How Dangerous Is Vaping?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
November 01, 2019

How dangerous is vaping, really? More than a thousand people have fallen sick. Vaping also can promote chronic bronchitis, lung disease, and lung cancer.

More than a thousand cases of lung injury tied to vaping have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this year. The outbreak had killed 18 people by the beginning of October.

Most of the patients are under 35 and reported using e-cigarettes to inhale vapor, a heated mist that comes in multiple forms and flavors. These patients used cartridges containing THC, the mind-altering substance in marijuana. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. The “e” stands for “electronic.” The devices, which run on chargeable batteries, might look like a cigarette, cigar, pipe, pen, or USB stick. They’re sometimes called an “e-hookah,” “mod,” “vape pen,” “vape,” “tank system,” or “electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS).” You don’t need to light them. When you puff an e-cigarette, your lungs take in the vapor rather than smoke.

It’s likely that some contamination of illegal products is causing the damage, but so far scientists haven’t pinpointed a chemical, product, or distribution source.



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Researchers who analyzed tissue taken from sick patients' lungs found signs of damage from breathing in chemicals. When NBC News commissioned a study of marijuana cartridges, a testing company found a pesticide in 10 cartridges obtained from unlicensed dealers that, when burned, converts into hydrogen cyanide. On the other hand, the cartridges they obtained from legal dealers in California did not contain any heavy metals, pesticides, or solvents like vitamin E (which has also come under suspicion as a possible cause of the outbreak).

In short, when you vape with a product you get from a friend or illegal dealer, you don’t know what you’re getting.

Are nicotine e-cigarettes safe?

E-cigarettes containing nicotine were originally invented and sold as a safer alternative for smokers — vapor isn’t as bad as smoke. But even if your e-cigarettes come from licensed dealers and you stick to nicotine, it’s important to remember that you’re putting a harmful substance into your lungs. The CDC reports that nicotine, which is highly addictive, is toxic to developing fetuses and can harm teenage brain development. There is evidence that nicotine vaping leads to chronic bronchitis and promotes lung disease and lung cancer.

The liquid may contain other harmful substances as well. One study analyzed the urine of 16-year-old nicotine vapers and found higher levels of five cancer-causing toxins. Other research suggests that people who vape daily double their risk of heart attack compared to non-vapers due to an increase in blood pressure and adrenaline, causing an increase in heart rate.

Will they help me quit smoking?

The best reason to use e-cigarettes is if you’re trying to quit smoking — however, the chances are that you won’t quit and instead end up both smoking and vaping. Vaping is no more effective than nicotine patches and gums. You’re actually less likely to quit if you take up e-cigarettes, says Stanton Glantz, director of the University of California, San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

How dangerous is THC in e-cigs?

Marijuana isn’t risk-free for teens, who, like adults, often use it to manage pain, get to sleep, or relieve anxiety. Some brain scan research has found that smoking marijuana regularly as a teenager shrinks parts of the brain linked to memory, learning, and impulse control. For about 10 percent, pot becomes a habit that seems to keep them from pursuing goals. The chances of becoming hooked on nicotine are about 32 percent and to alcohol 15 percent. Both are at least as bad for you.

Bottom line

  • Make sure your child isn’t using illegal vaping products, period.
  • If you want to quit smoking, e-cigarettes may make it harder.


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November 01, 2019

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell