Drugs & Health Blog

E-Cigarettes: Inhaling More Than You Bargained For

©Shutterstock/Bjoern Wylezich

The NIDA Blog Team

Update (January 2020): Government Regulation of E-cigarettes

In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established a rule for e-cigarettes and their liquid solutions. Because e-cigarettes contain nicotine derived from tobacco, they are now subject to government regulation as tobacco products. In December 2019, the federal government raised the legal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years, and in January 2020, the FDA issued a policy on the sale of flavored vaping cartridges. 

Update (November 2019): Reports of Deaths Related to Vaping

The FDA has alerted the public to thousands of reports of serious lung illnesses associated with vaping, including dozens of deaths. They’re working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate the cause of these illnesses. Many of the suspect products tested by the states or federal health officials have been identified as vaping products containing THC, the main psychotropic (mind-altering) ingredient in marijuana. Some of the patients reported vaping a mixture of THC and nicotine; and some reported vaping nicotine alone. (For more details, read this blog post.) While the CDC and FDA continue to investigate possible other contributing substances, CDC has identified a thickening agent—Vitamin E acetate—as a chemical of concern among people with e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injuries. They recommend that people should not use any product containing Vitamin E acetate, or any vaping products containing THC, particularly from informal sources like friends, family, or in-person and online dealers. They also warn against modifying any products purchased in stores, or using any vaping products bought on the street. The FDA is asking people, including health professionals, to report any adverse (negative) effects of vaping products. The CDC has posted an information page for consumers.

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You’ve heard before on this blog that we need to learn a lot more about vaping products like JUUL (also known as e-cigarettes). Now we’ve learned they’re even more dangerous than we thought. Scientists recently discovered that teens are inhaling at least five toxic (poisonous) cancer-causing compounds when they vape. Many of these compounds are also found in tobacco cigarettes.

Inhaling harm

Makers of e-cigarettes add flavoring chemicals and compounds that can be inhaled when a person vapes, or that break down into harmful chemicals during vaping. Here are just a few of the toxic compounds the recent study found in e-cigarettes or e-cig flavoring:

  • Acrylonitrile is used to make plastics and adhesives. It’s extremely poisonous in large doses.
  • Propylene oxide can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract, and depress the central nervous system.
  • Crotonaldehyde is a poisonous and highly flammable liquid with a suffocating odor.
  • Acrylamide is used in treating wastewater, including sewage. It may increase the risk for several types of cancer.

These chemicals are found in small amounts in e-cigs, so we aren’t sure yet how much you’d need to inhale to be in danger.

A long list

Earlier studies found other dangerous things in e-cigs, including formaldehyde, a gas that’s been linked to cancer; diacetyl, a chemical that can harm the lungs; plus many others.

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. In liquid form (as in e-cigarettes), nicotine can be dangerous to drink, sniff, or even touch. And there are even more reasons e-cigs can be dangerous for your health.

So, don’t fall for the hype: E-cigarettes might not always be safer than tobacco. Check the facts, so you can make an informed choice about what you put into your body.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

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