool, Google, (have you heard of it? it’s really great) to find out for myself. I immediately noticed the answers to the question “is secondhand vapor harmful?” vary greatly depending on the source.


I dug through all the pro-vaping propaganda, the anti-vaping scare tactics and eventually found some reputable information. [A couple quick notes– this is link heavy. Click the links for evidence to support the claims made. Most of the information is from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, which personally, I’m more likely to believe than the e-cig companies. Also, you’ll see the “vapor” emitted from e-cigs being referred to as an “aerosol” because that’s technically what it is.]  Here’s what I found:

  • E-cigs contain a much higher concentration of ultrafine particles than conventional cigarettes and exposure to these particles may aggravate respiratory ailments like asthma and constrict arteries, which could trigger something as serious as a heart attack. 
  • The secondhand aerosol from an e-cig contains some nasty chemicals including formaldehyde, lead, nickel, nicotine, acetone, acetaldehyde and several other chemicals I can’t pronounce, but are included in California’s Prop 65 list of carcinogens that are known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. 
  • The propylene glycol, which is used as the liquid base in e-cigs and as the primary component of the aerosol emitted causes eye, throat and airway irritation during short-term exposure and even results in children developing asthma with long-term exposure. 
  • The metals in e-cig aerosol (like nickel, tin nano-particles and chromium) are known to cause respiratory distress and disease.
  • When you’re exposed to e-cig aerosol, you absorb nicotine. 

The World Health Organization has called for a ban of using e-cigs indoors after publishing a report about the negative effects of “vaping” for both users and non-users through exposure and many cities– including NYC and L.A.– have done exactly that.

Secondhand aerosol from e-cigs does seem to be less harmful for bystanders than traditional secondhand smoke, but it’s far from harmless. Obviously, I encourage you all to come to your own conclusions about allowing others to “vape” around yourself and your family. Based on what I found, I don’t consider the aerosol emitted from e-cigs to be “harmless water vapor” and I don’t feel comfortable exposing my child to it.



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