Risks of vaping

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Vaping can increase your exposure to chemicals that could harm your health (e.g. cause lung damage). Vaping could also expose you to nicotine, which is addictive.

There are also concerns about the appeal of vaping products among youth and their potential to promote tobacco use.

If you are a smoker, vaping is a less harmful option than smoking.

Health risks of vaping with nicotine

Nicotine is not known to cause cancer. It is approved for use in nicotine replacement therapies, such as the patch or nicotine gum. However, there are risks linked to nicotine.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Vaping with nicotine could:

  • lead to dependenceFootnote 1
  • cause nicotine addiction among users who would not have started using nicotine otherwise (e.g. smoking)

Children and youth are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of nicotine, including addiction. They may become dependent on nicotine with lower levels of exposure than adults.Footnote 2

Nicotine:

  • can affect memory and concentration
  • is known to alter teen brain development

Exposure to nicotine during adolescence may causeFootnote 3Footnote 4

  • reduced impulse control
  • cognitive and behavioural problems

Vaping may predispose youth to addiction to nicotine and possibly other drugs.Footnote 5Footnote 1

Nicotine poisoning

Vaping liquid containing nicotine is poisonous, particularly to young children.

Even in small amounts, vaping liquid containing nicotine can be very harmful if:

  • swallowed
  • absorbed through the skin

There have been fatalities as well as non-fatal nicotine poisoning caused by children swallowing vaping liquid.

When buying a container of vaping liquid with nicotine, look for one that has a child-resistant closure and a ‘poison’ hazard symbol. The closure and symbol are required by law. They help protect children in three ways:

  • The closure makes it harder for a child to gain access to the liquid in the container.
  • The poison hazard symbol reminds parents and caregivers to keep the product out of sight and reach of children.
  • Children are taught that the hazard symbol means Danger! Do not touch.

Tips to handle vaping liquids safely

  • Store out of sight and reach of young children and pets.
  • Store vaping liquid in a cool, dry place where it cannot be confused for food, drinks, or medicine.
  • Close the container securely after each use.
  • Wash your hands immediately after handling vaping liquid.
  • If someone has swallowed vaping liquids, seek emergency medical attention or call 9-1-1.
  • Read more about household chemical safely.

Health risks of other chemicals in vaping

There are health risks linked to other chemicals found in vaping products.

Vaping substances have fewer and different chemicals than in tobacco products.

Vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol are the main liquids in vaping products. These are considered safe for use in many consumer products such as cosmetics and sweeteners. However, the long-term safety of inhaling the substances in vaping products is unknown and continues to be assessed.

Chemicals used for flavour in vaping products are used by food manufacturers to add flavour to their products. While safe to eat, these ingredients have not been tested to see if they are safe to breathe in.

There is no burning during vaping but the vaping process needs the liquid to be heated. This can create new chemicals, such as formaldehydes. Some contaminants (e.g. nickel, tin, aluminum) might also get into the vaping products and then into the vapour.

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 behaviour patterns
  • user’s experience with vaping

Using vaping products with higher power and temperature settings can produce more chemicals.Footnote 6Footnote 7Footnote 8Footnote 9

Some of these chemicals and contaminants are linked to negative health effects. However, the amount of chemicals and contaminants in vapour is normally at much lower levels than in cigarette smoke.

We are still learning more about how vaping affects health. The long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown. However, there is enough evidence to justify efforts to prevent the use of vaping products by youth and non-smokers.

Popcorn lung

There is a concern that people who vape might get ‘popcorn lung’ from being exposed to diacetyl. Diacetyl is a flavouring chemical used to give butter-like and other flavours to food products, as well as vaping products. However, there have been no reports of popcorn lung occurring due to vaping.

This disease is named popcorn lung because workers in popcorn plants developed it after inhaling heated flavours such as diacetyl.Footnote 10Footnote 11Footnote 12

Popcorn lung, or popcorn worker’s lung, is:

  • a chronic disease that damages the small airways in the lung
  • the common term for the medical condition known as bronchiolitis obliterans

While once common in vaping products, steps have been taken to reduce its use.

Second-hand vapour

Second-hand vapour is not harmless but it does contain far fewer chemicals than second-hand smoke. Bystanders can be exposed to vapour that is exhaled by users. The health effects from exposure to second-hand vapour are still unknown. However, the risks are expected to be much lower compared to smoke from a tobacco product.

