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What are the risks of inhaling second-hand vapour?

“Quite a few of my friends vape at parties, as well as some of the people I work with at my part-time job. I don’t vape but are there any risks of inhaling second-hand vapour?”

Vaping is a fairly new phenomenon and, unlike smoking, where we now have an ‘etiquette’ around where people light up a cigarette and who they smoke around, this isn’t always the case when it comes to the use of these new devices. Of course, we know so much more about the dangers of smoking around other people, with the harmful effects of second-hand smoke (i.e., the smoke accidentally inhaled by a non-smoker) being recorded since 1928. Unfortunately, we know far less about the risks associated with ‘second-hand aerosol’.

Firstly, it’s important to note that what’s produced by these devices is an ‘aerosol’ and not a ‘vapour’. A vapour is a gaseous state of something that is normally a liquid, containing nothing else but the gas itself. An aerosol is a mixture of tiny liquid particles suspended in a gas. The aerosols produced by vaping can leave tiny droplets behind and these can contain a range of chemicals and substances.

Research in this area is limited but, based on what we currently know, ‘second-hand aerosol’ does not appear to be as dangerous as ‘second-hand smoke’. Most of the debris contained in the aerosol is absorbed by the person vaping, so when they exhale much less of what they inhaled remains. If the person is vaping nicotine, however, small amounts of the toxins found in cigarette smoke can be exhaled into the environment. Although having people smoke around you is far more dangerous, being around those who vape is not completely risk-free. People who have asthma or other respiratory conditions, as well as babies and young children, are the most vulnerable.

Regardless of the potential risk, those who choose to vape should be respectful of others. It is rare today for someone to light up a cigarette without asking those around them whether they are okay with it, vapers should show the same courtesy when using their devices.

Published: January 2024

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