Are E-cigarettes and Vaping Harmful?

March 2, 2015 Kira Lesley

With use of e-cigarettes and vaping on the rise, many people are beginning to wonder, just how safe are e-cigarettes and vaping? I recently attended a lecture by three professors at Portland State University that addressed the science of e-cigarettes. The neuroscience presented was complex but at least one point was clear--vaping and other forms of electronic nicotine delivery are not harmless.

The Harm of E-Cigarettes: Nicotine is Addictive

E-cigarettes and vaping are increasingly seen as a harmless alternative to smoking but is there really harm to e-cigarettes and vaping?

This may be old news, but it shouldn't be overlooked. Nicotine is a highly-addictive drug. Some people believe that using "pure" nicotine (which does not exist) should be safe because after all, isn't it the tar and arsenic and all that other bad stuff in cigarettes that causes cancer? No doubt tar and arsenic are poisonous, but nicotine by itself may not be innocuous. Scientists have identified many of nicotine's health effects. Nicotine use leads to increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and pregnancy complications. In addition, the buzz that smoking produces is followed by a crash and symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

According to Dr. Bill Griesar at Portland State, nicotine is an interesting drug because it works on both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Both systems are part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls many of our bodies' unconscious activities. But while the sympathetic nervous system readies our body for action (increased heart rate, decreased saliva, decreased digestion, etc.) the parasympathetic system puts our body in rest mode (increased digestion, slower heart rate, etc.). Nicotine acts on both of these systems, which is why it is classified as a stimulant but has relaxing properties.

E-cigs and Vape Pens Contain Harmful Toxins

David Peyton, Professor of Chemistry, conducted experiments in his lab using electromagnetic resonance on e-liquid, the liquid that goes in e-cigarettes or vape pens. His research shows that in the process of vaping, a chemical reaction occurs. This means that the act of vaping does not merely deliver a flavored nicotine liquid, it changes the liquid's chemical composition. This doesn't have to be a problem, but it can be if the reactions taking place create toxins. One of the toxins released in the act of vaping is formaldehyde. A 2014 study found that traditional cigarettes contained nine times more formaldehyde than e-cigarettes. Consuming less of a toxic substance is obviously preferable to consuming more of it. However, it's important to realize that e-cigarettes are not as pure and clean as some proponents suggest.

Furthermore, e-cigarette vapor (which some argue is actually aerosol particles, not vapor) may be hazardous to your health. Formaldehyde has been linked with cancer, and in a recent study at Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that mice who had been exposed to e-cigarette vapor had a slower recovery time and higher morbidity rates from pneumonia than non-exposed mice. Unfortunately, the researchers did not compare mice exposed to traditional cigarette smoke in this study.

E-Cigarettes and Vaping May Be Less Harmful than Traditional Cigarettes

As Dr. Peyton pointed out, scientists and interest groups are still debating the effects of traditional cigarettes, and those have been around many decades. By comparison, research on e-cigarettes is in its infancy. Still, the professors mentioned that e-cigs and vaping may have fewer harmful effects on one's health. Research is mixed on whether or not they help smokers quit traditional cigarettes and how they compare to nicotine replacement therapy, patches and gums.

The limited information we currently have about vaping and e-cigarettes suggests the practice may be less harmful to the body than tobacco cigarette smoking. But there is much information yet to be discovered. Vaping may cause less harm than smoking, but quitting nicotine products altogether is the safest choice.

You can find Kira Lesley on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

APA Reference
Lesley, K. (2015, March 2). Are E-cigarettes and Vaping Harmful?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Kira Lesley

March, 4 2015 at 5:59 pm

Researchers say the marketing of e-cigarettes could lead to a false sense of security in users, much the way "light" cigarettes may be seen as safer despite higher levels of tar.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
March, 8 2015 at 5:54 pm

Thank you for your comment. I believe that's happening, definitely. Same thing with filter cigarettes (of course they are mostly filter now) and "natural" cigarettes.

March, 18 2015 at 8:56 am

Well, they do make juices that you can use for "vapes" that contain 0% nicotine.

