Assessing Adverse Effects of Vape & Cigarette Emissions

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A. TITLE: Assessing Adverse Effects of Vape and Cigarette Emissions


It is commonly accepted that cigarettes are bad for your health. There is greater debate about the safety or dangers of vaping. I am curious to see if I can learn about the potential dangers of cigarettes and vaping by exposing plants and cotton balls to their emissions.

Over one billion people around the world smoke cigarettes; and the US is in 69th place for most cigarettes consumed per person per year at 1,016.6. The good news is that number has been slowly and steadily decreasing over time. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaping is a totally different matter. The number of adult vape users has rapidly increased over the 7 year period ending in 2018 from around 7 million users to over 41 million users that is over a 585% increase. Market researchers estimate that number will increase to around 55 million by the year 2021. While the WHO is happy that cigarette smoking is decreasing at a slow but steady rate, there is still concern because vaping is increasing at a much faster rate than the decrease in smoking.

In addition to adult use, vaping has become very popular with teenagers. According to the 2018 “Monitoring the Future” survey, the number of teens vaping has hit a “record” high. According to the survey (which included responses from more than 44,000 students): 37% of high school seniors, 32.3% of high school sophomores, and 17.6% of eighth-graders polled reported vaping in the previous 12 months. All of these percentages represented increases from the prior year. According to “truth initiative” (, “The 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey data show that 34.2% of current high school e-cigarette users and 18.0% of current middle school e-cigarette users use e-cigarettes on 20 days or more per month and Monitoring the Future found that in 2019, 11.7% of high school seniors vape every day….” These statistics are very worrisome. The US Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams officially stated that e-cigarette use among the young has become an epidemic.

The risks and dangers of smoking cigarettes are very well known and documented, but the risks and dangers of vaping are not well documented or well known. The public opinion is generally that e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes. However, we have seen many cases in the news of vaping related lung injuries. Injuries so serious they have even resulted in death. According to truth initiative, “The growing evidence of potential health risks and lung injuries related to e-cigarette use has led researchers to question whether e-cigarettes are safer than combustible cigarettes.”

When the Lawrence Township police came to our school to teach us of the dangers of vaping, they stated that what is contained in vape liquid is considered safe to “ingest” but its safety has not been tested for inhalation. In a study that my science teacher shared with me, scientists conducted tests on the effects of vape on mice. They found that when the mice were exposed to influenza after a long period of vaping, they were highly susceptible to it and had very harsh symptoms. This may be due to a fatty build up in the lungs.

The purpose of my project is to test how emissions of vape and cigarettes affect plants and cotton balls, and to compare the effects to see if one appears to be safer or more dangerous than the other.


How do cigarettes and vape emissions affect plants and cotton balls? Which type of emission seems to have a more significant effect on the test subjects?


I hypothesize that both vape and cigarette emissions will have negative effects on the test items and that neither is truly safe for use because both contain nicotine and other potentially dangerous chemicals.


Plant Tests

Plants in the Control Terrariums –

The mini ivy and pixie arrowheads that were planted in the control terrariums seemed to thrive. Both plants experienced similar rates of growth in height (25% and 26%) and the ivy increased in width by 50%. The growth rate of these plants was significantly higher than the plants in the other 2 sets of terrariums. Their leaves were healthy with minimal yellowing and loss (some leaf loss is normal in any plant).
Both terrariums had high levels of condensation from the transpiration of the plants. Transpiration is the exhalation of water vapor through the leaves and stems of plants. In fact, the condensation was often so great that I had to open the jars to allow evaporation. I believe that the yellow leaves experienced by the pixie arrowhead in the control terrarium may have been due to excess moisture in that environment.

Plants in the Vape Terrariums –

The mini ivy and pixie arrowheads that were planted in the vape terrariums seemed to do well at first. There were no obvious changes to the plants in the first 5 days of testing, except some yellowing on 3 leaves on the pixie arrowhead. The mini ivy showed no signs of distress.
Between the 10th and 15th days, however things began to change. The leaves of both plants started to take on a waxy or shiny appearance. It was during this time that I noticed there was very little condensation on the glass walls of the terrariums. I became concerned that the terrariums were dry, so I opened the jars to check the soil. In both cases the soil was damp. This led me to believe that something was happening with the leaves and stems to prevent transpiration. According to, “plants breathe through their stomata, little openings that allow transpiration, which is the outward passage of water vapor along with carbon dioxide.” I believe that the vape was causing a build up that blocked the plants’ stomata, stopping or severely limiting transpiration. This seems consistent with the idea that vaping can cause some sort of fatty build up.
From day 10 to day 20 of my testing, the health of the plants in the vape terrariums seemed to get worse. While the vape emissions did not kill either the mini ivy or the pixie arrowhead, both plants started to show signs of damage. Several large leaves on the mini ivy fell off and the small leaves started to rot. The pixie arrowhead had several yellowing, droopy leaves. Additionally, based on the measurements I took, neither the mini ivy nor the pixie arrowhead exposed to vape aerosol grew at all. Their measurements were the same from a height and width perspective on day 20 as they were on day 1.

