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The Dangers of Vaping & E-Cigs

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 23, 2019

E-cigarettes are increasing in popularity when it comes to smoking alternatives. The smokeless aspect of these devices leads individuals to believe that they are healthier than traditional cigarettes. However, e-cigarettes still introduce nicotine, often in higher concentrations, into the body which can lead to several adverse health consequences.

E-cigarettes are very rapidly becoming a major player in the smoking cessation world. They are very simple in their design as basically a tube that holds a battery, a heating element, and a container of liquid nicotine. When a user inhales on the end, they ignite the heating unit, which warms the liquid nicotine into steam that can then be inhaled into the lungs.

While some e-cigarettes are disposable after one use, high-end models can be used multiple times. All that needs to be done is replacing the batteries when they die and installing new nicotine containers. Flavored nicotine can also be added to give the steam a nicer flavor.

E-cigarette vaping helps eliminate the dangerous smoke that causes so many health problems in smokers, but it doesn’t eliminate the potential risks associated with the act. In fact, e-cigarettes have many of their own unique health dangers that must be watched for at all times.

Vaping Still Introduces Nicotine Into Your Body

While the smoke in cigarettes is what causes many of the major health problems associated with smoking (such as lung cancer), nicotine still creates a wide range of health problems. People who vape may not realize this (as it is often ignored in advertising material), but nicotine is dangerous.

Why? Nicotine is actually a poison, one that will cause an immediate reaction in your body, including:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Stimulated heart
  • Raised blood fat levels
  • Constricted blood vessels

Ironically, the purity of e-cigarette vapor means you are getting a much higher dose of nicotine with each vape. As a result, these effects are likely even more pronounced than they would be if you were simply smoking cigarettes. But, more studies need to be done on this particular point before it is proven. Right now, it is simply a likely danger.

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Vaping May Actually Cause Cancer

Vaping proponents often claim that e-cigarettes help decrease your chance of developing lung cancer. However, a recent study published in The Evening Standard found that the nicotine in vaping steam could actually contribute to an increased risk of cancer.

In fact, the doctor who co-authored the study– Jessica Wang-Rodriguez –offered this startling quote on the safety of e-cigarettes: “Based on the evidence to date I believe they are no better than smoking regular cigarettes.

Though it should be noted that this is just the results of one study, they were based on the idea that nicotine damaged cells in the body. This fact has been well studied in the past and Wang-Rodriguez’s results mirrored that of similar studies wherein Petri dishes treated with vapor from a nicotine-based e-cigarette displayed that the risk of damage or death was higher than those treated with non-nicotine e-cigarettes.

Cell death like this is a major influence on cancer and other diseases because they influence DNA strand breaks. When DNA strands break, there is a chance that the cell will become malignantly cancerous. With increasing cell deaths caused by nicotine, the chance for cancer increases appropriately.

Vaping May Cause A Rare Lung Disease

This isn’t the only study that seems to have found a link between vaping and lung disease. A study performed by the Harvard School of Public Health reported that many flavoring chemicals in e-cigarettes caused “popcorn lung,” a rare respiratory disease previously most commonly reported in those working in popcorn factories.

Essentially, they tested 51 different fruit, candy, and cocktail flavoring chemicals and found that 47 of them contained at least one (if not all) of the following three chemicals:

  • diacetyl
  • 2,3-pentanedione
  • acetoin

These are three chemicals primarily responsible for popcorn lung.

This irreversible condition can cause:

  • airway obstruction
  • inflammation
  • scar tissue
  • shortness of breath
  • dry coughs
  • wheezing
  • decreased lung volume

It is a progressive disease that has no known cure or treatment, making it even more problematic.

E-Cigarettes May Contain Formaldehyde

If you’ve ever heard of formaldehyde, you probably know it as a preservative substance used in laboratories. It is a dangerous substance that you don’t want in your body in any way, but e-cigarettes may be introducing it into your lungs every time you vape.

A study reported by The New England Journal Of Medicine found that the burning of nicotine during the vaping process actually produces molecules that eventually release formaldehyde into your lungs. The process involved in this creation is very complex and it was found that 2 percent of all the chemicals in an e-cigarette converted to this dangerous substance.

The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention report that exposure to formaldehyde causes a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • sore throat
  • cough
  • itchy eyes
  • nosebleeds
  • respiratory problems
  • cancer

While it takes continued and sustained exposure to formaldehyde to cause severe problems, its presence should be troubling to any e-cigarette user.

Vaping Popularity Is Rising Among Teens

Perhaps the most insidious danger of vaping and e-cigarettes comes in the impact it is having on the teen market. The government released startling data that revealed that e-cigarette use tripled in high school teens in one year alone (2013-2014), though cigarette use dropped five percent (16 percent to 9 percent) during a four-year period (2011-2014).

