Vaping: Side effects, Health Concerns & What it Does to Your Body

This rise in popularity of vaping has come in direct response to the extremely negative press that smoking has garnered over the past decade.  Consuming tobacco through traditional smoking has come under fire as a cause of major health concerns. This is primarily through the combination of chemicals present in tobacco found in traditional cigarettes.  Smoking tobacco products is a known killer  and the cause of early health problems.

tobacco killsMillions of people continue to die each year from using tobacco products.  Premature deaths happen in spite of the fact that substantial restrictions have been placed on tobacco advertising, and the constraints imposed on smoking in public areas.  The death toll continues to rise especially in impoverished countries where restrictions on tobacco advertising are weak at best.  

Knowing these facts, how should we feel about the increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes?  The main difference between electronic cigarettes and regular cigarettes comes in the form of how the nicotine is delivered.  

The draw for many people is that the electronic cigarette provides the nicotine without the plethora of chemicals. Getting a nicotine hit from the electronic device means avoiding the thousands of chemicals that are mixed in with tobacco in traditional cigarettes.  It also means avoiding the chemicals and carcinogens created from burning of the traditional cigarette.  

However, the opinions of public health researchers remain mixed at best. This has resulted in the increasing push for lawmakers to create new regulations for electronic cigarettes and the e-liquid they contain.  The new rules now in place regulate the sale of the vaping items to those over 18 and the requirement to card those that appear to look under the age of 27.


What is Vaping?

The rise in popularity of the electronic cigarette has brought about the rise of vape stores and shops.  The vape shops are a place where people can buy vaping products and accessories and smoke in the same communal manner as a bar.  So what exactly is vaping?

The electronic cigarette has a battery operated heating system.  The system works by delivering a particular mix of e-liquid to the heating element.  The e-liquid mix consists of a nicotine enhanced propylene glycol that when heated produces an aerosol or vapor.  

vapingIt is this vapor that is inhaled and gives the electronic device its popular name “vaping.” There are many different brands and styles of electronic cigarettes on the market today. Some look like real cigarettes, and some have refillable tanks.  The e-liquid come in several different colors, smells, and flavors.  The different types of e-liquids contain a mix of chemicals including nicotine.  However, some e-liquids have lower dosage levels, and some may not contain any nicotine.  Many folks who use vaping to quit smoking traditional cigarettes often use nicotine free e-liquid for an extended period. They utilize these non-nicotine e-cigs to be able to continue the physical habit of smoking without the addictive substance.

Side effects of Vaping

Public health researchers and medical professionals are still catching up to the phenomena of vaping,  so the media is still mixed on whether it is harmful or a safe alternative to smoking.  In addition to using a product with nicotine, it is important to consider the source of the side effects.  It is entirely possible that one may encounter side effects from the reduction of smoking traditional cigarettes rather than the introduction of the chemicals present in e-cigarettes.  

People that quit smoking “cold turkey” often experience an array of symptoms such as dry throat or increased coughing, trouble sleeping, dizziness, increased anxiety, skin issues such as breakouts, oral problems such as bleeding gums, and an increase in susceptibility to colds or flu-like symptoms.  Some people also report an overall “grouchy” mood or changes in appetite – usually resulting in increased hunger.  

vaping effectsAs with vaping, some people do report symptoms that could be attributed in whole or in part to the use of the e-cigarettes.  These symptoms can range from skin irritation such as dry skin, facial rashes, burning sensations around the face, itching, bloody nose, and dry or puffy eyes.  Some people experience increased sensitivity to caffeine.  An increased sensitively to caffeine or other side effects can occur because your body is reacting to the e-liquid differently from traditional cigarettes.  However, many of the symptoms, such as increased anxiety or restless sleep, can be attributed to the inceased sensitivity to caffeine.  It is important to adjust your caffeine intake while your body adjusts to the new substances.  

A typical report of irritation with e-cigarettes is dry mouth.  This symptom occurs due to the nature of one component of the e-liquid.  Propylene glycol is hygroscopic in nature, meaning it attracts water molecules from its environment.  In the case of the e-cigarette, the propylene glycol would tend to draw water from the user’s mouth resulting in the feeling of dry mouth.  This can be easily remedied by increasing water consumption or taking frequent sips of water.  