We recommend that users be cautious around non-users and youth.

There is some evidence that e-cigarette use increases the level of nicotine and other chemicals on indoor surfaces.Footnote 1

Device malfunctions

Vaping devices are regulated under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. Although uncommon, another risk to consider involves defective batteries or defective vaping products that have caused fires and explosions.

If you notice a safety problem with a vaping device or vaping liquid, you can report the problem:

For more information on product safety requirements and how to protect yourself, read about vaping product safety and regulation.

Batteries and vaping devices

Lithium-ion batteries and vaping devices can pose a hazard if they are not properly:

  • used
  • stored
  • carried
  • charged

Tips to prevent injuries from batteries and vaping devices

  • Do not modify your device.
  • Buy batteries that are compatible with your device.
  • Buy batteries from a trusted source.
  • Do not carry lithium-ion batteries in your pocket or anywhere they can come into contact with loose coins, keys or other metal objects. Lithium-ion batteries can overheat, catch fire or even explode when in contact with metal objects. Incidents have caused serious injuries.
  • Keep spare batteries in a protective case.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions for storing and recharging your device.
  • Do not exceed the recommended charging time.
  • Read more about battery safety.

Vaping and pregnancy

While vaping products contain fewer harmful chemicals than cigarettes, they may still contain nicotine. Talk to your health care provider about your options of quitting nicotine during pregnancy.

For more information

Footnotes

Footnote 1

Public Health Consequences of E-cigarettes. A Consensus Study Report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The National Academies Press, Washington D.C.; 2018. www.nationalacademies.org/eCigHealthEffects

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

US Department of Health and Human Services, 2012. Preventing tobacco use among youth and young adults: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 3.

Return to footnote 2 referrer

Footnote 3

Smith, R.F., McDonald, C.G., Bergstrom, H.C., Ehlinger, D.G. and Brielmaier, J.M., 2015. Adolescent nicotine induces persisting changes in development of neural connectivity. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 55, pp.432-443.

Return to footnote 3 referrer

Footnote 4

England, L.J., Bunnell, R.E., Pechacek, T.F., Tong, V.T. and McAfee, T.A., 2015. Nicotine and the developing human: a neglected element in the electronic cigarette debate. American journal of preventive medicine, 49(2), pp.286-293.

Return to footnote 4 referrer

Footnote 5

E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults; A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2016.

Return to footnote 5 referrer

Footnote 6

Geiss, O., Bianchi, I. and Barrero-Moreno, J. 2016. Correlation of volatile carbonyl yields emitted by e-cigarettes with the temperature of the heating coil and the perceived sensorial quality of the generated vapours. Int J Hyg Environ Health, 219, 268-277.

Return to footnote 6 referrer

Footnote 7

Gillman, I.G., Kistler, K.A., Stewart, E.W. and Paolantonio, A.R. 2015. Effect of variable power levels on the yield of total aerosol mass and formation of aldehydes in e-cigarette aerosols. Reg Toxicol Pharmacol, 75, 58-65.

Return to footnote 7 referrer

Footnote 8

Kosmider, L., Sobczak, A., Fik, M., Knysak, J., Zaciera, M., Kurek, J. and Goniewicz, M.L. 2014. Carbonyl compounds in electronic cigarette vapors: effects of nicotine solvent and battery output voltage. Nicotine Tob Res, 16, 1319-1326.

Return to footnote 8 referrer

Footnote 9

Talih, S., Balhas, Z., Salman, R., Karaoghlanian, N. and Shihadeh, A. 2016. "Direct Dripping": A High-Temperature, High-Formaldehyde Emission Electronic Cigarette Use Method. Nicotine Tob Res, 18, 453-459.

Return to footnote 9 referrer

Footnote 10

Kreiss, K., A. Gomaa, G. Kullman, et al. 2002. Clinical bronchiolitis obliterans in workers at a microwave-popcorn plant. New England Journal of Medicine 347(5):330–338.

Return to footnote 10 referrer

Footnote 11

NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). 2016. Exposures to flavoring chemicals: How and where exposures may occur. Retrieved September 6, 2018 fromhttps://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/flavorings/exposure.html

Return to footnote 11 referrer

Footnote 12

Dockrell, M. 2018. Clearing up some myths around e-cigarettes. Public Health England Retrieved September 6, 2018, from https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/20/clearing-up-some-myths-around-e-cigarettes/

Return to footnote 12 referrer

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