Electronic smoking devices (or “vaping” devices or e-cigarettes) are a fairly new tobacco product that have been sold in the U.S. for about a decade.  Many people think that these devise produce nothing more than harmless water vapor.  This ins’t true.  These devices allow users to inhale an aerosol containing nicotine and other harmful substances.  The aerosol is a combination of liquid with very small, solid particles mixed in, many of which are unsafe.  E-cigarettes/”vapes” are also called “vape pens, hookah pens, e-hookahs, vaporizers, e-cigars, pod-based systems, and e-pipes.  Some devices look like pens or even USB flash drives, such as JUUL.

Are e-cigarettes less harmful than cigarettes (1)?

There has been no FDA oversight in the production of these devices, which means tobacco companies are self-reporting on the ingredients.  All JUUL pods contain nicotine, as well as some of the flavored pods.  Manufacturers of the juices used in e-cigarettes/”vapes” are required to have warning labels indicating that they contain nicotine, but don’t have to disclose the ingredients so consumers do not always know what they are getting.

The important things to remember are:

  • E-cigarettes almost always contain harmful ingredients including nicotine.
  • Acrolein, a known ingredient of many e-cigarettes, causes irreversible lung damage.
  • Nicotine exposure (through smoking or secondhand smoke) during adolescence can harm the developing brain.
  • JUUL is a popular e-cigarette product among teens.  All JUUL pods contain nicotine.  According to the manufacturer, one JUUL pod may contain as much nicotine as a pack of traditional cigarettes (around 20 cigarettes).

What are the most common reasons youth use e-cigarettes in the U.S. (1)?

  • 39% said used by “friend or family member”
  • 31% said availability of “flavors such as mint, candy, fruit, or chocolate”
  • 17% said  they have a belief that “they are less harmful than other forms of tobacco such as cigarettes”

Take ONE Step to Protect Your Loved Ones from E-cigarettes/"Vapes"

Knowing and understanding the dangers will help you create safe breathing environments as well as inform other parents of the risks, myths, and preventive measures regarding secondhand smoke and aerosols (2).

  • Smoke outside, away from windows, doors, and children
  • Don’t allow smoking at any time or place children will be present (home, car, etc.)
  • Teach children how to stay away from secondhand smoke and aerosol
  • Model a tobacco and smokefree lifestyle
  • Implement a smokefree house/property policy
  • Be honest with young people about how difficult it is to quite smoking and encourage them not to start

If you’re ready to change your tobacco use, check out these support resources.

Secondhand Aerosol (“Vapor”) From E-cigarettes/"Vapes"

Harmful substances such as nicotine, ultrafine particles, flavoring chemicals, heavy metals (nickel, tin, lead), and cancer-causing agents are contained in the aerosol that users breathe from the device and exhale (3).  The inhalation of such harmful chemicals can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease.  Aerosol from these devices is like secondhand smoke.

  • A January 2018 study published in the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (4) reviewed over 800 different studies on e-cigarettes and found:
    • Using e-cigarettes causes health risks.
    • E-cigarettes contain and produce a number of potentially toxic substances.
    • Youth who use e-cigarettes are at increased risk for coughing and wheezing, and worsening asthma symptoms.

Is the aerosol from e-cigarettes/”vapes” air pollution?
Yes, ultrafine particulate matter is an air pollutant that is a concern for people’s health especially their heart and lungs.  These particles are in very high concentrations on heavy pollution days, which can be found in the air during wildfire season, and were found in places that allowed indoor smoking of tobacco.  Now, we are finding the same levels of high concentrations in places where e-cigarettes/”vapes” are used.

  • A 2018 study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco (5), found pollution levels during a marijuana e-cigarette event were similar to events like wildfires and severe industrial pollution.

Adults and children need to be in aerosol (“vapor”) free environments to protect themselves from the dangerous chemicals that come from e-cigarette/”vape” products.

Can e-cigarettes/”vapes” be used to quit smoking (6)?
These devices are not an approved smoking cessation aid by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  There are only seven approved cessation aids: patches, gum, lozenges, inhaler, nasal spray, Chantix (varenicline), and Wellbutrin/Zyban (bupropion).

  1. American Lung Association“E-cigarettes, Vapes and JUULs: What Parents Should Know.”  Retrieved from: https://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/e-cigarettes-parents.html
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “2006 Surgeon General’s Report Highlights – How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from Secondhand Smoke.”  Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/2006/pdfs/protect-from-shs.pdf
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Quick Facts on the Risks of E-cigarettes for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults.”  Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/Quick-Facts-on-the-Risks-of-E-cigarettes-for-Kids-Teens-and-Young-Adults.html
  4. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine “Public Health Consequences of E-cigarettes.”  Retrieved from: https://www.nap.edu/resource/24952/012318ecigaretteConclusionsbyEvidence.pdf
  5. University of California, San Francisco “Measuring Aerosol Particle Emissions from Cannabis Vaporization and Dabbing.”  Retrieved from: https://no-smoke.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/2018-Indoor-Air-Cannabis01-Schick.pdf
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “About Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes).”  Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/about-e-cigarettes.html

Page last updated: November 21, 2022

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