Plants in the Cigarette Terrariums –

The mini ivy and pixie arrowhead plants in the cigarette terrariums responded differently to the cigarette smoke. The pixie arrowhead did pretty well until after the 10th day; but the mini ivy started to have problems by day 5.
From day 10 on, the mini ivy deteriorated pretty rapidly, and by day 20 it was virtually dead. Interestingly, even mostly dead, there was still a good amount of condensation on the walls of the terrarium. The mini ivy shrunk 14% in height and 20% in width. It was the only plant to get smaller over the course of the testing.
The pixie arrowhead surprised me by actually growing somewhat over the course of the experiment, its height increased by 6% overall. However, by day 20, the plant was looking pretty bad. It only had 2 healthy looking leaves and all of the new growth was bent over towards the soil, instead of growing upwards. It looked the worst of the 3 pixie arrowheads on day 20. Again, I was surprised to see that the walls of the terrarium had lots of condensation even at the end of the experiment.

Cotton Ball Tests

Upon observation, the cotton balls in the control and vape jars did not appear to be any different. There did not appear to be any discoloration to the cotton balls exposed to vape aerosol. The cotton balls in the cigarette jar, however, appeared brown and dirty. The air in the vape jar smelled of tobacco, but the smell was not too strong or overpowering. The air in the cigarette jar smelled terrible.
The water tests of the cotton balls showed that the pH of all three waters was about the same. The ammonia in the cigarette sample was much higher than either of the other two (2 ppm vs 0 ppm). The most interesting observation was that the cotton ball from the vape jar sunk very quickly when placed in the water compared to the cigarette and control cotton balls. This leads me to believe there is something in the vape cotton balls that has made them heavier or more dense than the other two. I would have to do additional tests in a lab to figure out why or what.

Vape Water Testing

The pH of the water exposed to the vape aerosol was acidic and was actually below the “safe” pH range of 6.5 to 8.5, while the tap water that was not exposed had a pH in the middle of the safe range. According to, “acidic water with a pH of less than 6.5 is more likely to be contaminated with pollutants, making it unsafe to drink.” It also states that acidic water can be corrosive.
The 2nd test on the Vape Water, with the ON4HOME water test strips did not reveal any obvious differences between the vape water and the tap water in regard to lead and other metals (mercury & aluminum). However, the disclaimer on the package says, “Currently there is no such home test for testing trace amounts of Lead, Copper, Mercury and Fluoride. If you need an in depth analysis of your drinking water please seek lab testing.” Therefore I can not really evaluate whether or not lead is present in the vape water without doing in depth lab tests.

Bulb Syringe

When I cut open the bulb syringe I discovered a brown, oily/waxy build up. Based on my research, there is concern about a fatty build up in the lungs of people who vape. The build-up in the syringe seems to support that there could be a build-up in the lungs of vapers.

Possible Sources of Error:

This experiment was not easy to design. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to get the vape and cigarette emissions into the terrariums/jars without anyone having to actually vape or smoke. For the vape portion I tried using a medicine syringe, which did not work. Then I tried a turkey baster, which also failed. Finally I tried the bulb syringe, which worked very well. A potential source of error is consistency in the volume of vape put into the jars each day. One squeeze of the bulb syringe = one “puff.” I tried to make sure that I applied equal amounts of suction and pressure each time I used the syringe, but I can not guarantee that was the case. So the amount of vape inserted into the jars each day may have varied. The same was true for the cigarette, I used a turkey baster to simulate inhalation and exhalation, and I used the same number of squeezes, but I can not guarantee that they were exactly the same each day or across jars.
The terrariums themselves are another potential source of error, because the environment the plants lived in could have caused problems for the plants if the moisture level was not right, or if they didn’t get enough light. I tried to mitigate that risk of error by keeping all of the plants in the same room, on the same table. Also, I closely monitored the condensation build up on the terrarium walls for each plant and regularly checked the soil for moisture. I took steps to reduce moisture via evaporation when the environment seemed to become too wet (I removed the lids from the jars for periods of time) and I added water if I noticed the soil became dry.
It was difficult to assess the water quality of the Vape Water and the water from the cotton ball experiments using the water test kits that I had access to. My tests showed acceptable levels of lead, mercury and aluminum in the waters, but the disclaimers on the test kits indicated that they may not be sensitive enough to detect traces of those metals. Different results may be found doing more in depth lab tests.


