Is Vaping Safe? What You Need to Know

By Terez Malka, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
June 10, 2022

Vaping has been marketed as a better alternative to smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products.

E-cigarettes come in a variety of different flavors, like blueberry and bubblegum, and it can be hard to think that a product that tastes like candy is unsafe. 

But it turns out, there’s a lot more to vaping’s health impacts than advertising suggests.

When you vape, you’re doing more than inhaling water vapor.

Most vaping e-liquids contain nicotine, flavors, and other chemicals that may be harmful to your health. 

Vapes are relatively new, so there are few studies on the long-term effects on the body.

But what do we know about vaping so far? 

In this article, I’ll discuss if vaping is safe and the risks. I’ll explain e-cigarettes and e-liquids and vaping effects on your body.

I’ll talk about how to quit vaping. Finally, I’ll explore when to see a doctor.

Questions about vaping? Chat with a medical provider through K Health.

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Is Vaping Safe?

More research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of vaping.

Although vaping exposes you to fewer chemicals than cigarettes, it’s not harmless. 

E-cigarettes use batteries to heat a liquid into a vapor, which users inhale.

That liquid often contains nicotine, the same addictive substance found in cigarettes.

But even when it does not contain nicotine, it contains other toxic chemicals, as described above.

Nicotine alone causes many serious and lifelong health consequences like heart disease, and other vape ingredients can cause serious illness including permanent lung damage.. 

The short version is this: If you don’t smoke, you should stay off vaping. And if you’re a smoker looking to quit, there are better options. Vaping is not an FDA-approved method to quit smoking.

There are several other quit-aids worth trying, such as transdermal nicotine patches, nicotine gum, and nicotine lozenges.

Risks of Vaping

There are several known risks of vaping, many of them similar to the risks of cigarette smoking.

They include:

  • Nicotine addiction
  • Slowed brain development in teenagers and young adults
  • Lung problems
  • Risk of heart attack
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Exposure to heavy metals like lead
  • Developmental problems in fetuses

There are reports that some young adults experienced seizures from inhaling high amounts of nicotine, and that it could happen to both first-timers and experienced users.

Second-hand vapor is a health risk for bystanders.

The vapor exhaled by the user usually contains nicotine and ultrafine particles that can get into the lungs and trigger an inflammatory reaction.

The vapor also contains heavy metals like lead, and volatile organic matter like benzene, a gas found in car exhaust.

Besides the risks involving the inhalation of the vapor produced, vaping poses several other risks.

The battery in the e-cigarette, if defective, can explode while in use which can cause serious facial damage.

More commonly, such explosions occur while the e-cigarette is charging, which can be dangerous for users and others. 

Nicotine poisoning can also happen by ingesting the e-liquid or absorbing it through the skin and eyes.

This is especially dangerous to pets and children, but can cause dangerous symptoms in anyone.

E-cigarettes and refill containers should be kept safely away from the reach of children to prevent unintentional ingestion.

Symptoms of nicotine poisoning include headache, dizziness, vomiting, rapid heart rate, seizures, and even death.  

What are E-cigarettes and E-liquids?

E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) are also referred to as vapes, vape pens, tank systems, mods, e-hookahs, e-pipes, vaporizers, Juuls, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).

They are battery-powered devices with a heating element and a cartridge that holds the liquid, called e-liquid. 

Some are designed to look like traditional cigarettes, while others look like everyday items such as pens and USB flash drives.

There are reusable e-cigarettes and disposable ones.

Aside from nicotine, individuals can use it to deliver other drugs like marijuana. 

E-liquids, also known as e-juice, juice, or smoke juice, usually contain nicotine, flavors, additives, and other substances.

They come in dropper bottles of different sizes, flavors, and nicotine strength.

Harmful Substances in E-liquids

The contents of e-liquids vary widely.

For example, E-liquids may contain nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), additives, cannabinoid oil (CBD), flavoring, and other substances. 

  1. THC is the chemical in cannabis that makes people feel “high.” It has a range of health effects like increased heart rate, changes in perception, and worsens respiratory conditions like asthma, especially with long-term use. It may cause long-term changes to memory and ability to learn. THC is also illegal in many states.
  1. Vitamin E acetate is used as an additive in e-cigarettes. It is a vitamin found naturally in food, available as a dietary supplement, and found in skin products. It causes no problems when it is ingested or applied to the skin but can be dangerous when you inhale it. Research shows that vitamin E acetate interferes with lung functioning and is now strongly linked to e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) cases. 
  1. Flavoring like diacetyl, used to produce buttery flavor, has been indicated in some lung problems when it is inhaled. There are about 7700 different flavors available for e-liquids. These flavors are generally regarded as safe to be ingested, but they have not been proven safe enough to be inhaled. 
  1. Acetyl propionyl, commonly used as an alternative to diacetyl, has also been shown to cause similar damage to the lungs. The particular flavors used are typically not indicated on the e-cigarette packaging, so even if you’re looking for them, they’re difficult to avoid.
  1. Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin are commonly used as the base of e-liquids. The vapor produced by these chemicals can cause eye and respiratory irritation to both the users and bystanders. 
  1. E-liquids can also contain toxic substances and carcinogens such as acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, and acrolein

Nicotine in E-liquids

Nicotine is extracted from tobacco and is often an active ingredient in e-liquids.

