Graduate Students Participate in Workshop on Electronic Cigarettes and Public Health

UC Riverside’s Monique Williams and Rachel Behar recently discussed their electronic cigarette research findings with the Food and Drug Administration

UC Riverside Ph.D. graduate students Monique Williams (left) and Rachel Behar recently participated in a Food and Drug Administration workshop that focused on electronic cigarettes and public health. Photo credit: Talbot Lab, UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are rapidly gaining popularity worldwide.  Generally manufactured in China, they are available in the United States on the Internet, in malls and in local shops – all this without much information regarding their health effects or the quality control used in their manufacture.

As a way to address the predicament, two Ph.D. graduate students at the University of California, Riverside were recently invited by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to participate in a public workshop focusing on e-cigarettes and public health.

Monique Williams and Rachel Behar, who research e-cigarettes under the guidance of Prue Talbot, a professor of cell biology and neuroscience, flew to Washington, D.C., in December 2014 to share crucial findings from their work.

The workshop, which was attended by several hundred people and broadcast live on the Internet, took place Dec. 10-11 in the FDA White Oaks Conference Center, Silver Spring, Md.  The first of a planned series of workshops intended to obtain information on e-cigarettes and the public health, its purpose was to gather scientific information and stimulate discussion among scientists about e-cigarettes.

Early on Dec. 10, Williams presented her research on particles and nanoparticles present in e-cigarette cartomizer fluid and aerosol, published in 2013 in PLOS One.  E-cigarettes deliver aerosol by heating fluid containing nicotine.  Cartomizers are disposable cartridges with built-in atomizers.  Cartomizer e-cigarettes combine the fluid chamber and heating element in a single unit.  In their study, Williams and colleagues used a variety of methods to analyze cartomizer content and aerosols.

“Some cartomizers had tin particles, which are cytotoxic,” Williams said.  “The aerosol contained particles comprised of tin, silver, iron, nickel, aluminum and silicate.  The aerosol also contained nanoparticles of tin, chromium and nickel.  We found that the concentrations of nine of eleven elements in e-cigarette aerosol were higher than or equal to the corresponding concentrations in conventional cigarette smoke, and many of these elements are known to cause respiratory distress and disease.  What the presence of metal and silicate particles in cartomizer aerosol shows is that we need improved quality control in e-cigarette design and manufacture. It shows, too, that we need more studies on how e-cigarette aerosol impacts the health of users and bystanders.”

Later the same day, Behar spoke about her research on the identification of toxicants in cinnamon-flavored e-cigarettes, published last year in Toxicology in Vitro.  The study, done with colleagues, evaluated the volatility and cytotoxicity (the degree to which an agent has specific destructive action on certain cells) of 10 cinnamon-flavored e-cigarette refill fluids.

“Our data showed that cinnamon flavorings in refill fluids are linked to cytotoxicity,” Behar said. “This could adversely affect users of e-cigarettes.  Our findings are consistent with reports made by e-cigarette users in online forums and should help improve e-cigarette safety by informing companies and regulatory agencies about chemicals and flavors that are hazardous.”

Talbot is pleased that Williams and Behar were invited by the FDA to participate in the workshop.

“Both Monique and Rachel have published important papers dealing with the contents of electronic cigarette fluids and aerosols,” she said. “Their data could help inform the FDA as they determine how to regulate these new products.”

The focus of the first FDA workshop was product science (specifically device designs and characteristics, and e-liquid and aerosol constituents), product packaging, constituent labeling and environmental impact.  Future workshops will address the individual health and population health effects of e-cigarettes.

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Additional Contacts

Monique Williams

Rachel Behar

Prue Talbot
Tel: (951) 827-3768

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