Vaping is a fairly new phenomenon. Electronic cigarettes have only been available in the U.S. and Europe for about a decade, and that means we don’t know the long-term effects of vaping on users. That’s true. But we do know enough about the likely risks of vaping and health — based on the safety profiles of the chemicals involved — to understand that vaping is highly unlikely to pose risks to users as great as those of combustible cigarettes.
And we actually know more about the risks of vaping to bystanders. That’s because there are standards for measuring “environmental exposure” (the risk of breathing chemicals in the air) that can be applied to e-cig vapor.
Based on government standards for workplace exposure to inhaled chemicals and metals, scientists can estimate whether the toxic constituents present in “second hand vapor” might make vaping harmful to others. And so far, there’s no evidence that second hand vaping is a threat to the health of non-vaping bystanders.
What is second hand vapor?
Second hand vapor is vapor (technically aerosol) exhaled into the atmosphere by a vaper. Like second hand smoke, it lingers in the air long enough that anyone in the same room, assuming it’s small enough, is likely to inhale some of the exhaled aerosol. As the name indicates, the bystanders are not inhaling second hand smoke — because second hand e-cigarette vapor simply isn’t smoke.
Smoke is a product of combustion. Burning any substance with fire — including wood, leaves, a house, or tobacco — produces volatile gasses, carcinogenic particles, carbon monoxide, and a mixture of dangerous byproducts that in cigarette smoke are called tar. Second hand smoke isn’t as dangerous as inhaling directly from a cigarette, but prolonged exposure to it is considered a serious hazard.
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