Some manufacturers advertise their products as nicotine-free and yet many still contain nicotine

E-liquids contain different amounts of nicotine, but they’re often more potent than traditional cigarettes.

One e-liquid cartridge (called a pod) can contain as much nicotine as 20 packs of cigarettes.

This is both of concern for those who use vapes, and for those who keep them in their home, as they can cause serious overdoses if ingested by a child or pet.

Vaping Effects on your Body

Although e-cigarettes have not been on the market long enough for experts to know their long-term impact, studies suggest multiple concerning health effects.

Heart and Lungs

Like cigarette smoking, vaping seems to raise heart rates and increase blood pressure, likely due to the effect of nicotine.

These changes are linked to an increase in coronary artery disease and heart attacks. 

The lungs are especially sensitive to vaping.

Vaping exposes the lungs to various toxic chemicals like diacetyl, which can cause small-airway damage resulting in a condition called popcorn lung.

Symptoms of popcorn lung include persistent coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Popcorn lung is incurable and causes permanent lung damage.

Other Physical Effects

Adolescent and young adult brains are particularly affected by the nicotine found in vaping.

Nicotine affects the ability to learn and control mood, attention, and impulse.

Adolescents and young adults who use nicotine are also more likely to use other drugs.

Nicotine also affects fetal development and is not advised for pregnant people.

It can raise the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, deficits in auditory processing, and obesity.

How to Quit Vaping

If you start to notice headaches or feel depressed, upset, restless, and jumpy after staying off or decreasing your vaping, those are likely withdrawal symptoms due to nicotine addiction. 

Of course, it is better to avoid vaping altogether, but if you’re already doing it and need to quit, it is possible to do so. The steps involved are similar to those you would use to quit traditional cigarettes.

  • Know why you’re quitting: Have a specific reason(s) why you’re choosing to quit. Write them down where you can see them and go over them repeatedly. It could be for health reasons, to save money, or simply to get your life back. Having a strong “why” will keep you grounded when you have strong cravings. So stay focused on your reasons.
  • Quit other tobacco products: When you quit vaping, avoid using other tobacco products to avoid becoming addicted to another substance.
  • Choose a quit date: Set a specific day to quit vaping and stick to it. This helps you plan.
  • Dispose of all vaping-related items: Limit your access to items that might make it easy to start vaping again.
  • Understand and manage your triggers: Sometimes, triggers might not be the vaping items but certain people, places, and activities. So first, be self-aware to recognize them and avoid them, especially in the early days. Then, plan what to do when you’re eventually faced with those triggers.
  • Find support and accountability: Speak to your family and trusted friends about your decision to quit. It is helpful to have people to talk to when you have strong cravings. However, if you’re not comfortable speaking to people close to you, there are support groups online and in person. 
  • Seek medical support. Medical professionals can provide therapy and prescribe medications that help you manage the discomfort of quitting and increase your chance of success.

This can be a difficult period, but quitting is possible.

Remember that quitting vaping now gives your body a chance to heal and repair itself and lowers your risk of several health conditions.

Questions about vaping? Chat with a medical provider through K Health.

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When to See a Medical Provider

Although rare, some people have allergic reactions to e-liquid ingredients.

These reactions may range from mild to severe.

If you’re noticing mild symptoms, speak with your doctor or healthcare provider. 

If you have more severe symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, severe coughing, confusion, fever, or dizziness, you should seek emergency medical care or call 9-1-1.

If you’re trying to quit nicotine, you don’t have to do it alone, and your doctor or healthcare provider can provide you with the necessary resources that will help.

How K Health Can Help

Are you looking for help to quit smoking? Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does vaping do to your body?
Vaping affects both your physical and mental health. Research suggests that vaping can cause an increased heart rate and blood pressure which can increase your risks of heart disease. Serious, acute, or permanent lung diseases and even death have also been linked with vaping. In young adults, the nicotine found in most e-liquids affects brain development and impacts impulse control, mood, and learning.
What are 5 risks of vaping?
Risks of vaping include nicotine addiction, slow brain development in teenagers and young adults, lower impulse control, altered mood, and increased risk of health issues in fetuses.
Can your lungs heal from vaping?
Yes, your lungs can heal from vaping, although some chemicals like diacetyl can cause irreversible damage.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.