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ASHRAE panel concerned about electronic cigarettes


E-cigarettes, the craze that is producing “vape stores” open on main streets across North America and murky videos of “extreme vaping” on YouTube, were the topic of a session at the ASHRAE Winter conference on January 26 in Orlando.

Dr. Cheri Marcham, chair of a committee that has been researching the literature on the potential harmful effects of e-cigarettes for the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), spoke about a white paper the committee produced last fall.

Marcham, who is with the University of Oklahama, said that while e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, they still emit aerosols and volatile organic compounds.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that allow the user to inhale nicotine without tobacco. Some look like cigarettes, but many are disposable or re-usable metallic tubes. They incorporate a heating element that atomizes a liquid solution. The AIHA white paper was compiled from studies that examined both the e-vapor liquid in the devices, and the vapor that is produced when the liquid is heated and then inhaled.

The growth of the e-cigarette market has been rapid, with sales growing at 25% a year. Marcham explained that there are 460 different brands, in an astonishing 7,700 flavours, ranging from raspberry to pina colada, to bubblegum, which some fear are targeting youth. Most of the devices are manufactured in China, and one of the problems is that the labelling is not reliable.

While there is no research on the long-term impacts of “vaping,” Marchant pointed out some concerns. For example, the prime components of the smoke vapour are propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, which is the same mix used to create theatrical fogs, and which has been linked to lung problems and asthma with theatre workers who have had sustained exposure.

Other questions revolve around the pyrolosis or heating that occurs in the cigarette, which involves formaldehyde. Then there are the flavourings. They include diacetyl, a substance which is approved in food, but for which there is no research on its effects when inhaled. The nicotine labelling is often not accurate, Marchand said. Also, when nicotine is vaporized it tends to stick to surfaces, which could expose children to ingest it hand to mouth.

What does all this mean for building HVAC engineers? Marchand said that state regulations are “all over the board,” but most cities and counties have included e-vaping in the regulations for normal tobacco smoking.

Another presenter, David Krause, Ph.D of Geosyntec Consultants, who was a co-author of the AIHA paper, said that the most urgent aspect of e-cigarettes was preventing childhood poisoning. He also said that research shows labels do not accurately reflect the components in e-cigarettes, and that they have “fallen through the latticework of regulations and current laws.” His list of the possible harmful chemicals emitted besides nicotine included TSNAs, acetic acid, BTEX, isoprene, formaldehyde and acrolein.

Roger Hedrick, P.E., of Noresco, then explained that two years ago ASHRAE had been asked by the public to modify ASHRAE Standard 62.1 Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality to include e-cigarette vaping with tobacco smoking and the 2016 version will include it. Standard 189.1 for the Design of High Performance Green Buildings prohibits smoking in buildings, but does not mention e-cigarettes.

During the question and answer period someone in the hotel industry asked if there was any way to detect whether a guest had been vaping in their room. Krause answered that there were no reliable methods.

To read the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s white paper, “Electronic Cigarettes in the Indoor Environment,” dated October 19, 2015, click here.

To read a press release from AIHA, click here.