8 Silent Ways E-cigarettes Harm Your Body

Updated: Sep. 02, 2020

E-cigarettes are perceived as safer, but the way they affect your body suggests otherwise. Here's why you're better off avoiding e-cigarettes altogether.

e-cigarette vaping device close up
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What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes, also known as vaporizers, are battery-powered devices that heat up a mixture of nicotine, flavoring, and a liquid—usually propylene glycol or glycerol—into a vapor for users to inhale. Ever since they debuted on the market in the early 2000s, e-cigarettes have been widely marketed as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, as vaping does not involve burning and smoking tobacco but still delivers a nicotine rush. However, recent research shows that many of the health problems traditional cigarette smokers face persist with e-cigarettes, due to the devices’ nicotine content and other chemicals in the liquid. What’s worse, e-cigarettes have been linked to a severe lung disease, which has lead to deaths.

The FDA’s regulation of tobacco products includes e-cigarettes, in an attempt to control what substances go into the often mysterious liquid and to keep the devices out of the hands of minors. But even with these regulations, using e-cigarettes can still cause some serious complications to your health. Claims that they can help smokers quit have been overstated. Even if you make the switch, you’re still dependent on nicotine. Science says this strategy is the best way to quit smoking.

Careful experienced practitioner sitting with his patient and holding a gauge while measuring blood pressure
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E-cigarettes mess with your heart

Even though e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, they still hold plenty of nicotine, and can cause many of the same nicotine-related heart problems as regular smokes. According to Michael Fiore, MD, director for the Center of Tobacco Research and Innovation at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, nicotine falls in the “stimulant” category of drugs, leading your heart to beat faster than usual and potentially causing high blood pressure. If you vape, you may have as much as a 59 percent higher risk of heart attack or crushing chest pain known as angina and a 40 percent higher risk of heart disease. These findings were presented  at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2019 in Honolulu. Here are 30 ways to reduce your risk of heart disease—and not smoking is one of them.

close up of human eye
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E-cigarettes irritate your eyes and respiratory tract

In addition to causing cancer, the formaldehyde found in some e-cigarettes can also irritate the eyes, throat, and nose, according to the American Cancer Society. What’s more, nicotine found in e-cigarettes can occasionally cause nausea, dizziness, and vomiting, especially in new users, Dr. Fiore warns. Don’t miss these secrets addiction counselors want you to know.

Close-Up Of Woman Smoking Electronic Cigarette
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E-cigarettes trigger your brain to release dopamine, leading to addiction

Similar to regular cigarettes, the nicotine in e-cigarettes causes a release of dopamine, which often leads to a nicotine addiction, Dr. Fiore says. “Nicotine is the psychoactive, addictive part of tobacco,” Dr. Fiore explains. “What we know is in individuals, young and old, it can rapidly lead to dependence with some pretty substantial changes in brain chemistry as a result.” Dopamine is the main agent in cigarette addiction, he says, since it causes a soothing, pleasurable sensation that smokers come to crave.

Directly Above Shot Of Electronic Cigarette On Table
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E-cigarettes can poison you (or a child) if you swallow the liquid

Like any drug, consuming too much nicotine can be toxic, and Dr. Fiore says that swallowing nicotine in its concentrated, liquid form puts consumers at an elevated risk of overdosing. He especially warns against the danger of leaving e-cigarettes out in front of children, who may not understand these risks. “Many children have ingested this juice or liquid and have gotten very sick, and sadly, some of them have even died from this,” Dr. Fiore says. “It’s one of the leading reasons today that poison response centers have calls.” If you do choose to use an e-cigarette around children, be sure to keep it hidden and locked away to avoid such a tragic mistake. Don’t miss this advice from ex-smokers on what finally helped them quit.

Vape teenager. Young pretty white girl in blue cap and green jacket smoking an electronic cigarette opposite brick wall on the street in the spring.
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E-cigarettes may harm brain development in teens

About 27.5 percent of high school students used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days in 2019 —an uptick from 1.5 percent from 2011. Unfortunately, research shows that teens and children who can get their hands on these devices may face some serious long-term brain development issues due to the their nicotine content. The CDC points out that nicotine can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.

Stethoscope on Chest X-Ray
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E-cigarettes may cause cancer

Even without many of the cancer-causing agents found in tobacco cigarettes—like tar, ammonia, and DDT—recent research shows that e-cigarettes can contain high levels of formaldehyde, another carcinogen. According to a 2015 study by researchers at Portland State University, the process of heating propylene glycol and glycerol (the two most common ingredients of e-cigarette liquid) in the presence of oxygen, as is done when vaping, can result in the release of formaldehyde. For this to happen, the study says the device needs to reach a rather high voltage—five volts—but unfortunately, many e-cigarettes on the market can indeed heat up to this level. Watch for these signs of lung cancer you might be ignoring.

close up of young woman Vaping
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The e-cigarette battery can explode in your hand or face

E-cigarettes are powered by tiny lithium-ion batteries, smaller versions of what you see in your cell phone and laptop. When these little batteries are put in extreme temperatures, are over-charged, or are poorly made, they can explode and leave e-cigarette users with severe hand, face, and eye injuries. Although the odds are low, it has happened: This was the case with a 17-year-old boy who had pain and swelling in his jaw two hours after his e-cigarette exploded. The case was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.  If you stop vaping, expect to see these amazing health improvements.

Nicotine gum
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E-cigarettes may help wean you off cigarettes—but alternate methods are better

Many people report using e-cigarettes as a means to quit cigarette smoking. Because vaping does not burn tobacco, Dr. Fiore says, e-cigarettes are probably a healthier alternative than smoking, though there is no substantive long-term research to determine this for sure. However, he suggests instead using an FDA-approved method to quit smoking, such as nicotine patches, nicotine gum, and other medicines. These products, Dr. Fiore says, are safe, regulated, and proven to help smokers quit. These 23 strategies will help you quit smoking for good.