Nicotine can be detected in a chamber after releasing vapor directly from an e-cigarette, according to a report in Nicotine and Tobacco Research (abstract here) by Roswell Park Cancer Institute investigators. A Carl Phillips parody of the abstract (here) convinced me to review the journal article. Clive Bates also published a scathing critique (here).
Dr. Maciej Goniewicz and collaborator Lily Lee released e-cig vapor from 100 4-5 second puffs into a 12 x 10 x 9 foot room. Meticulous collection of samples revealed that about 205 micrograms of nicotine were spread out over 81 square feet of tile floor. This is unsurprising, as most of the nicotine in vapor is expected to eventually fall to earth. Far less nicotine was recovered from vertical surfaces like walls and windows.
As Phillips noted, a huge amount of vapor was involved in this test, and it was injected directly into the room without passing through a user. Even so, Phillips notes in his parody, “this means someone would have to lick clean the entire surface of a sliding glass door in order to get a dose of nicotine similar to smoking half a low-nicotine cigarette.” Or, Phillips might have said, one would have to lick about two thirds of the 120 square foot floor. (Recovery from a vertical surface is about one fourth that of the floor.)
Four years ago, I reported that third-hand smoke is an almost imaginary vector by which smokers expose everything and everyone to dangerous toxins (here). Today, smokeless tobacco users are also the scare campaign’s targets. According to a 2013 study in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, “children living with smokeless tobacco users may be exposed to nicotine and other constituents of tobacco via contact with contaminated dust and household surfaces.” (abstract here). In this scenario, a child could consume 20 micrograms of nicotine, about one tenth the amount of the vapor floor-licker, by eating about one ounce of dust.
For Goniewicz and Lee, the exposure to nicotine from e-cigarettes is important because of “potential risks of thirdhand exposure to carcinogens formed from nicotine released from e-cigarettes.” This is reminiscent of reports that U.S. paper currency is contaminated with cocaine (here) or heroin, morphine, methamphetamine and PCP (here). That issue was put into perspective by Adam Negrusz of the University of Illinois at Chicago (here): “I never think about this as a source of danger. We have more things which can be potentially harmful.”
Third-hand nicotine harmful? Don’t even think about it.