Vaping: Health Effects and How to Quit

Medically Reviewed By Nick Villalobos, MD
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Vaping devices, including e-cigarettes, produce an aerosol that you inhale. While the liquids in vaping devices contain fewer chemicals than traditional cigarettes or other tobacco products, they can still harm your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about 68 people in the United States have died from complications related to vaping as of February 2020. Another 2,807 cases of hospitalization or death in the U.S. and its territories occurred during that same period.

This article will explore vaping, including how it compares to tobacco smoking and how it affects your health. It will also discuss ways to quit vaping.

What is vaping? 

A man vaping
Sergio Murria/Stocksy United

Vaping involves inhaling a vapor-like aerosol from an e-cigarette or similar device. This aerosol contains nicotine, formaldehyde, and other potentially toxic substances.

Most devices have a battery, a heating element, and a compartment to hold liquid. Vaping devices work by heating a liquid until it vaporizes. This “e-liquid” or “vape juice” usually contains flavorings, aromatic additives, and nicotine — all of which can have addictive and toxic effects.

Other popular names for vaping devices include:

  • e-cigs
  • tank systems
  • e-hookahs
  • vapes
  • vape pens
  • electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)

Some vaping devices look like traditional cigarettes, pipes, or cigars. Others look like pens, USB flash drives, and other ordinary items. 

Many people consider vaping harmless, but experts believe that some of the vaporized elements have the potential to cause damage to the lungs, brain, liver, and other organs.

How does vaping affect your health?

While experts are still researching the health effects of vaping, they believe the practice is most likely harmful to your health. This is because there are many toxic substances in the liquids of vaping devices.

These substances can include:

  • Nicotine: Also present in tobacco, nicotine is a toxic and highly addictive substance. It can impair brain development in adolescents and cause emotional, impulse, and learning problems.
  • Vitamin E acetate: This is a condensing agent present in many vaping products. The CDC notes that vitamin E acetate may cause e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI). 
  • Diacetyl: This is a common e-liquid flavoring. It can increase your risk of bronchiolitis obliterans, a severe obstructive lung disease.
  • Formaldehyde: This is a chemical that may form if the liquid in the vaping device is unable to reach the heating element or overheats. In large quantities, formaldehyde may cause cancer.
  • Heavy metals: These chemicals can include lead, tin, and nickel. They can contribute to inflammation in the lungs.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): VOCs are also present in some e-cigarette aerosols. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that VOCs can cause loss of coordination, liver damage, and kidney damage. They may also increase your risk of cancer.
  • Other cancer-causing chemicals: Many other chemicals in e-cigarette aerosols can also increase your risk of cancer, including toluene and acetaldehyde.

Besides the potential adverse effects of e-liquids, e-cigarettes also sometimes have faulty batteries. The CDC notes that some e-cigarette batteries have started fires and caused explosions, some of which have led to significant injuries.

How does vaping compare to smoking? 

There are thousands of chemicals in traditional cigarettes, many of which are harmful. Vaping liquids contain fewer chemicals, but they are not safe either. The chemicals from smoking and vaping enter your airways similarly and can cause long lasting respiratory effects.

Like traditional cigarettes, vaping can trigger withdrawal symptoms. Moreover, certain vaping practices could expose a user to more addictive nicotine than traditional cigarettes do. Vape users can modify e-cartridges to provide a higher concentration of nicotine than traditional cigarettes.

How can you quit vaping?

The CDC notes that young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to use actual cigarettes in the future. If you use e-cigarettes, you may wish to quit to avoid complications and new cravings.

Here are five steps to follow in quitting vaping, according to the American Heart Association:

  1. Pick a date when you will stop using vaping devices and pledge to stop vaping. 
  2. Choose a quitting method. You can stop vaping altogether on the quit day or gradually reduce the amount you vape.
  3. Get your doctor’s input on whether you will need medical assistance to quit.
  4. Plan your quit day and the days that follow. Try to find productive things to do during your leisure time. Consider working in the yard, trying a new hobby, or engaging in other similar activities.
  5. Try to permanently stop using vaping devices. 

You may also wish to try nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NRT focuses on easing withdrawal symptoms and gradually reducing nicotine dependence. It comes in patches, gums, lozenges, tablets, and nasal sprays.

Learn more about nicotine replacement therapy and other smoking cessation methods here.

If you feel you need help to quit vaping, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to get help from trained professionals.

What are some of the health benefits of quitting vaping? 

Though fully understanding all of the risks of vaping — or the benefits of quitting — may be unknown, quitting is essential to lowering your risk for certain lung-related issues. For example, people who vape are much more likely to experience severe lung injuries.

In addition, nicotine can hinder the brain development of teenagers and young adults. By quitting vaping, younger people can protect their brain health and lower their risk for severe health conditions that vaping chemicals can cause.

Nicotine can also harm the health of pregnant people and their developing babies. Quitting vaping can lower your chances of experiencing health issues during pregnancy and protect your baby.

Frequently asked questions

Here are a few other commonly asked questions about vaping.

Can vaping harm your lungs?

Yes, vaping can harm your lungs. Many of the chemicals in the liquids of vaping devices, such as vitamin E acetate and diacetyl, can reduce lung function or cause lung disease.

Is occasionally vaping OK?

According to the CDC, the use of any tobacco product — including vaping — is harmful. It is best to avoid vaping entirely to prevent complications and other harmful effects on your health.

Can vaping help me stop smoking?

As of 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any vaping device as a smoking cessation method. More research is needed to understand if vaping could potentially aid smoking cessation.

Summary

Vaping involves inhaling a vapor-like aerosol from an e-cigarette or similar device. 

Experts have yet to fully uncover the health effects of the practice. However, they believe that the toxic substances in the liquids of vaping devices can damage your health. These substances include nicotine, cannabis, formaldehyde, acetyl, and heavy metals.

There are many potential benefits to quitting vaping. Vaping cessation can reduce your risk of lung damage, asthma, cancer, and other serious health conditions.

You can take some steps to stop vaping. Start by making a pledge to stop and choosing a quitting method. 

If you need help quitting vaping, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help from trained professionals.

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Medical Reviewer: Nick Villalobos, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 10
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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