By James Dunworth and Paul Bergen
Do you need to worry about nitrosamines in electronic cigarettes?
Short answer: no.
But let’s elaborate.
In 2009 an FDA study found traces of nitrosamines in eliquid.
Shortly after, headlines across the world screamed that electronic cigarettes were as bad as cigarettes – despite the fact that:
- the nitrosamines found were well below recommended guidelines
- nitrosamines were also at levels 14,000 times lower than those found in Marlboro cigarettes
- nitrosamines were not detected in the vapour of e-cigarettes, only in the ingredients
- none of the other 56 known carcinogens in tobacco smoke were found in electronic cigarettes
A Little Bit about Nitrosamines
Nitrosamines are a chemical compound. In sufficient quantity these can be carcinogenic.
You’ll already be regularly exposed to nitrosamines and the nitrates that cause them through the food and drink you consume – even drinking water contains nitrates. As you can’t eliminate nitrosamines altogether, governments set maximum allowable amounts.
In the US, the maximum allowed amount in is 60 parts per billion, and in the UK it is 30 parts per billion. (Source: http://www.robac.co.uk/DOC/Nitrosamines_solutions.pdf).
High levels of tobacco specific nitrosamines are found in tobacco cigarettes, and they are one of many known carcinogens in tobacco smoke. (In contrast to electronic cigarette vapour, we still don’t know all the chemicals contained in cigarette smoke, so there may well be more carcinogens we don’t know about.)
Nitrosamines in Tobacco Cigarettes v. Nitrosamines in Electronic Cigarettes
Let’s get the big question out of the way. How do e-cigarettes compare with cigarettes in regards to nitrosamine levels?
According to studies conducted, most e-cigarettes don’t even seem to contain nitrosamines. In a survey of 16 electronic cigarette studies, Cahn and Siegel (2011) found that just two studies detected trace levels of nitrosamines in the ingredients (but not the vapour) produced by electronic cigarettes. The maximum level of nitrosamines found were 8.2ng/g. Each ng is equal to one billionth of a gram, so the maximum concentration of nitrosamines found was 8.2 parts per billion or 8.2/1,000,000,000.
That’s at similar level to approved nicotine patches, which weigh in at 8 parts per billion. These have not been linked to cancer.
In contrast, Marlboro cigarettes contain levels of nitrosamines of 11,190 per billion.
Cahn and Siegel reported that the nitrosamines in electronic cigarettes were:
…orders of magnitude lower than TSNA levels in regular cigarettes…. electronic cigarettes contain only 0.07–0.2 per cent of the TSNAs present in cigarettes, a 500-fold to 1400-fold reduction in concentration.
No Nitrosamines in Electronic Cigarette Vapour
But that’s not all. The FDA only tested the contents of ecigarettes for nitrosamines, not the vapor that smokers inhale. There have been at least two studies which have tested the vapour for nitrosamines.
Following the FDA study, Electronic Cigarette company NJOY commissioned independent lab Analyze to test electronic cigarette vapour. The lab found just one nitrosamine present in the vapour – but the nitrosamine was not a toxic one.
The Professor in charge concluded:
Based on my review of scientific literature, NAT is not toxic and not carcinogenic, and based on the vapor analysis, it is my conclusion that TSNAs do not pose a health risk to the users of the electronic cigarettes distributed by NJOY
A more recent air quality study comparing vaping to smoking found no traces of nitrosamines. In the words of the authors:
The study indicates no apparent risk to human health from e-cigarette emissions based on the compounds analyzed.
Just to drive that point home a little, much higher concentrations of (tobacco specific) nitrosamines have been found in smokeless tobacco but even these have not been linked to any form of cancer (see here for discussion). As we keep saying (and hearing) – the real danger with nicotine is when you burn tobacco to get it.
Can You Avoid Nitrosamines Altogether?
Many vegetables contain nitrate which the bacteria in your mouth converts to nitrite which then interacts with gastric juices and amine containing foods (cheese, wine and chocolate to mention just a few things you might not want to forego) to create nitrosamines. The nitrate itself is considered a nutrient but too high a concentration encourages the formation of nitrosamines.
So in summary, we can cross nitrosamines off the list as potential harms in vaping or being around vapers. Perhaps that part of the reason why Professor John Britton, chair of the tobacco advisory group of the Royal College of Physicians, recently said:
If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save 5 million deaths in people who are alive today. It’s a massive potential public health prize.
- Those Evil Nitrosamines (Anti-THR Lies Blog)
- Smoke Without Fire? The Truth About Vaping Safety
- Diethylene Glycol in Electronic Cigarettes – What They Never Told You
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