The emissions of the cigarettes seemed to be more damaging to the plants than the vape emissions in the short term, however based on what I observed regarding the waxy appearance and limited transpiration in the vape plants, I believe the vape would be equally dangerous in the long run. Additionally, based on the results of my tests on the cotton balls and the vape water I have concluded that the pH of the vape water was acidic, which is not beneficial to plants or people. I also noted that the weight or density of the cotton balls exposed to vape seemed greater than the other cotton balls, which makes me think they absorbed something to cause them to become heavier. Finally, after cutting open the bulb syringe, I noticed a brownish, greasy looking build up in the spout of the syringe. Based on my research, and the results of my tests, I have concluded that prolonged vaping could cause a similar build up on the plants and in lungs.

Based on my research, the warnings on the packages, and the results of my testing, I believe my hypothesis is correct. I have concluded that both vape and cigarette emissions had negative effects on the test items, both are dangerous to plants and unsafe in general.

Further Testing:

If I had access to a chemistry lab with the appropriate equipment, I would love to test what, if any, chemical compounds or heavy metals may be present in the soil of the MI2, MI3, PA2 and PA3 terrariums. I would also love to test what, if any, chemical compounds or heavy metals may have been absorbed by the cotton balls in C2 and C3, as well as in the water in my additional test jar.
If I had more time, and additional resources, I would extend my testing period to better understand the longer term effects of vaping on the mini ivy and the pixie arrowhead.


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Research Plan:

 I conducted my experiment by doing 3 different tests: 1) Tested the effect of vape/cigarette smoke on mini ivy, 2) ​​​​​​Tested the effect of vape/cigarette smoke on pixie arrowheads, 3) Tested the effect of vape/cigarette smoke on the color of cotton balls.

I began my project by purchasing the materials needed to build the terrariums: 6 glass jars (3 mason/3 cookie), potting soil, gravel, horticultural charcoal, 3 mini ivy plants and 3 pixie arrowhead plants. It was not easy to find the plants I needed, so I had to order them online. Once all of the terrarium supplies had been purchased and arrived, I built the terrariums. I built 6 in total: 3 containing mini ivy and 3 containing pixie arrowhead. The mini ivys were planted in the glass cookie jars, and the pixie arrowheads were planted in the .5 gallon mason jars. I did this based on the height and width of both the plants and the jars. To build each terrarium I did the following:

  1. Spread .5 cup of horticultural charcoal in the bottom of each jar
  2. Spread .75 cup of gravel on top of the charcoal in each jar
  3. Spread 1.5 cups of potting soil on top of the gravel in each jar 
  4. Measured each plant (height and width and observed the health of the leaves)
  5. Made sure the root balls of each plant were wet, damp but not too wet
  6. I planted one plant per jar, mini ivys (MI) in the cookie jars, pixie arrowheads (PA) in the mason jars
  7. I sprayed 2 spritzes of water into each jar
  8. I put the lids on each jar and labeled them: MI1, MI2, MI3 and PA1, PA2, PA3
  9. MI1 and PA1 were the controls and were not subjected to any emissions
  10. MI2 and PA2 were the Vape test jars
    1. I removed the lids and drilled holes into the lids of these jars using a 13/64 bit
    2. I put the lids back on the jars and sealed the holes with duct tape
  11. MI3 and PA3 were the Cigarette test jars 
    1. I removed the lids and drilled holes into the lids of these jars using a ½ inch bit
    2. I put the lids back on the jars and sealed the holes with duct tape
  12. I let the terrariums sit for 5 days so that the plants could settle and get established

To make the cotton test jars I put 31 new, 100% cotton, cotton balls into 3 half gallon mason jars. I labeled the jars 1 (control), 2 (vape) and 3 (cigarette). I drilled holes into the lids of jars 2 (using the 13/64 bit)  and jar 3 (using the ½ inch bit). I covered the holes with duct tape.

Once the terrariums and cotton jars were made and established, I started introducing vape emissions and cigarette smoke into the jars labeled 2 and 3.

  1. All “2” jars had 3 puffs of vape inserted per day.
    1. To draw the vape from the e-cigarette, I used a bulb syringe. A bulb syringe is the thing parents use to help clear mucus from babies’ noses.  
  2. All “3” jars had smoke from 1⁄4 of 1 cigarette inserted per day.
    1. To simulate inhaling for the cigarette, I used a turkey baster. I squeezed the baster 12 times per jar per test.
  3. I only used 1 vape pen and pod and less than 1 pack of cigarettes (there were 3 left) to conduct my entire experiment.

