What is vaping?
Vaping is when you use a small, handheld device (like e-cigarettes, vape pens or mods) to inhale a mist of nicotine and flavoring (e-liquid). It’s similar to smoking a cigarette, but vaping heats tiny particles out of a liquid rather than burning tobacco.
How does vaping work?
Vaping works by heating liquid in a small device so you can breathe it into your lungs. The e-cigarette, vape pen or other vaping device heats the liquid in the device to create an aerosol. This isn’t water vapor. Mist from e-cigarettes contains particles of nicotine, flavoring and other substances suspended in air. You breathe these particles into your mouth from the mouthpiece, where they go down your throat and into your lungs.
What are e-cigarettes (vape pens)?
An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is a device that heats up the liquid nicotine and flavoring for you to breathe in. There are many varieties of e-cigarettes that go by different names, including vapes, vape pens or sticks, e-hookahs, hookah sticks, mods and personal vaporizers (PVs). They can also be collectively called electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).
Most types of e-cigarettes have:
- A cartridge, tank or pod that holds liquid (can be refillable).
- A heating element for turning the liquid into breathable particles (aerosol, commonly called “vapor”).
- A battery to power the heating element.
- A power or control button (some are activated by sensors when you inhale).
- A mouthpiece to breathe in the aerosol.
What is the difference between vaping and smoking cigarettes?
Vaping and smoking both involve inhaling nicotine and other substances into your lungs. E-cigarettes heat liquid to make an aerosol; cigarettes burn tobacco, which creates smoke.
Is vaping worse than cigarettes?
Vaping is often thought of as safer than cigarette smoking, but vaping causes health problems, too. Both vaping and smoking are addictive and bring potentially dangerous chemicals into your body. The levels of many of these chemicals is higher when you burn tobacco. Vaping hasn’t been around long enough to know what kind of long-term damage it might cause.
What does vaping do to your lungs?
The particles you inhale while vaping can cause inflammation (swelling) and irritation in your lungs. This can lead to lung damage like scarring and narrowing of the tubes that bring air in and out of your lungs. Researchers don’t yet know all the effects vaping can have on your body.
Isn’t vaping just water vapor?
No. Despite the name, vaping doesn’t make water vapor. It actually creates an aerosol (or mist) that contains small particles of nicotine, metal and other harmful substances.
What’s in e-liquid (e-juice)?
E-liquid, also called e-juice or vape juice, is what vaping devices use to make the vapor you breathe in. E-liquids aren’t just water. They usually contain:
- Flavoring. Each flavoring has its own set of ingredients.
- Nicotine, the addictive and harmful substance in cigarettes and other tobacco products.
- Propylene glycol and glycerin, used to create vapor.
E-liquids and flavorings sometimes have other ingredients, including:
- Chemicals that can cause cancer (carcinogens), like acetaldehyde and formaldehyde.
- Chemicals known to cause lung disease, such as acrolein, diacetyl and diethylene glycol.
- THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical in marijuana that gets you “high.”
- Vitamin E acetate, linked to lung injury caused by vaping (EVALI, see below).
- Heavy metals like nickel, tin, lead and cadmium.
- Tiny (ultrafine) particles that can get deep into your lungs.
Risks / Benefits
What are the dangers of vaping?
The dangers of vaping include lung and other organ damage, breathing problems, addiction and more. People tend to think of vaping as “safer” than smoking, but it’s not safe.
Problems vaping causes include:
- Asthma. Vaping can make you more likely to get asthma and other lung conditions. It can make your existing asthma worse.
- Lung scarring. Diacetyl, a chemical used in some flavorings, can cause bronchiolitis obliterans (“popcorn lung”). Bronchiolitis obliterans causes permanent scarring in your lungs.
- Organ damage. In addition to your lungs, nicotine and other substances in e-liquid can hurt your heart and brain. We know nicotine can hurt brain development, raise your blood pressure and narrow your arteries.
- EVALI (e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury). EVALI is a serious lung condition that vaping causes. It causes widespread damage to your lungs and gives you symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain. EVALI can be fatal.
- Addiction. Nicotine is highly addictive. It causes changes in your brain so you want more and more nicotine. You might not be able to stop vaping if you want to or if it starts causing health problems. Even e-liquids that say they’re nicotine free have small amounts of nicotine.
- Cigarette smoking. Many people start out vaping and end up smoking cigarettes, which contain higher amounts of harmful chemicals.
