The Risks of Vaping

Naomi Carr
Morgan Blair
Written by Naomi Carr on 23 January 2024
Medically reviewed by Morgan Blair on 19 June 2024

Using e-cigarettes, or vaping, involves the inhalation of a liquid that is heated at a high temperature and released as a vapor, which usually contains nicotine. As with smoking cigarettes and any other inhaled tobacco products, vaping can cause various health risks.

The Risks of Vaping

Is vaping bad for your health?

Vapes are a fairly new product, so the long-term health effects are not entirely known and are increasingly being researched and understood. Much of this new information uncovers the risks of vape use, which had previously been considered to be mostly harmless.

Although the exact risks of vaping remain unclear, there is new evidence to suggest that vaping can cause or increase the risk of several health issues, including:

  • Side effects such as respiratory issues and headaches
  • Impaired blood vessel functioning, leading to cardiovascular problems
  • Inflammation in the lungs, causing issues such as lipoid pneumonia as a result of oil substances from e-liquids entering the lungs
  • E-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI), is a serious and sometimes fatal lung problem. Reports show that over 2800 people had been hospitalized for EVALI up to February 2020, with 68 of these being fatal cases. The risk of EVALI is found to be increased by adding substances into e-liquids, such as THC and Vitamin E acetate.
  • Collapsed lung, caused by unnoticed blisters on the lungs bursting because of vape use which can lead to lung collapse
  • Inhalation of dangerous and toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, acetoin, and diacetyl
  • Nicotine addiction, which may be particularly harmful to young people and those who have never smoked cigarettes, potentially leading to impaired brain development and the use of tobacco products in the future.
  • Accidental nicotine overdose or poisoning

Is vaping worse than smoking?

Comparatively, vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Cigarettes contain over 7000 chemicals, many of which are toxic and can lead to several types of cancers, and heart, lung, and circulation issues. Vaping is believed to produce far fewer toxic chemicals and has a less harmful effect when inhaled second-hand.

However, new research suggests that vaping is linked to some effects that are similar to those caused by smoking cigarettes as well as some that are not seen with cigarette use. For example, blood vessel functioning and cardiovascular health are likely to be affected by both vaping and smoking. Additionally, differing cardiovascular and lung risks have been found with vaping.

As such, people who use both cigarettes and vapes are likely to expose themselves to much greater risks of health issues than those who use just one product. Individuals who only use vapes may be at less risk than cigarette smokers but may still be exposed to harmful effects.

What is "popcorn lung" and can it be deadly?

‘Popcorn lung’ refers to bronchiolitis obliterans, a condition that involves the scarring of tiny air sacs in the lungs, resulting in thicker and narrower airways and symptoms that impair breathing. These symptoms are similar to those seen in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, and chest pain.

Popcorn lung is caused by inhaling diacetyl, a chemical added to foods such as popcorn and caramel to create and enhance a buttery flavor. This chemical is now banned from these uses after being found to cause severe health issues for factory workers using it in popcorn production, hence the name.

Diacetyl is now found to be added to several e-liquids to enhance sweet flavors. According to research conducted by Harvard University, over 75% of e-cigarette flavors, such as fruit and candy flavors, contain this chemical. Directly inhaling the chemical into the lungs contributes to the development of popcorn lung, causing severe symptoms.

In some cases, people who develop this condition may be able to manage and reduce their symptoms and return to full health. However, others may experience a continuing decline in lung health, requiring regular tests and treatments to slow and reduce degeneration where possible. The worst cases can require a lung transplant to prevent life-threatening consequences.

6 things to know about vaping

  • Vaping may be less harmful than cigarette smoking but it is not entirely safe

E-cigarettes and vapes do not contain tobacco, which is primarily to blame for many of the severe health impacts of smoking such as cancer. However, vapes are not entirely harmless and can result in several side effects, mouth and throat irritation, lung inflammation and disease, and exposure to toxic chemicals that increase the risk of health issues.

  • Vaping is likely to cause significantly detrimental effects on the heart and lungs

Nicotine can increase the risk of cardiac issues, such as impaired heart functioning and heart attack, through increased heart rate and blood pressure. Vaping can also increase the risk of severe lung conditions, such as EVALI and popcorn lung, particularly in those with preexisting lung conditions.

  • Vaping is just as addictive as cigarette smoking

Vapes contain nicotine, sometimes at higher levels than is found in cigarettes. The amount of nicotine used may be difficult to monitor if vape use is excessive, and liquids can contain high strengths of nicotine. Tolerance and dependence may develop quickly, resulting in withdrawal symptoms and addiction to nicotine, which can be difficult to manage.

  • Vaping is not the best option for quitting smoking

Some research suggests that vaping is an effective way to quit smoking. However, it is not an FDA-approved cessation tool and it is common for people to end up using both vapes and cigarettes concurrently, preventing cessation and increasing health risks. Several alternative options are available that can be effective and cause fewer risks.

  • Increasing numbers of children and young people are getting addicted to nicotine

Surveys have found that young people are more likely to vape than use cigarettes, even those who have not previously smoked. This can result in the development of nicotine addiction and an increased likelihood of going on to use tobacco products.

E-liquids are available in flavors that are appealing to young people, such as fruit and candy flavors, thereby encouraging their use within this age group and contributing to the misconception that vapes are not harmful. Nicotine can be detrimental to brain development, which continues until the age of 25, so vaping before this age can be harmful.

  • Vaping batteries can cause explosions and burns

There have been cases of e-cigarette batteries exploding while inside or outside of the device or while on charge. This can cause a risk of fire and harm to people nearby. To maintain safety, it is recommended to only use batteries and chargers that come with or are intended for use with specific products, never leave the device on charge overnight, and ensure the device is not exposed to extreme temperatures.

Teens and vape use

The National Youth Tobacco Survey, led by the FDA and CDC, is an annual survey conducted in the US to monitor the use of all tobacco products among students and young people. The most recent survey, conducted in 2023, found that over 2 million students reported the current use of e-cigarettes, including 10% of high school students and 4.6% of middle school students.

This shows a decrease in the use of e-cigarettes among high school students, down from 14.1% in 2022, but no significant changes in middle school students. E-cigarettes continue to be the most used tobacco product among high school and middle school students.

Additionally, this survey found that around 9 out of 10 students using e-cigarettes use flavored products, with fruit and sweet flavors being the most popular. These flavors are the most likely to contain diacetyl, the chemical associated with a risk of popcorn lung when inhaled.

How to quit vaping

Although vaping may be a safer option compared to cigarettes, there are clear harmful effects of vape use. It is safer for individuals to inhale no tobacco products at all. Many individuals require treatments or interventions to assist with cessation.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help with this, which involves products such as gums, lozenges, and patches to provide nicotine and help with withdrawal symptoms. Some of these products can be bought over the counter while others require a prescription to obtain. It can be helpful to discuss these options with a medical professional.

Additionally, therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), hypnosis, and acupuncture may be helpful when attempting to stop the use of vapes or other tobacco products. These interventions can help reduce addictive behaviors, cravings, and associated psychological impacts.

Resources:

  1. Shmerling, R.H. (2023). Can Vaping Damage Your Lungs? What We Do (and Don't) Know. Health Harvard. Retrieved from
  2. National Institutes of Health. (2022). NIH-Funded Studies Show Damaging Effects of Vaping, Smoking on Blood Vessels. NIH. Retrieved from
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Reviewed 2021). Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products. CDC. Retrieved from
  4. Broderick, S.R. (n.d). What Does Vaping Do To Your Lungs? Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from
  5. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2015). Chemicals Linked With Severe Respiratory Disease Found in Common E-Cigarette Flavors. Harvard T.H. Chan. Retrieved from
  6. Office of the U.S. Surgeon General. (2024). Know the Risks. Surgeon General. Retrieved from
  7. Blaha, M.J. (n.d). 5 Vaping Facts You Need to Know. Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from
  8. US Food & Drug Administration. (2020). Chemicals in Tobacco Products and Your Health. FDA. Retrieved from
  9. Boakye, E., Obisesan, O.H., Osei, A.D., Dzaye, O., Uddin, S.M.I., Hirsch, G.A., & Blaha, M.J. (2020). The Promise and Peril of Vaping. Current Cardiology Reports, 22(12), 155. Retrieved from
  10. Krishna, R., Anjum, F., & Oliver, T.I. (Updated 2023). Bronchiolitis Obliterans. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from
  11. American Lung Association. (2016). Popcorn Lung: A Dangerous Risk of Flavored E-Cigarettes. Lung.org. Retrieved from
  12. Birdsey, J., Cornelius, M., Jamal, A., Park-Lee, E., Cooper, M.R., Wang, J., Sawdey, M.D., Cullen, K.A., & Neff, L. (2023). Tobacco Product Use Among U.S. Middle and High School Students — National Youth Tobacco Survey 2023. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 72, 1173–1182. Retrieved from
  13. US Food & Drug Administration. (2022). Tips to Help Avoid Vape Battery or Fire Explosions. FDA. Retrieved from
  14. Government of South Australia. (Updated 2023). Do You Want to Quit Vaping? SA Health. Retrieved from
  15. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2022). Stop Smoking Treatments. NHS. Retrieved from
  16. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2021). Complementary Health Approaches for Smoking Cessation. NCCIH. Retrieved from

Activity History - Last updated: 19 June 2024, Published date:


Reviewer

Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan is a mental health counselor who works alongside individuals of all backgrounds struggling with eating disorders. Morgan is freelance mental health and creative writer who regularly contributes to publications including, Psychology Today.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 16 January 2024 and last checked on 19 June 2024

Medically reviewed by
Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan Blair

Reviewer

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