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E-cigarettes may be contaminated with microbial toxins, the study said



Photo: Dondi Tawatao (Getty Images)

E-cigarette fans might get used to bad news about the chemicals at this point found in their products. A new study, released Wednesday, adds another potential risk to the list. It is believed that many e-cigarette cartridges and e-liquid refill bottles are contaminated with toxins that are expelled from bacteria and fungi.

Smoke from traditional tobacco cigarettes is obviously filled without toxicity. However, some of these toxins are not produced by the burning of tobacco itself, but come from dead bacteria and fungi that contaminate the products sometime during the production process. These include endotoxins found in Gram-negative bacteria and glucans, which contribute to the formation of the cell walls of many species of fungi.

Respiratory diseases such as pneumonia or asthma attacks have been linked to the breathing of endotoxins and glucans (whether due to cigarette smoke or other stress (such as working in a textile factory). "According to the authors published in Environmental Health Perspectives however, they never investigated the extent to which these microbial toxins could be common in e-cigarette products.

Harvard researchers tested 75 individual products out of ten of the leading brands at the time, buying all products online, except those of a brand registered in purchased at a convenience store near the campus, including 38 disposable cartridges and 37 e-liquids used to replenish certain e-cigarette products in various flavors such as fruit, tobacco and menthol.

They found out that 23 percent had detectable levels of endotoxin, w While 81 percent contained some glucan. On average, cartridges had three times more glucan than the e-liquids. Tobacco and menthol products averaged 10 times glucan. Endotoxin levels have meanwhile been slightly higher in fruit-flavored products.

The findings, according to the authors, suggest that "some well-known [e-cigarette] brands and flavors are contaminated with microbial toxins."

So scary There are some important reservations about the findings.

One limitation is that they did not test the toxin levels that actually end up in the aerosol of these products that users would breathe. They also tested only the first generation devices, not newer ones like pens, tanks and pods. In particular pods now offer more nicotine per puff to the user through a different mode of administration than older devices. However, we do not know how this may affect exposure to these toxins. We know that people are generally exposed to much less environmental toxins when steaming than smoking a tobacco cigarette (although e-cigs are not completely harmless).

Even the authors acknowledge that there is currently no scientific evidence to support "a hypothesis that endotoxin and glucan levels currently observed in [e-cigarettes] raise health concerns."

Endotoxin in the air and However, glucans are high enough to affect the lungs and are thought to play a role in why cigarette smoke damages our breathing. So it's worth investigating how often these toxins are found in e-cigarette products and whether chronic exposure to vapors poses health risks. Last but not least, there are ways to reduce the risk of contamination. For example, cotton wicks are commonly used in e-cigarette cartridges, and cotton fibers are routinely contaminated by both toxins.

"Further investigation is needed to confirm our findings and to evaluate potential exposures and health effects for [e-cigarette] users. "Wrote the authors.


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