VAPING: Harmful in More Ways Than One


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes)—also known as e-cigs, vapes, e-hookahs, vape pens, and electronic nicotine delivery systems—mimic traditional smoking devices. Like traditional devices (e.g., cigarettes, pipes, and cigars), e-cigarettes can contain nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals harmful to one’s physical, mental, and environmental health. Even e-cigarettes claiming to be free of nicotine contain trace amounts of the addictive substance. E-cigarettes also use a battery to heat and transform a liquid into the aerosol that users inhale, at which point more toxic chemicals and risks are formed.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not methodically evaluated e-cigarettes, research suggests vaping is bad for one’s health, particularly the heart and lungs. They can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease. In recent years, an outbreak of lung injuries and deaths associated with vaping has occurred. In February 2020, the CDC confirmed 2,807 hospitalizations due to e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI) and 68 EVALI-related deaths.

Some of the substances that users inhale and exhale with e-cigarettes have also been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Mentally, users—as revealed via peer-reviewed studies—have double the odds of having a diagnosis of depression versus those who have never vaped.

Environmentally, e-cigarettes are, for several reasons, considered an e-waste and biohazard. With no legal way established to recycle the hundreds of different types of single-use e-cigarette devices sold, they are often discarded like trash. Most vapes contain elements that can take many years to decompose (i.e., metals) and elements that never fully decompose (i.e., plastic), which can pollute indoor and outdoor air, plus food and drinking water sources.

Toxic waste is also a concern that stems from the improper disposal of vape pen batteries. Battery-related issues may also be the cause of vape explosions and fires, which have led to deaths and injuries (e.g., blindness, broken bones, cuts, holes in the tongue and mouth, and other permanent scars). In 2019, a 17-year-old suffered a cracked jaw, lost several teeth, and shattered a portion of his jawbone after an e-cigarette exploded in his mouth. In the same year, debris from an exploding vape pen severed a 25-year-old Texas man’s neck artery, causing a fatal stroke.

Every battery has the potential to explode, including vape batteries. Although the exact cause is unclear, a lithium-ion vape battery typically explodes when it becomes too hot—the flammable liquid inside the battery reacts with oxygen, causing it to ignite. In 2018, an e-cigarette user in Florida underwent surgery for the second- and third-degree burns he sustained after a vape pen exploded in his pocket. The explosion likely caused his clothes and other flammable materials he was wearing to catch fire, resulting in severe burns all over his body. The chemicals in batteries can cause burns as well.

Battery-related explosions and fires are also known to occur while recharging the devices equipped with a charging port. To help avoid a vape battery fire or explosion, consider the following safety tips:

  • Read and understand the manufacturer’s recommendations for the use, care, and charging of the device.
  • Use the rechargeable batteries recommended for your device.
  • Use only the charger that was purchased with your device. Do not charge the vape with a phone or tablet charger.
  • Avoid using different brands of batteries at one time, using batteries with different charge levels, and using old and new batteries together.
  • Charge the device on a level surface, away from other flammable items (e.g., a couch, magazines, clothes).
  • Avoid charging the device in extreme temperatures (hot or cold).
  • Avoid vaping around flammable gases or liquids, such as oxygen, propane, or gasoline.
  • Avoid overcharging the battery.
  • Avoid carrying the device in a pocket.

In addition, avoid using and charging e-cigarettes while on aircraft. Although vaping is prohibited on commercial flights, the devices are allowed in carry-on baggage under special conditions. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, during flights, e-cigarettes and spare lithium batteries must remain in the cabin of an airplane (a ventilated environment), not in checked luggage.

Being knowledgeable of and sharing with others the physical, mental, and environmental dangers of vaping can help build awareness. Such an awareness can help prioritize everyone’s health and well-being.