The safety and long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or other vaping products still aren’t well known. But that hasn’t stopped adults and teens from using e-cigarettes as a way to ease the transition from traditional cigarettes to not smoking at all.
“Recently there has been a heightened awareness of acute lung injury associated with vaping,” says Sigfredo Aldarondo, MD, FCCP, a board-certified pulmonary and critical care physician at Pulmonary Care of Central Florida.
“E-cigarettes were initially designed to deliver nicotine in a non-combustible way, but have become a means to deliver cannabis as well. In 2019, at least 50 deaths were reported and some 2,500 cases of hospitalization for vaping-related lung injury.”
What Is Vaping?
Vaping has grown in popularity with the rise of e-cigarettes, which were introduced to the U.S. mass market in 2007. Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device with many nicknames, including:
- Vape pens
- Pod mods (advanced personal vaporizers)
- Electronic nicotine delivery devices (ENDS)
E-cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke but heat a liquid into a vapor, which then turns into an aerosol. The aerosol is often mistaken for water vapor but consists of fine particles. Many of these particles contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and heart disease.
The liquid e-cigarettes contain has many monikers, such as:
Most vape liquids contain a combination of propylene glycol or glycerol—also called glycerin—as a base. They also consist of nicotine, THC, vitamin E acetate, or flavoring chemicals to produce popular or outlandish flavors, from mint to gummy bear to peach green tea.
Generally, a vaping device consists of a mouthpiece, battery, a cartridge containing the e-liquid or e-juice, and a heating component that is powered by a battery. The battery heats the heating component, which transforms the e-liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs and then exhaled.
Health Risks of Vaping
Vaping can increase exposure to chemicals that could harm one’s health and cause lung damage. Vaping could also expose users to nicotine, which is addictive. In September 2019, federal and state health authorities began investigating an outbreak of a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarettes.
As of December 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 54 deaths in patients with e-cigarette, vaping, or product use associated lung injury (EVALI), and a total of 2,506 hospitalized EVALI cases have been reported to CDC from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands).
Patients affected by EVALI have shown symptoms ranging from cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath to fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and fever. A 2019 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who use only e-cigarettes increase their risk of developing lung disease by about 30% compared with nonusers. Moreover, the risk of being diagnosed with lung disease was highest among adults who smoke cigarettes and vape.
Vaping among youth, in particular, has reached alarming levels. Over 5 million middle and high school students currently use e-cigarettes, up from more than 3.6 million in 2018.
Other Chemical Risks
When the liquid heats during the vaping process, new chemicals can be created, including formaldehyde, nickel, tin, and aluminum. The amount of substances (including nicotine) a person can be exposed to by vaping is affected by the:
- Battery power
- Type of vaping device
- Settings on the device
- Combination of internal components
- Type of vaping liquid and amount of nicotine
- User behavior patterns
Using vaping products with higher power and temperature settings can produce more chemicals.
Research on the health effects of vaping is still in the very early stages, and the long-term health impacts of vaping are mostly unknown. However, enough evidence exists to justify efforts to prevent the use of vaping products by youth and non-smokers.
Dr. Aldarondo concurs. “If you happen to be using e-cigarettes, particularly THC or cannabis, and you develop respiratory symptoms such as persistent cough or shortness of breath, you should stop immediately.”
“The best thing to do is not to do any vaping at all until we know better the full effects of vaping and e-cigarettes,” he continues. “If you get your vaping devices through the under-market or unofficial means, you are potentially at risk of developing lung injury from the inhalation of the byproducts of the vaping process. If that happens, you should stop immediately and be evaluated. That evaluation would include a physical exam, chest x-ray, and perhaps some blood work.”
If you have any questions or need more information on vaping or e-cigarettes, please feel free to contact us.