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Researchers developing new methods to better analyze effects of e-cig flavorings

Faculty and student researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID) are developing methods to better analyze the effects of flavorings used in electronic cigarettes (e-cigs).

In partnership with RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering and the University of Rochester Medical Center, RIT/NTID, the world’s first and largest technological college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, is part of the team that has received a $329,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the safety of e-cigs with flavorings.

E-cigs are increasing in popularity with both youth and adults, and a variety of flavorings often are present in these products. The presence of these flavorings may create health concerns to users and those around them due to lack of knowledge about their chemical make-up as they are being ingested and exhaled.

Todd Pagano, associate professor and associate dean for Teaching and Scholarship Excellence, leads the NTID portion of the project along with a team of deaf and hard-of-hearing student researchers. Risa Robinson, professor and department head in Mechanical Engineering and director of the Respiratory Technologies Laboratory in RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering, is the principal investigator on the RIT portion of the grant. The study is part of a larger project led by principal investigator Irfan Rahman of the University of Rochester Medical Center, whose aim is to examine the DNA damage and inflammatory responses of cells exposed to e-cigs.

“E-cigs, with their flavorings, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and there is a deficiency in information on their possible impact on public health,” Pagano said. “Analyzing the potential toxicants produced by these flavorings will help increase the understanding of possible harmful effects of e-cig emissions.”

The project, “Emission aerosol constituents and comparative toxicology of electronic cigarettes with flavorings,” will determine the chemicals present in e-cigs emissions through the use of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry or GC-MS, a type of instrumentation present in many laboratory settings.

“The GC-MS provides analysis of the chemicals present in the e-cig liquid, and we are able to then measure the realistic exposure from produced constituents as they become emissions after vaping,” Pagano said. “We’re looking to determine what compounds are present before and after vaping, and which might be potentially harmful.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette use has tripled among middle and high school students in just one year and has surpassed current use of every other tobacco product overall, including conventional cigarettes, yet there are as yet no established production methods or protocols to help ensure their safety. The aim of this project is to establish and rank e-cig flavorings by chemicals and hazard, and to inform the Food and Drug Administration of the long-term adverse effects of existing and newer flavorings.

“This project is particularly relevant to our student researchers, since they see their friends and others using e-cigs at a growing rate,” Pagano said. “They are passionate about bringing about a better understanding of how these devices are impacting the health of those they know and care about.”

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