In general, vaping indoors is often regarded as safer than regular cigarettes – but what about the impact on our air quality? How does smoking and vaping compare? Here we explore the possible consequences of first-hand vaping, in addition to the broader impact on air quality for those nearby.
What Is Vaping?
‘Vaping’ refers to the inhalation of a vapor produced by an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette), a battery-powered smoking device, or some other vaping device. E-cigarettes utilize cartridges filled with a liquid (flavored or unflavored) that usually contains Nicotine among other chemicals. The vaping process involves heating the liquid to a sufficient degree that it becomes a vapor, which the user then inhales.
What is the Difference Between Vaping & Cigarette Smoking?
The main difference between regular cigarette smoking and vaping is in how they deliver nicotine to the user. The process of smoking a cigarette delivers nicotine by burning tobacco and inhaling the smoke. The process of vaping – appropriately called due to the vaporization involved – delivers nicotine by heating a liquid and creating vapor.
Due to the burning of tobacco that is involved with regular cigarettes, people assume smoking is significantly worse for indoor air quality than vaping. But the dangers of vaping indoors are not negligible.
What Are the Effects of Vaping Indoors on Air Quality vs. Normal Cigarettes?
We know tobacco smoke from regular cigarettes is a common source of PM2.5 pollution and can significantly worsen indoor air quality and pose a health risk.
But does vaping indoors present similar risks as tobacco cigarettes? One group of researchers found that the use of e-cigarettes indoors led to high levels of fine and ultrafine particles (PM2.5 and PM0.1) similar to tobacco cigarettes. While chemical compound concentrations in the e-cigarette aerosols are generally lower than in cigarettes, they seem to produce a substantial amount of vaporized propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine, aromatic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxic substances, such as aldehydes and trace heavy metals.
Another later study focused on indoor air quality inside a vaping convention – housing 75-600 people at any given time – discovered that indoor concentrations of PM10 were 12-times higher than the EPA guidelines for 24-hour exposure limits. Compared to WHO’s updated exposure guidelines, this is 40 times higher than the recommended 24-hour exposure limit.
Impact of Vaping Indoors vs. Smoking On Someone’s Health
The negative health impacts of regular cigarette smoking are well established. According to the CDC, tobacco smoking carries a variety of health impacts on the smoker as well as other adults and children through secondhand smoke exposure. These impacts could include: cancer, heart diseases such as stroke, respiratory health conditions including COPD and asthma, an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, middle ear disease, and much more.
Worldwide, tobacco use causes more than 7 million deaths annually, with more than 480,000 annual deaths from cigarette smoke in the United States, including over 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke exposure. While e-cigarettes have not been associated with such high numbers, vaping has been linked to an outbreak of lung injuries and deaths, for which the CDC confirmed 2,807 cases of e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury for users aged 13-85 and 68 attributable deaths for people aged 15-75 in the United States.
One study on the long-term health impact of vaping found an association in both previous and current e-cigarette users with increased respiratory disease among users who’d not experienced respiratory illness at the beginning of the study. The researchers also found an increased risk of respiratory disease development for current dual users of both e-cigarettes and tobacco compared to non-smokers.
The CDC currently categorizes vaping as ‘not safe’ for pregnant women, youths, and people who don’t already smoke tobacco. The agency also warns that e-cigarettes aerosols contain potentially harmful pollutants such as:
- VOCs, which studies have found can have a significant effect on pulmonary diseases, including the onset of asthma and even cancer. One example, Benzene, which has been associated by the EPA with reduced red blood cell counts and increased leukemia incidence upon long-term exposure, may form from the chemical additives in e-cigarette fluids and has been found in aerosols from a few e-cigarettes.
- Ultrafine particulate matter (PM1), which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease even more than PM2.5 exposure.
Who is Most at Risk from Vaping Indoors?
The pollutants in aerosols from e-cigarettes pose more risk to children, pregnant women, and people with chronic lung conditions like asthma or COPD. For teens, researchers have found that secondhand exposure to vaping inside the house was associated with symptoms of bronchitis and shortness of breath after extended exposure.
But does vape smoke linger like regular tobacco smoke? It seems so. Another study found that e-cigarettes used for vaping can also be a source of ‘thirdhand exposure’, in which nicotine from vaping settles on different surface areas such as floors, desks, windows, and walls, posing an exposure risk to people after the vaping process is finished.
Why Healthcare & Indoor Air Treatment Providers Should Consider the Indoor Air Vaping Impact
Indoor air treatment providers and healthcare professionals may want to take note of the health impacts of vaping in addition to smoking:
1. Asthma Sufferers May Be More Likely to Need their Inhaler
Researchers have associated VOCs, especially aromatic and aliphatic compounds commonly found in flavored vaping products, with increased asthma symptoms.
Indoor air quality treatment providers should consider the impact of vaping in their broader air quality monitoring and reporting, and take measures to proactively warn their customers to minimize the risk of asthma exacerbation.
2. Asthma Sufferers & Vulnerable Groups Should be Aware of the Indoor Air They are Breathing
Indoor air quality brands can make the invisible byproducts of vaping indoors and other air pollutants visible to vulnerable users by educating them about the real health impact and their personal sensitivities.
3. Consider the Whole Air Quality Picture
Indoor air and healthcare providers need to focus on the indoor-outdoor air pollution continuum as a way to demonstrate the full picture of environmental exposure impacting their customers and patients throughout the day.
By combining indoor and outdoor air quality insights with personalized exposure information this way, providers can clearly communicate their value and become a lifestyle necessity for many around the world.