While vaping's popularity has skyrocketed—nearly four million middle school and high school students in the United States said they used an electronic cigarette within the past 30 days when surveyed in 2018—the full breadth of consequences are still being studied.
The aerosol produced from smoking an e-cigarette contains fewer toxins than the 7,000 that make up smoke from a non-electronic cigarette, but that doesn't mean it's completely healthy. There have been nearly 3,000 hospitalizations as a result of vaping illness or injury ("EVALI") and approximately 60 deaths.
Scientists, doctors and officials are learning more and more about vaping each day. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified Vitamin E acetate—a sticky oil form of Vitamin E used as an additive—as a common component in many of the samples tested related to the recent vaping illness and injury outbreak, especially in cases where the user was vaping marijuana/THC.
"I mean you wouldn’t go home and inject home cleaning products into your lungs and then be surprised if you have an injury," says Dr. Andrew Sauer, Cardiologist and Director of the Heart Failure Program at The University of Kansas Medical Center. "You’re ingesting chemicals you know nothing about. What did you think was going to happen? This is a scary epidemic and it's self-inflicted."
Repeated vaping can lead to shortness of breath, coughing and other issues, which aren't solely limited to the lungs; the mouth, teeth, gums, throat, heart, skin and other parts of the body can be affected as well.
The problem at this moment is we just don't know enough about vaping and its consequences, especially the long-term ones. There is no clear evidence that suggests cigarette users who transition to vaping are at a higher risk of developing vaping-related illness or injury than first-time vaping users.
Cigarette smokers seeking vaping as a healthier alternative to cigarettes or as a means to quit should instead consult their physicians about FDA-approved smoking halting aids, says Dr. Armin Krvavac, a pulmonologist at University of Missouri Health Care.
"Those who have already chosen to use vaping products should avoid modifying the product," Krvavac says. "Furthermore, they should not use THC-containing products and should only purchase vaping products from an authorized retailer."