Cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products aren’t the only substances that carry health risks. E-cigarettes and other vaping products also contain harmful chemicals that may damage the lungs and potentially increase cancer risk.

Vaping refers to the act of inhaling aerosolized nicotine, cannabis extracts, or other substances.

E-cigarettes are small electronic devices that people use to vape. There are many other names for e-cigarettes and other types of electronic vaping devices, such as “vapes,” “dabs,” or “pods.”

Electronic vaping devices hold cartridges of e-fluids, which contain the nicotine or cannabis extract along with other chemicals. A vaping device also contains a heating coil to aerosolize the e-fluid into tiny airborne droplets, which a person can inhale.

Although more research is necessary to learn how e-cigarettes and other vaping products affect lung cancer risk, there are known and suspected carcinogens in these products that might raise the risk of cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also tracking reports of lung injuries in people who vape.

Read on to find the answers to common questions about the health risks of vaping.

A 2023 research review reports that there are more than 500 chemicals in vaping cartridges, including many known or suspected carcinogens, such as:

  • nicotine derivatives
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PCA)
  • heavy metals
  • other toxins

Many vaping cartridges also contain flavorings and humectants, such as vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol. These ingredients may break down during heating and produce known or suspected carcinogens, such as:

  • formaldehyde
  • acetaldehyde
  • acrolein

Some of the chemicals in vaping products may have other negative health effects beyond carcinogenicity.

According to the CDC and a 2023 review, nicotine is addictive, and inhaling it may cause:

  • reduced lung function
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • harm to brain development in adolescents
  • harm to developing fetuses

Vitamin E acetate is another common ingredient in vaping products that research has linked to lung damage.

Although more research is necessary, ultrafine particulate matter from vapor might also damage the lungs and raise the risk of certain health conditions.

E-cigarettes and other vaping products have only become widely available in recent years, which means that long-term research on their health effects is not yet available.

Experts do know that vaping cartridges and aerosolized vapor contain known and suspected carcinogens, which are substances that may damage DNA and have the potential to cause cancer.

A 2021 research review found evidence from laboratory studies that chemicals in vaping products alter and damage cells in ways that might lead to cancer. But the authors note that it may take decades for high quality data on vaping and cancer risk to become available.

Vape lung disease is a respiratory illness that can affect someone who has used e-cigarettes or other vaping products within the previous 90 days. People have developed this illness after using vaping products that contain nicotine, cannabis extracts, or both.

Other names for vape lung disease include e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) and vaping-associated pulmonary injury (VAPI).

Common symptoms include:

  • cough
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath

Other potential symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • chills
  • weight loss

This illness may cause potentially life threatening complications, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome and respiratory failure.

By February 2020, hospitals in the United States had admitted more than 2,800 people for treatment of this illness, and health authorities had reported 68 deaths.

More research is necessary to learn which specific ingredients in vaping products may cause this illness. Vitamin E acetate is a common ingredient that appears to play a role.

Scientists have not yet collected enough data to compare the health risks of vaping vs smoking.

A 2023 research review reports that e-cigarettes produce lower levels of carcinogens and some other toxins than conventional smoking. But vaping products still contain harmful chemicals.

Sometimes people who smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products switch to e-cigarettes because they hope it will help them quit, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved e-cigarettes or other vaping products as smoking cessation aids.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has also found there is not enough evidence to recommend e-cigarettes or other vaping products for tobacco cessation.

According to the CDC, it may be helpful for non-pregnant adult smokers to use e-cigarettes or other vaping products as a complete substitute for smoked tobacco products — but many people who use e-cigarettes or other vaping products also smoke tobacco products, which is harmful to health.

If someone smokes or vapes and receives a diagnosis of lung cancer, their doctor will likely advise them to quit.

A 2023 study suggested that people who quit smoking, even if they then received a lung cancer diagnosis within a few years of quitting, had better survival rates than those who continued smoking.

More research is necessary to learn whether quitting vaping has similar benefits.

Smoke and vapor both contain chemicals and particulate matter that may harm the lungs.

A person can find support to help them cut back or quit smoking or vaping by:

A person’s doctor may recommend:

  • smoking cessation counseling
  • nicotine replacement therapy
  • medication, such as varenicline or bupropion
  • lifestyle changes or other strategies to manage cravings or triggers

E-cigarettes and other vaping products contain many chemicals, including known or suspected carcinogens that might increase the risk of lung cancer or other types of cancer.

Vapor from e-cigarettes and other vaping devices also contains chemicals and ultrafine particulate matter that may raise the risk of other respiratory illnesses, including vape lung disease.

Although some people switch from cigarettes or other smoked tobacco products to vaping products with the goal of quitting, public health authorities have not found enough evidence that e-cigarettes or other vaping products are beneficial as smoking cessation aids.

A person who smokes or vapes can speak with their doctor to learn about tools and resources to help them cut back and quit. For example, their doctor may prescribe smoking cessation counseling, nicotine replacement therapy, or prescription medication. They may also recommend certain lifestyle changes or strategies to manage cravings.