Dangerous Molecules Discovered in E-Cigarette Aerosols

First Posted: Dec 03, 2015 08:25 AM EST

E-cigarettes have been heralded as a way for smokers to quit. Now, though, researchers have uncovered some high-reactive free radicals that may pose a major health risk to users.

The use of e-cigarettes is on the rise. In fact, more than 20 percent of young adults have tried e-cigarettes, and current smokers and recent former smokers are more likely to have used them.

E-cigarettes deliver nicotine in water vapor rather than by burning tobacco. They're usually marketed as an alternative to traditional cigarettes. But even though they're growing in popularity, very little is known about toxic substances produced by e-cigarettes and their health effects.

Previous studies have found low levels of aldehydes, which are chemical compounds that can cause oxidative stress and cell damage, in e-cigarette vapor. Until now, though, no one had looked at the free radicals within this vapor.

After measuring free radicals in e-cigarette aerosols, the researchers found that e-cigarettes produce high levels of highly reactive free radicals that fall in the range of 1,000 to 100-times less than levels in regular cigarettes.

"This is the first study that demonstrates the fact that we have these highly reactive agents in e-cigarette aerosols," said John Richie, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The levels of radicals that we're seeing are more than what you might get from a heavily air-polluted area but less than what you might find in cigarette smoke."

The findings reveal a bit more about the components in e-cigarette aerosols. However, this is just the first step. Researchers are hoping to eventually measure total numbers in e-cigarette aerosols in order to see how exactly these may impact human health.

The findings are published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.

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