In recent years, vaping has become more common among both adults and teenagers. While some see vaping as a "safe" alternative to smoking, the chemicals in an e-cigarette or device that uses vape liquids (like Juul) can be harmful to your health. Vaping liquids often contain nicotine, flavor enhancers, color dyes and chemicals like propylene glycol. The exact combination of ingredients in a vape pen or e-cigarette varies depending on the brand and flavor.
"Not only is nicotine highly addictive, but it also elevates the heart rate and is associated with impaired cognitive development among adolescents," adds Ronina Covar, MD, pediatric allergist and immunologist at National Jewish Health for Kids.
Many who vape or use e-cigarettes might not know what they're inhaling with each puff. Here are three of the most common ingredients and chemicals found in e-cigs and vaping products:
The majority of vaping liquids contain nicotine, which poses numerous health risks. Vaping among pregnant women is a serious health concern, as nicotine can lead to a low birth weight, preterm delivery and other complications during pregnancy.
Parents should also be aware of teens who experiment with vaping and e-cigarettes, not knowing the dangers of nicotine. Children can also find vaping cartridges and accidentally open them, which exposes kids to harmful amounts of nicotine. Not only is nicotine highly addictive, but it also elevates the heart rate and is associated with impaired cognitive development among adolescents.
2. Flavor enhancers
Vaping juice flavors, like cinnamon, cherry and butter, often contain chemicals like diacetyl, which may cause lung irritation and asthma-like diseases. More research is needed on vaping juice flavors to determine their potential long-term effects on the body, but know that there is a possible carcinogen risk and inhalation damage risk associated with these chemicals.
3. Other chemicals that become toxic when heated
E-cigarettes often contain chemicals that become toxic when heated, like propylene glycol, which turns into formaldehyde at high temperatures. Formaldehyde is a known cancer-causing agent that can trigger asthma and affect lung function. Some research suggests that it is possible to get more formaldehyde from e-cigarettes than traditional smoking.
The myth about vaping being an effective way to quit smoking
In early 2019, the FDA outlined new restrictions for most flavored e-cigarettes. Vaping is not supported by the American Lung Association as a safe way to taper off cigarettes or quit smoking.
Currently, the amount of nicotine a person inhales with an e-cigarette isn't controlled, monitored by a doctor, or carefully decreased over time. A heavy smoker may have used an e-cigarette to slowly quit or reduce their smoking, but this does not mean that vaping is a safe or healthy alternative to cigarettes. In fact, depending on the size and frequency of the puffs, people may be inhaling more nicotine because of how they use an e-cigarette or vape pen.
The need for more studies on the long term effects of vaping
More studies are needed to measure the contents of vaping liquids and determine their potential health risks. Vaping does not mean that you are taking away all of the cancer risks often linked to smoking. There are carcinogens in liquids used for vaping and e-cigarettes.
Compared to traditional cigarettes, there are fewer harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes, but the amount of exposure often varies with brand and user habits.
Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, in partnership with National Jewish Health for Kids, offers a comprehensive, collaborative and multidisciplinary approach that addresses the increasing demand from parents and patients for the treatment of allergic, respiratory and immune system disorders.