Powered by a battery, an e-cigarette heats flavored liquid in a disposable cartridge, turning it into an aerosol that a user can smoke. When the smoker exhales, clouds of vapor fill the air. E-cigarettes can resemble traditional cigarettes, pens, cigars, pipes, or even USB flash drives.
The phenomenon of vaping isn’t about to vanish like a puff of smoke any time soon. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that from 2014 to 2020, e-cigarette sales increased by 122 percent.1 Marketed as a safer alternative to regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes can appeal to children and young adults as a way to look cool, relax, or as a social activity. The popularity of vaping among adolescents is concerning, as research suggests 3.6 million middle and high schoolers vaped in 2020.2
Though e-cigarettes contain fewer toxins than tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarettes still can be as harmful. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, making them unsafe for children, pregnant women, and babies. Nicotine can stunt brain development in children, which continues until about age 25, and can affect impulse control, attention and learning.
Nicotine in aerosol cartridges can be as addictive as that in tobacco cigarettes – but e-liquid doesn’t contain tobacco. Even the cartridges that claim to be nicotine-free may still contain the substance because product labels can sometimes be inaccurate. The amount of nicotine in vaping liquid determines the strength of an e-cigarette and is measured in milligrams per milliliter or as a percentage. Some cartridges or “pods” contain a concentrated form of nicotine called nicotine salt. A pod containing five percent nicotine salt may have as much as 30 to 50 milligrams of nicotine, equal to the amount in one to three packs of tobacco cigarettes.
Research has shown that together with flavorings, e-liquid can contain chemical compounds, such as propylene glycol and glycerol, which are unsafe to inhale.3 The flavorings may also contain toxic metals such as lead, and chemicals linked to cancer and lung disease. E-cigarettes bought on the street may also have higher concentrations of harmful chemicals than those bought in stores. Much like second-hand smoke from tobacco cigarettes, the vapors can affect the health of bystanders, as well.
The CDC has reported more than 2,500 cases of lung injuries tied to vaping. They mostly involve products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that causes a “high.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against adding THC, or other oils or substances to vaping products. In some instances, users who have inhaled vaping oils containing a thickening agent, vitamin E acetate, have experienced lung injuries or death. Symptoms of lung injuries include coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
While e-cigarettes were once touted as a potential alternative to reduce or quit tobacco smoking, the FDA hasn’t approved e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. The FDA now regulates the manufacture, labeling, promotion, sale, and distribution of e-cigarettes, with only people 21years or older being able to buy them.
If you vape and you’re not sure it’s a problem for you, Smokefree.gov suggests you ask yourself some of these questions:
- Is vaping affecting my health?
- Is vaping controlling my life?
- How does vaping affect the way I think and feel?
- How does vaping affect my relationships with my friends, parents, boyfriend/girlfriend, or other people important to me?
- Are there activities I used to enjoy that I don’t enjoy anymore because of vaping?
- Am I spending a lot of money to keep vaping?
- What would I look forward to the most if I quit?
To quit vaping, keep a list of the reasons why nearby as a reminder whenever you have the urge to vape. You can also choose a date a week or two ahead of time to quit, such as a day off, but don’t go too far out or you might change your mind. Thinking about a future free of addiction and focusing on the positives from quitting can also help you stay committed to your goal. Further, clinical trials have found that mindfulness can be effective in quitting vaping, by providing skills to cope with nicotine cravings. Meditation, acupuncture, and hypnosis have also helped some users.
Another safe and healthy way to curtail vaping is nicotine replacement therapy in the form of a patch or gum. A smartphone app may also help you track your cravings and smoking patterns.4
Your doctor, a nurse or a qualified counselor can help you find the right way to quit. However you decide to quit, be prepared for feelings or situations that will trigger your desire to vape. Planning how you will handle them may help you control withdrawal. Therapies such as acceptance and commitment, dialectical behavior, and cognitive-behavioral therapy may help change addictive behaviors. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family may make you feel more at ease. A combination of medication and support increase the odds of breaking the habit.