- Second-hand exposure. Vaping doesn’t make smoke, but people around you are exposed to nicotine and other chemicals when you vape.
- Explosions. There have been incidents of batteries in vaping devices exploding and causing serious injuries and burns.
- Cancer. Some ingredients in e-liquids are known to cause cancer.
What is EVALI?
EVALI is short for e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury. It’s a serious lung condition caused by vaping. Vitamin E acetate, found in some e-liquids, is a possible cause.
An outbreak of EVALI in late 2019 and early 2020 put thousands of people in the hospital. At least 68 people died. Since then, EVALI cases have been declining, but people who vape can still get EVALI.
Among people who were hospitalized with severe EVALI, most were younger than 35 and used THC-containing vapes from informal sources (online, family or friends). However, EVALI can happen in anyone using either nicotine or THC-containing vapes.
Symptoms of EVALI include:
- Shortness of breath.
- Chest pain.
- Stomach pain.
- Fast heartbeat.
What are the side effects of vaping?
Short-term side effects of vaping include:
- Shortness of breath.
- Eye irritation.
- Dry and irritated mouth and throat.
What is the benefit of vaping?
You may have heard the benefits of vaping are that it’s safe or that it helps you quit smoking. Some people vape because they think it’ll help them quit smoking if they’ve already tried other methods and haven’t been able to quit. Unfortunately, you may end up addicted to vaping instead, so the benefits of vaping for smoking cessation may not be as good as they seem. There’s no benefit to vaping if you don’t already smoke.
People usually think vaping isn’t as bad as cigarette smoking, but the mist you breathe in still has nicotine and other harmful chemicals in it. Vaping isn’t safe and can cause health problems, including life-threatening lung injuries.
Can your lungs heal from vaping?
Some damage to your lungs from vaping can heal or get better with medications. Others, like lung scarring, are permanent. Over time, constant irritation to your lungs can lead to health problems (like asthma and COPD) that won’t go away.
Can vaping kill you?
In some cases, yes, you can die from lung injuries vaping causes. For instance, 68 people died in an outbreak of vaping-related illness (EVALI) in 2019 and 2020.
Is it safe to vape while pregnant?
No, it’s not safe to vape while you’re pregnant. Vaping exposes you to some of the same chemicals that cigarette smoking does. Vaping while pregnant can cause low birth weight, lung damage and brain damage in the developing fetus.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does vaping help you quit smoking?
Vaping isn’t approved as a way to quit smoking. Approved methods include patches, inhalers, lozenges and gum. While vaping might help you quit smoking, it probably won’t help you quit nicotine altogether.
In a recent study, about 18% of people who switched to vaping had been able to quit smoking. That’s about twice as many people as those who used other methods to quit smoking. However, about 80% of people who quit smoking were still vaping. Of people who used other methods, 91% kicked nicotine products altogether.
How can I quit vaping?
Quitting vaping is similar to quitting smoking, sticking to a diet or any other habit you want to change. It’s a process that won’t happen overnight, but you can make a plan to help you along the way:
- Make goals, even if it includes reducing vaping gradually.
- Set a quit date. Make sure it’s not too far away or at the same time as a stressful event.
- Talk to a healthcare provider, therapist or school counselor about quitting. They can help you make a plan that works for you and give you support in the process.
- Ask your provider, therapist or school counselor about free resources to help you quit, like online, texting and phone services or apps.
- Let friends and family know your plans for quitting. They can give you support and hold you accountable to stick to your plan.
- Make a list of reasons you want to quit vaping. Look at it or think of it throughout the process of quitting.
- Avoid temptations and triggers. Try to avoid situations where you normally vape or replace them with other activities.
- Get exercise. Not only does exercise distract you from the desire to vape, it also helps you feel good.
- Know that you’ll have cravings and some side effects, like headaches or anxiety. Nicotine gum, patches or other medications can help with cravings.
- Learn to relax with yoga, meditation and deep or rhythmic breathing.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
From accessories to flavors, vaping can seem very appealing. Unfortunately, it’s not as harmless as it seems. We know nicotine and other ingredients in e-liquids can hurt your body and we still don’t know what long-term health problems vaping could cause. If you don’t vape, don’t start. If you need help quitting, know that you’re not alone. There are online resources, texting and phone services and apps that connect you with real people to help you on your journey to kick the habit.
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