Toxic Products

How does vaping affect the brain?

Vaping is when you use a handheld electronic device to breathe a mist (“vapor”) into your lungs. An e-cigarette, vape pen, or other electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) heats a liquid of nicotine, flavoring, propylene glycol, and other additives into an aerosol that you inhale through a mouthpiece. Vaping can cause breathing problems, organ damage, addiction, and other conditions.  

Vaping exposes users to around 2,000 chemicals, including potentially harmful industrial compounds, according to a study of four popular brands by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Most of the chemicals found were unidentified, but of those that were, six were cause for concern, according to the study published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, a peer-reviewed journal. Researchers found condensed hydrocarbon-like compounds that are typically associated with traditional combustion products like cigarettes, despite the fact that vaping is often marketed as safer than those products. The study also found caffeine in some, which isn’t disclosed on labels.  

The “e-juice” that fills the cartridges usually contain 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
Nicotine has a negative impact on the synapses that connect brain cells. This can spur changes in the brain area controlling essential functions such as mood, attention, learning, and impulse control. Additionally, many vaping devices produce vapor containing lead, which can cause brain damage.  

How does vaping work?

Vaping works by heating liquid in a small device so you can breathe it into your lungs. The e-cigarette, vape pen or other vaping device heats the liquid in the device to create an aerosol. This isn’t water vapor. Mist from e-cigarettes contains particles of nicotine, flavoring and other substances suspended in air. You breathe these particles into your mouth from the mouthpiece, where they go down your throat and into your lungs.

What is the difference between vaping and smoking cigarettes?

Vaping and smoking both involve inhaling nicotine and other substances into your lungs. E-cigarettes heat liquid to make an aerosol; cigarettes burn tobacco, which creates smoke.

Is vaping worse than cigarettes?

Vaping is often thought of as safer than cigarette smoking, but vaping causes health problems, too. Both vaping and smoking are addictive and bring potentially dangerous chemicals into your body. The levels of many of these chemicals is higher when you burn tobacco. Vaping hasn’t been around long enough to know what kind of long-term damage it might cause.

What does vaping do to your lungs?

The particles you inhale while vaping can cause inflammation (swelling) and irritation in your lungs. This can lead to lung damage like scarring and narrowing of the tubes that bring air in and out of your lungs. Researchers don’t yet know all the effects vaping can have on your body.

Isn’t vaping just water vapor?

No. Despite the name, vaping doesn’t make water vapor. It actually creates an aerosol (or mist) that contains small particles of nicotine, metal and other harmful substances.

Is there a difference between e-cigarettes and JUULs?

• No. JUULs may look different, but they’re actually a type of e-cigarette.

Every JUUL pod contains highly addictive nicotine, roughly as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. JUUL does not make any nicotine-free pods.

• The aerosol cloud produced by a JUUL might not look as thick as other e-cigarettes or regular cigarette smoke, but it still contains many of the same chemicals and has the same health risks.

What is EVALI?

EVALI is short for e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury. It’s a serious lung condition caused by vaping. Vitamin E acetate, found in some e-liquids, is a possible cause.

An outbreak of EVALI in late 2019 and early 2020 put thousands of people in the hospital. At least 68 people died. Since then, EVALI cases have been declining, but people who vape can still get EVALI.

Among people who were hospitalized with severe EVALI, most were younger than 35 and used THC-containing vapes from informal sources (online, family or friends). However, EVALI can happen in anyone using either nicotine or THC-containing vapes.

Symptoms of EVALI include:

  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Fever.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Fast heartbeat.

What are the side effects of vaping?

Short-term side effects of vaping include:

  • Coughing.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Eye irritation.
  • Headaches.
  • Dry and irritated mouth and throat.
  • Nausea.

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