Hectic Energy
March, 29 2015 at 9:38 am

Nicotine has a negative effect on the immune response of mice and rats
Nicotine, by it self, is no more addictive than caffeine for most. Cigarettes contain ingredients that boost the addictive aspects of cigarettes.
Perhaps most surprising is that, in studies by Boyd and others, nicotine has not caused addiction or withdrawal when used to treat disease. These findings fly in the face of nicotine’s reputation as one of the most addictive substances known, but it’s a reputation built on myth. Tobacco may well be as addictive as heroin, as some have claimed. But as scientists know, getting mice or other animals hooked on nicotine alone is dauntingly difficult. As a 2007 paper in the journal Neuropharmacology put it: “Tobacco use has one of the highest rates of addiction of any abused drug.” Paradoxically it’s almost impossible to get laboratory animals hooked on pure nicotine, though it has a mildly pleasant effect.
The same study found that tobacco smoke itself is necessary to amp up nicotine’s addictiveness. In 2005, for instance, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that animals self-administer a combination of nicotine and acetaldehyde, an organic chemical found in tobacco, significantly more often than either chemical alone. In 2009, a French team found that combining nicotine with a cocktail of five other chemicals found in tobacco — anabasine, nornicotine, anatabine, cotinine and myosmine — significantly increased rats’ hyperactivity and self-administration of the mix compared with nicotine alone.
In short, the estimated 45.3 million people, or 19.3 percent of all adults, in the United States who still smoke are not nicotine fiends. They’re nicotine-anabasine-nornicotine-anatabine-cotinine-myosmine-acetaldehyde-and-who-knows-what-else fiends. It is tobacco, with its thousands of chemical constituents, that rightly merits our fear and loathing as the Great Satan of addictiveness. Nicotine, alone: not so much.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
March, 29 2015 at 10:06 am

Thank you for your message, Energy Hectic. Very fascinating information. Still, if nicotine alone is not addictive, that doesn't mean that e-cigarettes and vape juice aren't addictive. Contrary to what many claim about them, they do not deliver pure nicotine. They have to contain the right chemical elements to allow the substance to become vaporized (or particle-ized as some would argue) in the first place. So maybe nicotine by itself is not as addictive, but it seems to me e-cigs ARE addictive. That's mainly based on speaking to people who vape, clinical studies are needed.

April, 3 2015 at 7:04 am

The truth with all of this is that we simply don't know. We won't know the effects of vaping until there are some users that have been doing it for 10-20-30 years.
It's very difficult for me to wrap my head around theories and "studies" when there are 0 facts to support the claims made in them. Vaping might cure Polio. Who knows until there is real evidence.
Also who is doing these studies? I would assume it's Big Tobacco. The less healthy vaping seems the less people convert away from smoking cigs.
It's all a bit silly since we shouldn't be smoking anything, but I'll keep on with both. :)

April, 16 2015 at 9:17 am

E-cigarettes are addictive. We were in a restaurant and this idiot vaped between each mouthful of food. So if that's not a sign of addiction then I really don't know what is! They are also harmful to bystanders, they give off vapour which contains who knows what. I for one have enough trouble breathing without having these things in my face as well as cigarette smoke.

April, 26 2015 at 5:59 pm

I recently stopped vaping after finding out that it was making me extremely dehydrated. I developed bladder irritation and even though I kept drinking water, my thirst would not be quenched. Turns out Vegetable Glycerin (one of the ingredients in e-liquid) is a humectant which holds onto moisture. I believe the juice affects how your body absorbs water. There needs to be more research on this stuff and my gut feeling is telling me that e-cigs are unhealthy.
Also it has been found that some flavors contain a chemical called diacetyl which causes "popcorn lung". Popcorn Lung (bronchilolitis obliterans) is an incurable lung disease that requires a lung transplant. The term comes from popcorn factory workers who developed the disease working in popcorn factories (they inhaled it constantly). It gives a buttery flavor to e-liquid and microwave popcorn. Flavors like butterscotch, caramel, coconut, and popcorn contain this chemical. There are many others that have been found to contain this chemical as well.
So clearly it is not just "water vapor & nicotine". That is some bulls**t the e-cig vendors tell you to buy their products. I also noticed I had a slight wheezing problem after vaping certain flavors and chest tightness (I suspect it's because of the flavorings). It felt as if my airways were being restricted.
The good news is that all these side effects stopped after I quit vaping. I feel much better now. Prior to quitting vaping, I vaped everyday for 2 years straight.
I fear there will be an epidemic coming as many people are picking up vaping. We need more studies and regulation on these potentially dangerous products.