So while some teens are using e-cigarettes to quit smoking cigarettes or even marijuana, many are simply jumping on the new trend. One teen – just 15 years old – claimed that 70 percent of his friends vaped on a regular basis. While they are generally (but not always) age-restricted to 18 years and older, teens have little trouble finding e-cigarettes and vapor fluid online, simply lying about their age.

Another controversial problem here is that advertising companies are suspected of targeting teens and even younger children in an attempt to grow their businesses. According to a report by NBC News, these companies are now spending over $100 million on advertising, much of it pointed directly at teens who want to enjoy a “rebellious” habit.

For example, many vapor flavors are sweet and candy-like, including two popular flavors known as Sweet Tart and Unicorn Puke. These two names are obviously aimed at a teen market and are designed to taste like candy. Other vapor flavors taste like strawberries and other sugary items. Such obvious marketing tactics were banned from use by tobacco makers years ago, but e-cigarettes are not restricted in this way.

May Cause Nicotine Poisoning

E-cigarettes are only successful as a smoking cessation aid if you quit smoking cigarettes completely while you use them. If you use both e-cigarettes and smoke cigarettes at the same time, you run the risk of developing a condition known as “nicotine poisoning.”

Taking in too much nicotine at once can cause a variety of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, confusion, a racing heart, and even death. The amount of nicotine it takes to cause this reaction will vary. For example, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention claims that 60 milligrams is enough to kill a 150-pound person. Some nicotine refills have up to 72 milligrams.

However, many experts now suggest that the 60 milligram dosage is much too low. That doesn’t change the fact that smoking and using an e-cigarette at the same time will double your intake of nicotine and cause the problems mentioned above. The issue here is that too few people really understand this danger, as e-cigarettes are advertised as “totally safe.”

Explosions Have Already Happened

Here’s an e-cigarette danger that isn’t getting the attention it deserves: their propensity for exploding. That’s right, e-cigarettes have actually exploded and seriously injured people. How and why does this happen? Remember that e-cigarettes include a heating unit to create nicotine steam.

As that unit heats, it may suffer damage that can cause the unit to overheat. However, it can also cause damage to the battery unit that can cause it to explode and spread hot metal and battery acid when it does. Unfortunately e-cigarettes usually explode while being used and when right in somebody’s face.

Two different cases in Colorado Springs illustrate this strange danger. One of the men was using his e-cigarette when it exploded, causing a broken neck, severe burns and fractures, and shattered teeth. The other case caused burns so bad that skin grafts were necessary.

Conflicting Evidence Reported By Public Health England

Perhaps you know people who use e-cigarettes and like to “prove” that they’re safe. Many like to throw out this statistic to defend their use: e-cigarettes have been PROVEN to be 95 percent safer than smoking cigarettes. They point out that a certain study discovered this high level of safety years ago and that e-cigarettes and vaping are, essentially, almost completely harmless.

What is this study and who performed it? The English health association, Public Health England, published its findings in 2015, reporting this shocking safety statistic and suggesting that they actually be prescribed along with nicotine patches as a cessation aid. However, a variety of people immediately attacked PHE for its report.

For example, an editorial in the scientific magazine Lancet took the study to task, stating that the paper was rather hazy with the actual hard evidence and may have been funded in a conflicting way. It was primarily funded by EuroSwiss Health and Lega Italiana Anti Fumo, run by a South African doctor (Delon Human). The problem? Human is connected with the tobacco business, including companies like NicoLife.

Other experts, including experts at the Center For Tobacco Control Research and Education center take the report to task because it bases its conclusion on one study, rather than on multiple controlled experiments. They state that making a bold claim about the safety of e-cigarettes is ethically questionable and medically problematic.

E-Cigarettes Are Not Safe

While e-cigarettes may be a useful and temporary way for people to quit smoking, they are not safe for long-term use. Any type of sustained drug use will harm your body and vaping is no different. Even if the e-cigarette steam isn’t as carcinogenic in substance as cigarette smoke, it’s far from safe. If you have any more questions about e-cigarette safety or how to find the right addiction treatment facility, please turn to us at to learn more.

Evening Standard - Vaping could be just as dangerous as smoking, study finds

Environmental Health Perspectives - Flavoring Chemicals in E-Cigarettes: Diacetyl, 2,3-Pentanedione, and Acetoin in a Sample of 51 Products, Including Fruit-, Candy-, and Cocktail-Flavored E-Cigarettes

CDC - E-cigarette use triples among middle and high school students in just one year

NBC News - E-Cigarette Ads Target Millions of Kids, CDC Says

The Denver Post - Colorado Vapers Burned By Exploding E-Cigs

The Lancet Journal - E-cigarettes: Public Health England's evidence-based confusion

Center For Tobacco Control Research And Education - UK report claiming e-cigs 95% safer than cigs based on one industry-linked report questions PHE's scientific credibilty

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