Several anti-smoking advocates are using the results of a new study which documented that vaping may produce low levels of nicotine in ambient air to argue that electronic cigarettes are a significant health hazard to bystanders.
On his tobacco blog, Stan Glantz writes that a new study "shows e-cig users exhale nicotine and fine particles into the air where bystanders are breathing." While acknowledging that this study found that nicotine levels from vaping were 10 times lower than nicotine levels from smoking, Glantz nevertheless concludes that: "e-cigarettes should not be allowed anywhere that cigarettes are not allowed."
Guided by alarmist claims like that above, a number of news articles warned that exposure to secondhand vapor is dangerous to health. For example, a TIME article warned that electronic cigarettes pose a "second-hand risk."
Elsewhere, researchers warned that nicotine exposure from passive vaping could damage the heart. According to this article, a Brown University researcher warned that: "long-term consumption of nicotine by e-cigarette smoking is likely to
increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis by stimulating invasion
of vascular smooth muscle cells." In other words, this researcher is claiming that passive vaping can lead to heart disease because of the exposure to nicotine.
The Rest of the Story
There is one thing that none of these anti-smoking researchers or advocates are telling the public. Exactly how much nicotine is a bystander exposed to, according to this research?
Well, the answer of course depends on the concentration of vapers in the establishment. But let's take an extreme example: a smoky bar, filled with vapers, instead of smokers.
Assuming that the estimate from the study is correct, and that vaping produces 10 times lower the level of nicotine as smoking, then the estimate for the amount of nicotine inhaled by a bystander after 8 straight hours of exposure to a full room of vapers in a bar is which of the following? (In other words, how many cigarettes would a person have to smoke to get the same amount of nicotine as the bystander?)
A. 80 cigarettes
B. 8 cigarettes
C. 0.8 cigarettes
D. 0.08 cigarettes
The answer is ...
... D. 0.08 cigarettes
In order to inhale the equivalent amount of nicotine that would be inhaled by actively smoking one cigarette, a bystander would have to spend 12 days in a bar filled with e-cigarette vapor, at continuous exposure levels.
The reality is that right now, exposure to secondhand vaping is much lower than exposure to smoking in a smoky bar. A more realistic estimate is that a worker in a bar that allows vaping is exposed to at least 100 times lower exposure than with smoking (this assumes that the concentration of vapers in the bar is only one-tenth of that of smokers, averaged over the entire day).
Under these realistic conditions, even a full-time employee would be exposed to the equivalent amount of nicotine as actively smoking 0.008 cigarettes per day.
If that is the level of public health risk that warrants banning vaping in bars and restaurants, then there are a lot of other exposures that should be banned before touching vaping, based on these risk numbers.
To make it clear, I am not arguing that the door is shut and the case is over. Future research is still necessary to quantify the risks. I am simply pointing out that the actual evidence being used to support vaping bans - taken at face value - imply that advocates are alarming the public because bystanders may be exposed to about eight one-thousandths worth of the nicotine exposure in one cigarette if they spend a full day in a bar that allows vaping.
In my opinion, this makes a mockery of the scientific rigor of the movement and of the quality of evidence that we require before advocating for bans on personal behavior. Shouldn't we pride ourselves on a higher and more rigorous standard?