October, 2 2015 at 3:27 pm

"cigarettes contain over 4,000 chemicals, 43 known carcinogens, and 400 other toxins...These cigarette ingredients include nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide, as well as formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and DDT." this is the reality of tobacco products... now: when i vape i inhale the vapor of the liquid and the nicotine. that's it. i use my vaporizer as a "nicotine delivery device" that is way way more safe than the cigarettes i smoked. also vaping has helped me break the psychological movement of addiction to nicotine, i.e. what to do with my hands, the oral fixation-- it has all become a non-issue, therefore when i am ready i believe quitting will be easier for me. and i've tried the gum, snus, the patch, none worked as well. vaping should be considered as a harm reduction method.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
October, 4 2015 at 5:44 pm

thanks for your comments Christopher. I agree with you, it seems from everything I've read that vaping is probably less dangerous than smoking cigarettes. Still, it's possible that vaping has some health risks that aren't fully understood yet. Good luck on your journey.

October, 30 2015 at 6:34 pm

they believe ec's r probably making it harder to quit due to nic levels in em

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
November, 1 2015 at 5:53 pm

I did not know about that, thank you for sharing this info.

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January, 3 2016 at 1:17 pm

I am sure most vapers' now knows that e-cigarettes are less harmful than the real cigarette. E-cigarettes ain't no saint so there's definitely nicotine on some of the juices used to vape it. What I like in these juices was you can customize it, you can have the flavor you want with or without a little drop of nicotine so its up to you.

January, 8 2016 at 7:20 pm

Smoking may be an individual choice, but it turns into a problem when others get affected by it. Passive smoking is equally injurious. Every time you smoke people around you too are affected and reduce their life span.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
January, 10 2016 at 2:53 pm

Thank you for this reminder, it's very true that smokers and vapers, as well as the rest of us, should consider the effects our actions have on others.

February, 7 2016 at 11:27 pm

Matchless e-cigs do not contain any tobacco. They also do not contain the vast majority of chemicals and carcinogens present in cigarettes. They do contain Nicotine which is addictive.

March, 7 2016 at 12:30 am

I think Vaping is not harmful.

Hasse Karlgreen
March, 9 2016 at 3:36 am

It is very important to clear out and remove all Smoking products from your environment. The all smoking product is not good for health. Nicotine is a highly-addictive drug. Some people believe that using “pure” nicotine which does not exist. They are seen as a safe alternative to tobacco – but e-cigarettes could still harm your lungs.

June, 9 2016 at 12:53 pm

In foods, the fda regulates that as long as there is less than one gram of a certain compound it doesn't have to be reported on labels as part of a "serving". So, .09 can be considered 0 grams of fat. But if you drink the entire bottle of soda instead of the 2.5 servings it's supposed to be you are actually getting fat grams. When I caught my son with an e-cig his claim was that there wasn't any nicotine in the product. "See, it says it right here on the bottle." And indeed it did say no nicotine per SERVING. With an asterisk. So I got out my magnifying glass and read that tiny bottle and sure enough I found that asterisk that stated there was nicotine in the product but not enough to calculate per serving as long as it was used per the instructions. Which means only that there is only as much or as little as they wish to report as this industry is not regulated in any way.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
June, 13 2016 at 1:21 pm

Thank you for your comment Tia. I did not know that but it makes sense that the industry is unregulated. It is difficult even to assess the nicotine content of cigarettes so I imagine for vaping liquid it's near impossible at this point.

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September, 2 2016 at 11:50 am

I thank them for this article

September, 7 2016 at 2:38 am

wao I didn t know that a cigarette includes so much chemicals. The electronic cigarette was a great idea and developing more and more. I am curious how the electronic cigarette is in 10 years :) Maybe we will have even liquids without dangerous chemicals at all. Who knows

Claire Cox
September, 25 2016 at 12:08 pm

Overall, vaping is safer that smoking. My friend was a heavy smoker and vaping e-cigs really helped him a lot in quitting. He started with the ones with higher amounts of nicotine and gradually lowered them from 6mg, 3mg and eventually 0mg, until he no longer vapes. And yes, regulation of e-cigarettes could be a fatal decision for public health. Level Vape Chicago

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
September, 27 2016 at 7:22 am

Hi Claire, thank you for your thoughts. I think it's really interesting that your friend was able to quit smoking by using vaping as an intermediate step. I wonder if other people will have the same experience, or just continue vaping instead of smoking.

February, 26 2018 at 5:50 pm

This Article is pretty much outdated. There is loads of new evidence, that vaping is much safer than smoking and pretty much harmless in itself.

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