How does vaping affect your health? Answers to your FAQs

December 15, 2023 | by Endeavor Health

The popularity of vaping has risen exponentially in recent years. Naturally, there are many questions that come with the prevalence of using e-cigarettes. Let’s review some common questions about how vaping affects your health.

Is vaping better for you than smoking?

Both are unsafe and harmful to your health, says Patrick Aguilar, MD, a pulmonary disease/critical care specialist with Endeavor Health.

Vaping was previously thought to be less dangerous than smoking, but recent studies show that vaping causes similar effects as smoking on lung function, cardiovascular function, and the ability to fight infections.

While e-cigarette vapor is believed to contain fewer impurities than those found in tobacco smoke, it still contains toxic chemicals that are linked to cancer, lung injury and heart damage. Some of these include:

  • Nicotine (a dangerous, highly addictive chemical)
  • Cancer-causing agents such as formaldehyde and herbicides used in weed killer
  • Diacetyl (flavoring chemical linked to lung disease)
  • Heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Ultrafine particles that go deep within the lungs

These known chemicals in e-cigarettes are very dangerous, with many still unknown or understudied.

“We don’t exactly know what e-cigarette products contain. Some that are marketed as containing zero percent nicotine have been found to contain nicotine,” says Dr. Aguilar.

What are the long-term effects of vaping?

Vaping has the potential for serious outcomes. The long-term effects of vaping are still in the early stages of research, but emerging data links vaping to:

  • Chronic lung disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Asthma
  • Heart disease

Because there are many cancer-causing agents in e-cigarette vapor that are still being studied, we can expect this list to grow.

“In addition to the long-term consequences of vaping, there have also been cases of sudden, severe lung disease associated with vaping,” says Dr. Aguilar. Vaping-associated pulmonary injury (VAPI), also known as e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI), is a serious respiratory illness in which a person’s lungs become damaged from the substances in e-cigarettes.

Can vaping make you get sick?

Yes, vaping-related illnesses are common. You might feel sick more often, with symptoms resembling those of the common cold, flu or even pneumonia. The volatile organic compounds can also cause headaches and nausea, irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and lead to damage of the liver, kidneys and nervous system.

How can vaping affect teeth, hair or skin?

Vaping creates chemical changes in the mouth that destroy good bacteria and allow bad bacteria to grow, increasing the likelihood of cavities, gum disease and cellular changes that can lead to cancer.

Recent studies also show that vaping narrows blood vessels and harms hair follicles, potentially leading to hair loss in some e-cigarette users.

Skin issues associated with vaping include premature aging, depleted hydration and increased acne. Early studies are also beginning to show a link to reduced wound healing, skin irritation, and other issues that require further research.

How can vaping affect breastfeeding or pregnancy?

Vaping should be avoided at all costs when pregnant or breastfeeding. Nicotine is harmful to the developing brain of a fetus and easily passes into breast milk. Data also show that infant heart rate and blood pressure changes are linked to increased nicotine levels in breast milk.

More research is needed to fully understand other potential risks of vaping, like miscarriages, birth defects or difficulty becoming pregnant.

What about people who turn to vaping to quit smoking cigarettes?

While e-cigarettes are not currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for smoking cessation, researchers are still learning about whether e-cigarettes can help non-pregnant adult smokers quit smoking, if they are used temporarily as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes. However, e-cigarettes are not safe for anyone else who does not currently use tobacco products.

The bottom line, says Dr. Aguilar, is that there are no safe tobacco products. E-cigarettes are unsafe for everyone — especially kids, teens and young adults.

Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Quitting smoking completely is very important to protect your health. If you need help to quit smoking, talk to your physician about ways to quit.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.

Learn more about comprehensive lung cancer care at Endeavor Health Cancer Institute.

Want to detect a lung problem early to breathe easier? Take our free, 5-minute Lung Aware Risk Assessment.

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