Electronic Cigarettes and your Health
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.
An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is a battery-operated device. The device turns nicotine or cannabis (marijuana) into a vapor that is inhaled. This is also called vaping. Some devices heat liquid nicotine or marijuana. Some can dry heat marijuana. E-cigarettes are also known by other names. Examples include vape pens, e-hookahs, and tank systems. Vaping devices come in many shapes and sizes. Some look like a pen or a computer flash drive. E-cigarettes are often used to help a person quit smoking cigarettes. Vaped nicotine can still cause health problems and may not be the safest way to quit smoking.
Return to the emergency department if:
- You or your child has signs or symptoms of nicotine poisoning.
Call your doctor if:
- You would like to quit using e-cigarettes or tobacco and need help to quit.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Risks to your health:
- Your lungs may be damaged. You may develop e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI). EVALI is a life-threatening condition. You may develop asthma or emphysema. Lipids (fats) may accumulate in your lungs and keep your lungs from working well. The liquid used in vaping can become contaminated with bacteria. You may develop pneumonia or other problems if the bacteria get into your lungs.
- E-cigarettes can put chemicals and heavy metals into your body. Metals include nickel, tin, and aluminium. The metals can go into your bloodstream and lungs. Over time, these chemicals and metals may cause cancer or a lung illness. The chemicals may also worsen lung conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- You may develop nicotine poisoning. You can get too much nicotine by inhaling the vapor or by spilling nicotine on your skin. Nicotine poisoning can cause heart failure and other life-threatening problems. You may start vomiting or have a fast heartbeat, trouble breathing, or shortness of breath.
- Nicotine can affect an adolescent's developing brain. This can lead to trouble thinking, learning, or paying attention.
Health risks to others:
- Chemicals in secondhand e-cigarettes may increase the risk for cancer. The vapor you exhale still contains metals and toxic substances. Do not use an e-cigarette indoors or in your car. Do not use it near babies or children.
- Children are at higher risk for nicotine poisoning than adults. Children can be poisoned using an e-cigarette, breathing secondhand vapor, or getting nicotine liquid onto their skin. A child is at risk for life-threatening poisoning if he or she swallows even a small amount of liquid nicotine.
- Nicotine or marijuana used during pregnancy can harm an unborn baby. Either can prevent a baby from developing and growing correctly. Nicotine can damage a baby's heart and lungs. Marijuana can harm a baby's eyes and nervous system. Do not use an e-cigarette during pregnancy to help you quit smoking. Ask your healthcare provider for safer ways to help you quit.
Safer ways to quit smoking:
- Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges may help reduce your nicotine cravings. You may get these without a doctor's order.
- Prescription medicines such as nasal sprays or nicotine inhalers may help reduce withdrawal symptoms. Other medicines may also be used to reduce the urge to smoke. Ask your healthcare provider about these medicines. You may need to start certain medicines 2 weeks before your quit date for them to work well.
- Counseling from a trained healthcare provider can provide you with support and skills to quit smoking. The provider will also teach you to manage your withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Individual counseling, group therapy, and phone therapy called a quit line are available.
- Support groups let you talk to others who are trying to quit or have already quit. It may be helpful to speak with others about how they quit.
Help prevent your child from using an e-cigarette:
- Help your child understand the health risks of nicotine. He or she may believe that vaping is a safer way to use nicotine than regular cigarettes. Help him or her understand that nicotine in any form can be harmful. If you can, start talking about nicotine when your child is younger than 12 years. This may make it easier for him or her not to start using nicotine as a teenager or adult. Explain to him or her that it is best never to start. It can be hard to try to quit later.
- Learn about vaping. The more you know, the more you can explain to your child. Understand the short-term and long-term health risks of vaping.
- Learn where your child may be getting vaping products. Your child may be getting the products online. Online sellers may ask the buyer to type in his or her birth date or click to verify his or her age. Sellers cannot know if buyers are being truthful. Your child may be able to buy products from friends, or from sellers on the street. Vaping products not sold in licensed stores are more likely to contain harmful substances, such as vitamin E acetate.
- Be a good role model. Do not use e-cigarettes in front of your child. Your child may copy your behavior. Use NRT if you plan to quit smoking regular cigarettes.
- Be supportive. Your child may be more willing to talk about vaping if you are open and supportive. Ask if anyone is pressuring him or her to use vaping products. You may be able to help your child develop ways to resist peer pressure.
- Help him or her quit using vaping products safely. Explain withdrawal symptoms, and that they will go away. Encourage the use of NRT instead of nicotine vaping products. Stress may increase the use of e-cigarettes or regular cigarettes. Encourage him or her to talk to someone. Encourage exercise or sports to help manage stress. Encourage healthy sleep and healthy foods.
If you or someone you know has problems from e-cigarettes:
Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.
For support and more information:
Phone: 1- 800 - 784-8669
Web Address: www.smokefree.gov
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 5213
Bethesda , MD 20892-9561
Phone: 1- 301 - 443-1124
Web Address: www.nida.nih.gov
Follow up with your doctor as directed:
Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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