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Good news and bad about e-cigarettes

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Many folks claim that electronic cigarettes are an improvement over traditional smokes. But while these new devices emit fewer air-borne particles linked to cancer, they are still a source of toxins.

First the good news: E-cigarettes eliminate about 90 percent of the carcinogens given off by conventional cigarettes. Consequently, some experts believe they create less of a health danger in the form of second-hand smoke that non-smokers inhale.

A study at the University of Southern California (USC) shows that although tobacco smoke includes large amounts of what are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (carcinogenic organic substances), these are almost completely missing from second-hand smoke from e-cigarettes. This occurs because the e-cigarettes do not incinerate organic, plant-derived material in the same way.

But there are still potential risks in e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes release toxic metals like chromium that regular cigarettes don’t give off. And they emit nickel in quantities four times higher than traditional cigarettes.

In addition, second-hand e-cigarette smoke contains both lead and zinc, although these are in lesser concentrations than from regular cigarettes.

“Our results demonstrate that overall electronic cigarettes seem to be less harmful than regular cigarettes, but their elevated content of toxic metals such as nickel and chromium do raise concerns,” says researcher Constantinos Sioutas, a professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Adds researcher Arian Saffari: “The metal particles likely come from the cartridge of the e-cigarette devices themselves — which opens up the possibility that better manufacturing standards for the devices could reduce the quantity of metals in the smoke. Studies of this kind are necessary for implementing effective regulatory measures. E-cigarettes are so new, there just isn’t much research available on them yet.”

And, of course, the best health you can follow is not to smoke at all.

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