(See: Williams M, Villarreal A, Bozhilov K, Lin S, Talbot P. Metal and silicate particles including nanoparticles are present in electronic cigarette cartomizer fluid and aerosol. PLos ONE 2013; 8(3): e57987.)
The study reported that: "The aerosol contained particles greater than 1 micrometer comprised of tin, silver, iron, nickel, aluminum, and silicate and nanoparticles (less than 100 nanometers) of tin, chromium and nickel. The concentrations of nine of eleven elements in EC aerosol were higher than or equal to the corresponding concentrations in conventional cigarette smoke. Many of the elements identified in EC aerosol are known to cause respiratory distress and disease."
The Rest of the Story
The casual reader of this article will take away from it that electronic cigarettes are harmful and that they are more dangerous than tobacco cigarettes because they contain high levels of hazardous metals.
But the study is misleading because of a serious flaw: the failure to compare levels of metals in electronic cigarette vapor to those in FDA-approved nicotine inhalers, which are widely recognized as safe for use by consumers.
The rest of the story is that those FDA-approved nicotine inhalers also produce aerosol that contains detectable levels of metals and in some cases, the levels of metals are higher than those in electronic cigarettes.
But curiously, this study ignores that fact and while it calls out the dangers of electronic cigarettes, it fails to also warn the public about the similar dangers of using nicotine inhalers, like Nicorette.
Here is the rest of the story:
This study reported a nickel level of 0.005 micrograms in 10 puffs of the electronic cigarette vapor.
The Nicorette nicotine inhaler was found to contain nickel at a level of 0.013 micrograms per 10 puffs.
Thus, the level of nickel in the electronic cigarette vapor was 2.6 times lower than in an FDA-approved nicotine inhaler.
The study reported a lead level of 0.017 micrograms in 10 puffs of the electronic cigarette vapor.
The Nicorette nicotine inhaler was found to contain lead at a level of 0.003 micrograms per 10 puffs.
Thus, the level of lead in the electronic cigarette vapor was 5.7 times higher than in an FDA-approved nicotine inhaler.
However, it should be noted that only one brand of electronic cigarette was tested in this study, and in the Goniewicz et al. study, 12 brands were tested and only one had a lead level substantially higher than present in the Nicorette inhaler.
There is no question that the presence of trace levels of metals in electronic cigarette vapor needs to be addressed. Quality control measures need to be in place to ensure that joints are properly soldered, that there are not loose or exposed wires, that the juice does not contact metals, and that proper steps are taken to minimize or eliminate the presence of metals in electronic cigarette aerosol. However, there is no reason to sound the alarm from the data reported in the present study because it fails to provide any comparison between electronic cigarettes and other types of inhalers, including the FDA-approved nicotine inhalers.