Everything You Need to Know About Vaping

Risks of vaping

Verywell / Emilie Dunphy

Despite the tremendous growth of the vaping industry in recent years and the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, JUULs, and other vaping devices, many people still aren't exactly sure what vaping is. Is it smoking or something else entirely?

Generally speaking, vaping involves inhaling a vaporized liquid from an electronic device; and much like traditional cigarettes, it contains nicotine. The difference is that while the liquid or vapor is heated, it does not burn like a traditional cigarette.

Although vaping was originally introduced as an alternative to smoking for adults, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that teens in the United States are more likely than adults to vape or use e-cigarettes. In fact, in 2018 more than 3.6 million middle and high school kids in the U.S. had vaped in the last thirty days. Meanwhile, only about 2.7% of adults in 2017 were current e-cigarette users.

This reality has created an intense debate about the safety of e-cigarettes and whether or not they are truly a safe alternative to traditional smoking. It has also lead the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on companies that appear to market to a younger clientele, in particular with the sale of flavored vaping products.

As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

What Are E-Cigarettes?

Overall, e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices designed to look like a pen, a thumb drive, or even a real cigarette. Some have refillable tanks while others have disposable pods. But regardless of what they look like, they basically all work the same way.

E-cigarettes have containers filled with liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. A battery-powered heating device turns the liquid into vapor, which users inhale when they take a puff off of the device.

Using an e-cigarette is called vaping, although teens refer to using JUULs, a pod-type of e-cigarette, as juuling. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of different types of e-cigarettes on the market, and almost all of them contain nicotine. Sometimes, they even contain THC, the chemical found in marijuana that makes users feel "high."

What You Need to Know About Vaping

Vaping has been around for about a decade now and is growing in popularity, especially among teens and young adults. Originally marketed as a smoking cessation device for traditional smokers to quit smoking, e-cigarettes are thought to be a safer alternative to smoking.

But, the FDA has not found any e-cigarette to be safe or effective in helping smokers quit, according to the American Lung Association. In fact, there is some evidence that most smokers today are "dual users," using both cigarettes and e-cigarettes. They simply vape in places or in situations where they cannot smoke like a restaurant or at a friend's house.

What's more, many people assume that e-cigarettes and vaping are safe alternatives to smoking. But that is not the case. Even though some scientists believe they are less dangerous than traditional cigarettes, they are still not a healthy, or safe alternative. What's more, vaping is attracting teens and young adults who would not otherwise smoke. So, an entirely new generation of people are becoming addicted to nicotine.

Additionally, several studies indicate that vaping may actually serve as a gateway to smoking, especially among teens and young adults. For instance, a study in the journal, Pediatrics, found that teens who never smoked but started vaping were more likely to try cigarettes than kids who never vape. Likewise, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a similar connection. They discovered that kids who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products over the next year than kids who are non-users.

Interestingly, the CDC states that teen cigarette smoking has dropped to a historic low with just under 11% of teens smoking. However, the use of e-cigarettes went up to 24% in 2015, which represents a dramatic increase in vaping. This increase in vaping has advocates concerned that all the work done to reduce smoking among teens may be undone with vaping. While kids may not be smoking cigarettes, they are vaping in record numbers. And regardless of the method, they are still inhaling nicotine and developing addictions.

The Risks Associated With Vaping

There is a fierce debate about the risks and possible benefits of vaping. Some believe that vaping could help millions of adults quit tobacco cigarettes, while advocates argue that vaping normalizes the habit and lures children into smoking. But those two arguments aside, there is mounting evidence that vaping negatively impacts your health.

For instance, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine indicated in a consensus study report that reviewed more than 800 different studies, that using e-cigarettes, or vaping causes health risks. They also concluded that e-cigarettes contain a number of potentially toxic substances that irritate the lungs and cause a number of health issues.

Meanwhile, a study from the University of North Carolina found similar results indicating that the two primary ingredients found in e-cigarettes are toxic to cells. They also reported that the more ingredients in an e-liquid, the greater the toxicity. But the concerns with vaping do not end there. There are several other surprising risk factors associated with vaping. Here is an overview of the potential issues that result from vaping.

Vaping Devices Can Blow Up

Perhaps one of the most shocking risks associated with e-cigarettes and vaping is the risk of explosions and fire from the devices. In a 2017 report from the U.S. Fire Administration, officials reported that the shape and construction of e-cigarettes make them more likely to explode than other products with lithium-ion batteries. In fact, when the batteries fail, they behave like "flaming rockets."

Meanwhile, another study found that more than 2,000 visits to the emergency rooms between 2015 and 2017 were related to e-cigarette burns and explosion-related injuries. That is nearly two hospital visits a day over a three-year period. What's more, some of the cases were very severe. People lost teeth, suffered damage to their eyes, lost parts of their face or mouth, and experienced third-degree burns. There are even reports of people dying in the explosions. For instance, a young man in Texas was killed when his e-cigarette exploded sending a piece of metal into his neck and severing an artery.

To help prevent e-cigarette explosions, the FDA recommends that users only purchase vape devices with vent holes. They also suggest replacing e-cigarette batteries that get damaged or wet, and to store loose batteries in a case away from keys and coins.

They also recommend charging vaping devices only with the charger provided and not to charge a vape pen overnight or leave it unattended.

Liquid Nicotine Can Poison People

Liquid nicotine is especially dangerous to young children, and reports of poisonings are on the rise. Parents and older siblings should be advised to keep e-cigarettes out of reach of small children. What's more, liquid nicotine also has been linked to seizures, especially when using products like JUULs which contain a high concentration of nicotine.

Vaping Is Addictive

Nicotine is a primary ingredient in e-cigarettes, and it is highly addictive. In fact, it is so addicting that without it you will suffer withdrawal symptoms if you try to ignore your cravings. Yet, many people assume that when they are vaping they are ingesting less nicotine than they would be if they were smoking a cigarette. The problem is that some e-cigarettes contain as much or more nicotine than a pack of cigarettes. So, vaping is just as addictive at traditional smoking. What's more, nicotine also is toxic. It raises your blood pressure, increases adrenaline in your system, and causes your heart to beat faster, all of which elevate your risk of a heart attack.

There Are Many Unknowns

E-cigarettes have not been on the market long enough for scientists to determine what long-term use will do to the body. Plus, e-cigarettes often contain a number of chemicals that are being inhaled into your lungs. At this point, it is impossible to know what those chemicals will do to your body because e-cigarettes have not been out long enough to undergo any extensive studies. Still, many researchers are concerned that the chemicals people are inhaling when they vape may produce conditions like "popcorn lung," which is a type of lung disease caused by the chemical diacetyl. Diacetyl, is a flavor-enhancing chemical that was originally used to improve the flavor of microwave popcorn until it was shown to cause popcorn lung in the factory workers.

A Word From Verywell

If you are a smoker and are considering vaping as a way to kick the habit, talk to your doctor first about the best way to quit smoking for good. There are a number of medications, aids, and counseling options to support you in your decision. Or, you can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for ideas on proven methods to quit smoking.

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Article Sources
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  • "About E-Cigarettes." Centers for Disease Control, November 15, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/about-e-cigarettes.html

  • "Electronic Cigarette Fires and Explosions in the United States." U.S. Fire Administration, FEMA, 2017. 20https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/electronic_cigarettes.pdf

  • "Vaporizers, E-Cigarettes, and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS)." U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), June 19, 2019. https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/products-ingredients-components/vaporizers-e-cigarettes-and-other-electronic-nicotine-delivery-systems-ends