Throughout the course of the experiment, I monitored the water/moisture in each terrarium by observing the condensation build up on the glass.

  1. I made sure the plants in each jar had enough water to remain healthy, but not too much so there wouldn’t be rot or mold.
  2. When the condensation build up on the jar walls became too great, I opened the lids on the jars to allow evaporation to occur.
  3. When the condensation seemed inadequate, I tested the soil in the jar by touching it to make sure there was enough moisture in the soil/jar.

I took pictures and recorded my observations of each of the terrariums as well as the cotton ball jars in my computer. 

I evaluated the effect of the vape and cigarette emissions on the plants based on my observations and the beginning and ending measurements that I took.

I evaluated the effect of the vape and cigarette emissions on the cotton balls by my observations and by doing the following:

  1. I soaked 2 cotton balls from each glass jar: control, vape and cigarette, in 8 ounces of water. I then tested the water using the API Freshwater Master Test Kit and the ON 4 HOME High Fidelity Water Test Kit. I tested the water for pH (measure of how acidic something is, the lower the number the more acidic), ammonia (colorless, corrosive gas with a pungent smell, dissolves in water), lead, mercury and aluminum.  

Additional Testing:

Based on my observations of the plants exposed to vape emissions over the first several days of exposure, I decided to add an additional test. I decided to test if the emissions of the e-cigarette are water soluble. I wanted to see if there would be a build-up on the water after prolonged exposure. I also decided to do some basic water chemistry tests using two different water testing kits: API Freshwater Master Test Kit and ON 4 HOME High Fidelity Water Test Kit.

  1. I put 12 ounces of tap water into a 24 ounce glass jar.
  2. I drilled a hole in the lid with a 13/64 bit.
  3. I covered the hole with duct tape.
  4.  Each day, for 15 days, I put 3 puffs of vape into the jar.
  5.  I performed tests on the water chemistry following the instructions in the API Freshwater Master Test Kit.
    1. I tested pH
    2.  I tested Ammonia level
  6. I performed tests on the water chemistry following the instructions in the ON 4 HOME High Fidelity Water Test Kit.
    1. I tested for Lead
    2. I tested for Mercury
    3. I tested for Aluminum
  7. I performed the same water tests on tap water that was not exposed to vape emissions as a basis for comparison.

SAFETY PROCEDURES: To make sure I was protecting myself and my environment I followed the following safety procedures:

  1. All drilling was done with the supervision of an adult.
  2. I wore gloves and a mask when working with the vape (e-cigarette)  and cigarettes.
  3. I had adult supervision when using the lighter to light the cigarettes.
  4. I kept my project in the house to keep the plants at a good temperature, but I did my experiments in my garage with the garage doors open to keep any vape and cigarette emissions out of my family’s living area and to make sure I had good ventilation.
  5. I kept a small container of water nearby when doing my experiments with cigarettes so that I could safely put them out prior to putting them in the trash.
  6. All water used in the testing was flushed down my toilet.

 To conduct the above experiments, I used the following materials:

  • 6 - .5 gal. Mason jars 
  • 3 - glass cookie jars
  • 1 - Bag Potting soil
  • 1 - Bag Gravel
  • 1 - Bag Horticultural Charcoal
  • 2 - Measuring Cups: ½ cup, ¼ cup, 1 liquid cup
  • 3 - mini ivy plants
  • 3 - pixie arrowhead plants
  • 1 - Spray bottle of water
  • Ruler
  • Drill & drill bits (13/64 and ½ inch)
  • 1 - Roll Yale Duct Tape
  • Sharpie
  • 1 pack Marlboro cigarettes (red and white label)
  • 1- Logic vape pen and pod (holds 27 mL of tobacco)
  • 93 - 100%  cotton, cotton balls 
  • 1 - Bulb syringe (the kind used to clear a baby’s nose)
  • 1 - Turkey baster
  • Small cup of water for putting out cigarettes
  • 3 cups of water (8oz)
  • Box of disposable vinyl gloves
  • Safety mask
  • Plastic spoons
  • Computer for taking notes and recording observations
  • Scissors
  • Tissues

 For the additional procedure I decided to do:

  • 2- mason jars with water
  • The bulb syringe mentioned above
  • Water testing kits (API Freshwater Master Test Kit & ON 4 HOME High Fidelity Water Test Kit.)

Once my procedures were complete, I evaluated my data and performed my analysis.

Questions and Answers