Electronic cigarettes are becoming big business. Users say the devices have helped them stop smoking traditional cigarettes and that "vaping" is safer than smoking tobacco.
But, the tiny devices haven't been on the market long enough to have any long-term health studies conducted on the very vapor they send straight into the lungs of its users.
So, the ABC15 Investigators wanted to take a closer look at the contents of this vapor. We enlisted the help of a lab to test the vapor you're breathing in each time you use an e-cigarette.
"VAPING IS A WAY OF LIFE"
Travis Saul started using electronic cigarettes a year ago. Now, he says, "Vaping is a way of life."
He said he turned to e-cigarettes so he could quit smoking traditional ones. "If you want to quick smoking, vaping will work," he said.
The father of two wanted to kick his 18-year-old habit for his family. "I'd have to go outside to smoke," he said.
He didn't want his kids to be around him while he was smoking.
"...second-hand is just as bad as the smoking," he said.
Now, Saul owns his own company selling electronic cigarettes in stores and online. He says they are completely safe.
BREATHING IN ULTRA-FINE PARTICLES
Dr. Stanton Glantz is a professor at the University of California at San Francisco and one of the leading researchers on e-cigarettes.
He believes calling ‘vaping' safe is a lot of smoke and mirrors.
"If you are around somebody who is using e-cigarettes, you are breathing in ultra-fine particles and you are breathing in nicotine," he said.
You can buy e-cigarettes without nicotine in them, but most of them contain the addictive chemical.
"It heats up a mixture of nicotine, proplynegycal and other chemicals, and that heated mixture becomes an aerosol, which is inhaled deeply into your lungs to deliver the addictive drug nicotine," Glantz said.
Current research shows there is detectable levels of nicotine in non-smokers who hang around people using e-cigarettes.
COPPER, NICKEL AND TIN FOUND
"I would say e-cigarettes are the cigarettes of the 21 st century," according to scientist Dr. Prue Talbot. She and her team at the University of California Riverside are among the first in the country to analyze the vapor in e-cigarettes.
The ABC15 Investigators had her team test two brands of e-cigarettes using a smoking machine and a specialized microscope.
The first test was for Smoking Everywhere Platinum. It showed metals.
"There is quite a bit of tin. Most of this material is composed of tin," said Dr. Talbot. "There is also some oxygen, some copper and some nickel."
Smoking Everywhere Platinum had so much metal in the vapor that it created pellets.
"I think the fact there is significant amount of tin in these pellets is important. This means the people using this product are going to be inhaling the tin," said Dr. Talbot.
The doctor continue to say that inhaling tin directly or even second-hand can be dangerous.
"Nanoparticles in general can be toxic," she said. "In the case of e-cigarettes, the nanoparticles would tend to go deeper into the respiratory system."
"These particles are so very small they go from your lungs straight into your blood stream, and carry the toxic chemicals into your blood, and then appear in various organs," said Dr. Glantz.
The research team has tested many brands of e-cigarettes, and each one had a different result. But, keep in mind, each brand is manufactured differently.
For example, the second brand we had the lab test, Mistic, had no tin in the vapor. But, the lab found concentrations of copper.
Supporters say e-cigarettes are only 10 to 20 percent as polluting as tobacco cigarettes. But Dr. Glantz said that's still not good. "On an absolute whole, it's still a bad thing," she said.
Both Smoking Everywhere and Mistic are made in China. We contacted both companies, but we have not received a response.
THE FEDS WEIGH IN
There is currently no federal regulation of the products even though they use nicotine. However, Arizona has made it illegal to sell them to minors.
We asked the Food and Drug Administration about any future plans for possible regulation.
"Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated products that turn nicotine, which is highly addictive, and/or other chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user. The FDA regulates electronic cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes as drugs or devices. The FDA intends to propose a regulation that would extend the agency's 'tobacco product' authorities -- which currently only apply to cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco, and smokeless tobacco -- to other categories of tobacco products that meet the statutory definition of 'tobacco product.' Further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes and other novel tobacco products," the agency said in a statement.
Even though FDA only currently regulates electronic cigarettes if they make a therapeutic claim, consumers may submit voluntary adverse event reports to the FDA for electronic cigarettes through the HHS Safety Reporting Portal