We have long known the dangers of secondhand smoke, and the knowledge that there is no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke has spurred multiple health ordinances banning the use of cigarettes in public areas. People are frequently made aware via ad campaigns that smoking around children and pets can cause them serious lasting harm.
But what about vaping?
Vaping has risen to prominence in the last decade as a safer alternative to smoking. With no tobacco and no actual smoke, e-cigarettes have been shown in some cases to be less harmful than cigarettes, especially in the short term. There is a difference, however, between being less harmful and being safe. We know that e-cigarettes are not without their own long term risks. The body of research is still growing, and it may be years before we have a clear picture of the risks or benefits associated with vaping over smoking. In the meantime, it is up to each nicotine-user to make the decision for themselves.
Secondhand vape safety
But where does that leave secondhand exposure? We’ve only just begun to crack the surface of testing firsthand e-cigarette use. We are a long ways away from definitive research on secondhand vape exposure.
What we do have is preliminary data on air quality and likely carcinogens. One study found that secondhand vape exposes people to aluminum, as well as nicotine and other particle matters. We know that the vapor produced by e-cigarettes is not truly a harmless, quickly-dissipating vapor as many people believe. It carries with it metals and chemical particles that linger in the air. How long these air pollutants stick around and the level of damage they may cause is still being researched. That’s the problem with preliminary studies. They are useful for determining what vaping leaves behind in the air, but further research is still needed to understand the full effects. Remember it took decades to amass an iron-clad body of research on secondhand smoke, hindered in no small part to interference by the tobacco industry.
There’s an old saying that the world isn’t black and white. Yet the very existence of such an adage signals that viewing the world as a zero sum game has always been a common trait. Right now we’re stuck in the middle of an intense tennis match between vapers and politicians, with science standing in for the ball. Each side has its studies that favor one particular view, but neither truly has the whole picture. We’ve got politicians unwilling to recognize the potential good e-cigarettes can do for public health, and on the flip side we have a mass of vapers to worried their hobby may be taken from them to truly see the potential risks that vaping entails.
Surveys have shown that many adults don’t believe they’re putting others at risk by vaping. This leads to people ignoring the rules on public or indoor nicotine consumption that their cigarette-smoking peers have begrudgingly come to accept. The sooner everyone accepts that vaping affects air quality, the sooner we can work on getting a clearer understanding of the true level of danger, be it high or low.
The safety of vaping for both first- and secondhand users is a constantly evolving issue, and the lack of regulation in the vaping industry has not helped matters. We should not assume that the research conducted on any one vape device will necessarily apply to the rest. There are currently few limits or restrictions in most countries (the United States included) on materials used to make e-cigarettes. E-juices and nicotine salts pods can be made using any process the manufacturer deems appropriate. There are no laws about maximum temperatures. Perhaps there is a way to make e-cigarettes safer for everyone, but it will take years for science to know for sure, more years still for the law to catch up, and even longer for the general public to be as well-educated in vaping as they are about cigarettes.
Is secondhand vaping safe?
So now we come back to that original question, and unfortunately we don’t have a definitive answer. What we do have is enough information to suggest serious risks may hand in hand with second-hand vape exposure. This alone is cause to be cautious until more information comes in. There’s a long road ahead for the vaping world, and the industry we have today may not be the same industry we see a decade from now. Hopefully we’ll be able to settle on regulations that will protect both the caper and the people around them.
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