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What's in an E-Cigarette?

E-cigarettes, aka JUULs and vape pens, use a battery to heat up a special liquid into an aerosol that users inhale. It's not just harmless water vapor. The "e-juice" that fills the cartridges usually contains nicotine (which is extracted from tobacco), propylene glycol, flavorings and other chemicals. Studies have found that even e-cigarettes claiming to be nicotine-free contain trace amounts of nicotine. Additionally, when the e-liquid heats up, more toxic chemicals are formed.

Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not begun its review of any e-cigarette or its ingredients, nor has FDA issued any standards on the products, e-cigarette composition and effects vary. What researchers do know is that these toxic chemicals and metals have all been found in e-cigarettes: 

  • Nicotine – a highly addictive substance that negatively affects adolescent brain development
  • Propylene glycol – a common additive in food; also used to make things like antifreeze, paint solvent, and artificial smoke in fog machines
  • Carcinogens- chemicals known to cause cancer, including acetaldehyde and formaldehyde
  • Acrolein – a herbicide primarily used to kill weeds, can cause irreversible lung damage
  • Diacetyl – a chemical linked to a lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans aka "popcorn lung"
  • Diethylene glycol – a toxic chemical used in antifreeze that is linked to lung disease
  • Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, lead
  • Cadmium – a toxic metal found in traditional cigarettes that causes breathing problems and disease
  • Benzene – a volatile organic compound (VOC) found in car exhaust
  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
    Resources
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    E-cigarettes, "Vapes" and JUULs: What Parents Should Know [PDF]

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    E-Cigarettes, "Vapes" and JUULs: What Schools Should Know [PDF]

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    E-Cigarettes, "Vapes" and JUULs: What Teens Should Know [PDF]

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    The Impact of E-Cigarettes on the Lung [PDF]

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    Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed August 19, 2019.

    Page Last Updated: August 20, 2019

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