Scientists find harmful metals in vapors from tank-style e-cigarettes

Credit: UCR/I. Pittalwala.

In a new study, researchers found the concentration of metals in electronic cigarette aerosols—or vapor—has increased since tank-style electronic cigarettes were introduced in 2013.

The research was conducted by a team from the University of California, Riverside.

Electronic cigarettes, which consist of a battery, atomizing unit, and refill fluid, are now available in new tank-style designs, equipped with more powerful batteries and larger capacity reservoirs for storing more refill fluid.

But the high-power batteries and atomizers used in these new styles can alter the metal concentrations that transfer into the aerosol.

The researchers examined six tank-style electronic cigarettes: Kangertech Protank, Aspire Nautilus tank, Kanger T3S tank, Tsunami 2.4, Smok tank, and Clone.

They found all the aerosols had metals that appeared to originate in the atomizers.

Further, they found the model with fewest metal parts in its atomizer had the fewest metals in its aerosol.

According to the team, these tank-style e-cigarettes operate at higher voltage and power, resulting in higher concentrations of metals, such as lead, nickel, iron, and copper, in their aerosols.

Most of the metals in e-cigarette aerosols likely come from the nichrome wire, tin solder joints, brass clamps, insulating sheaths, and wicks—components of the atomizer unit.

Of the 19 metals they screened, aluminum, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, lead, magnesium, nickel, silicon, tin, and zinc were from components in the atomizing units.

The team says concentrations of some elements—chromium, lead, and nickel—were high enough to be a health concern.

They found the concentrations of chromium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc exceeded the proposed permissible exposure limit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Chromium, lead, and nickel are known carcinogens. Prolonged exposure to chromium could cause gastrointestinal effects, nasal and lung cancer, respiratory irritation, and lung function impairment.

Prolonged exposure to lead could produce vomiting, diarrhea, cardiovascular effects, and lung cancer.

Nickel inhalation could cause lung disease, damage to the nasal cavity, lung irritation, lung inflammation, hyperplasia in pulmonary cells, and fibrosis.

The team hopes the results on tank-style e-cigarettes and the concentrations of metals they deliver may be useful to regulatory agencies, health care providers, and consumers.

The lead author of the study is Monique Williams, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Systems Biology.

The study is published in Scientific Reports.

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