Study Detects Third-Hand Nicotine Residue from Electronic Cigarettes

Long-term effects on vulnerable populations such as infants, pregnant women unknown

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) produce third-hand exposure to nicotine residue, but this exposure is significantly less than that seen with traditional cigarettes, according to a study conducted by researchers at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and published online ahead of print in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The pilot study, led by Maciej Goniewicz, PhD, is the first to offer data on whether e-cigarette use can cause third-hand exposure to nicotine when used in participant’s homes.

Third-hand cigarette smoke is the residue of second-hand smoke that can persist in air, dust and on surfaces. Roswell Park researchers previously reported that in controlled laboratory conditions, e-cigarette vapors can be deposited on various surfaces and contribute to third-hand exposure. In this study, they examined exposure patterns and nicotine deposition in real-life situations outside the laboratory.

Dr. Goniewicz and colleagues measured nicotine on the surfaces of households of 8 e-cigarette users, 6 cigarette smokers and 8 non-users of nicotine-containing products in the greater Buffalo area. In e-cigarette-only homes, measureable amounts of nicotine were found. These levels were almost 200 times lower than the levels detected in tobacco smokers’ homes. Nicotine was found in all of the homes where tobacco cigarettes were consumed. Traces of nicotine also were detected in half of the homes of those who did not use any nicotine-containing products.

“These findings indicate that using e-cigarettes indoors results in much lower exposure to nicotine residues on surfaces when compared to third-hand smoke deposits from tobacco cigarettes. Additionally, this study suggests that if smokers who smoke in their houses switched to e-cigarettes they may reduce potential harm to their families,” says Dr. Goniewicz, an Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park. “We believe that more research is needed to determine whether the nicotine released from e-cigarettes and deposited on surfaces is harmful to vulnerable populations such as infants, pregnant women and people with cardiovascular diseases.”

“Electronic cigarettes are unregulated products that contain ingredients known to be toxic to humans,” adds Andrew Hyland, PhD, Chair of the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park. “This is a valuable pilot study that advances e-cigarette research. At this point in time, e-cigarettes appear to be safer than traditional cigarettes, but that does not mean they are safe. More studies will provide credible evidence regarding the impact of this nicotine-delivery device.”

The study title is “A pilot study on nicotine residues in houses of electronic cigarette users, tobacco smokers, and non-users of nicotine-containing products.” Dr. Goniewicz reports that he has previously received a research grant from Pfizer, a manufacturer of smoking-cessation medication, outside the scope of this work.

This work was supported by an award from the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation and by National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant number P30CA016056.


The mission of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1898, Roswell Park is one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email Follow Roswell Park on Facebook and Twitter.

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