Electronic cigarette users tend to notice the reported symptoms are temporary and disappear over time.  As with any major heath care decision, those considering a switch from traditional cigarettes to a reduced form of nicotine like the e-cigarette should consult a physician.   

smokers fingernailsMany people claim that the reduction in harmful side effects of the electronic cigarette comes from the reduction in chemical compounds present in traditional cigarettes.  People choosing to make the switch from traditional cigarettes to electronic versions cite many reasons.  Two reasons are health related and include the absence of second-hand smoke and better overall health for the smoker.  Other reasons people report switching include cosmetic reasons such as the smell, bad breath, taste and yellowing of the skin and fingernails.  Also, e-cigarettes are less expensive than traditional cigarettes, and they do not carry the stigma associated with traditional tobacco.  

The difference in the side effects comes from the properties of the e-liquids as compared to the mix of chemicals found in regular cigarettes.  Regular cigarettes contain tar, a combination of over 4,000 chemicals and carcinogenic compounds, and nicotine.  Common ingredients in e-liquids are vegetable glycerin, flavorings, propylene glycol, and optional nicotine.  E-liquids contain no other hidden ingredients making it easy to examine the each of the components:

Vegetable Glycerin is a sweet-tasting, colorless, and odorless sugar alcohol.  It is used in a vast array of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and food and beverages.  Vegetable glycerin is most commonly used as a moisturizing agent, a thickener, a filler and a sweetener.  In e-liquid, the glycerin is mixed with propylene glycol and helps as a binding and carrying agent for the flavorings and nicotine (if present).  

Flavorings such as maple syrup, spearmint, or strawberry are added to electronic cigarettes, giving them a smell that is quite different from traditional cigarettes.  The flavorings can be made from oil essences for ones like the mint based flavors, or, they can be food grade additives like those used to make candy.  

Propylene glycol is an FDA approved food and pharmaceutical additive.  Glycols are considered nontoxic, noncorrosive organic compound that are colorless, odorless, and sweet to the taste.  In food, glycols work as an anti-foaming agent. As a cosmetic application glycols creates a base for things like skin creams or lubricants.  The amount of propylene glycol present in the e-liquid determines the thickness of the vapor clouds.  The more propylene glycol present, the thicker the vapor clouds.  

nicotineThe last ingredient, Nicotine, is the smallest component of the e-liquid.  But nonetheless, the most controversial regarding safety.  Nicotine is derived from the nightshade plant.  At relatively low doses people will notice that nicotine acts as a stimulant.  In extremely high doses nicotine can cause intoxication or death.  This is due to how the liquid passes easily into the bloodstream.  Nicotine affects both the release of glucose from the liver and adrenaline in the brain. Thus, nicotine can act as a stimulant, a sedative, or a painkiller depending on the dose.  

About .6%-3.0% of the dry weight of tobacco is nicotine.  It can also be extracted into a liquid.  E-liquid nicotine density is expressed as milligrams per milliliter, or mg/ml. A low dose of nicotine is 1mg-6mg or the equivalent of an ultra light cigarette.  A regular cigarette is 13m-18mg and considered to be high-density nicotine e-liquid.   An extra high-density dose of nicotine is 19mg-24mg, or a strong cigarette.  25mg and above is considered an ultra-high dose of nicotine and should be used with caution or avoided altogether.  

Short term side effects of nicotine consumption can include light-headedness due to increases in blood pressure and heart rate.  

Long-term effects of nicotine consumption can been seen in all parts of the human body.  It can affect blood clotting, breathing capacity, the muscular system, the gastrointestinal system, the central nervous system, heart rate, insulin resistance, and cause pain and stiffness in joints.

Is Vaping Safer than Smoking Cigarettes?  

One of the main differences between traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes is the absence of second-hand smoke.  Electronic cigarettes also cut down on the amount of chemicals consumed by both the user and those present around the user.  

Although researchers are struggling to keep up with the vaping trend, there are a few known facts.   E-liquids have fewer chemicals as compared to traditional cigarettes.  For those that are addicted to regular cigarettes, it may be hard to quit the habit altogether.  This is similar to those addicted to caffeine. It would be hard for someone that needs coffee to function to switch to decaf without experiencing any side effects.  With electronic cigarettes, there are options to change to lower doses of nicotine, or to no nicotine at all.  This will lessen both the harmful side effects of smoking traditional cigarettes and the side effects that cause discomfort from quitting cold turkey.  

One investigation into electronic cigarette side effects looked at the response of cells in arteries of the heart.  The study found that the cells displayed a stress response to cigarette smoke.  No stress response was found with e-cigarettes.  Researchers also found that e-cigarettes can be used with same success as nicotine replacement methods such as gum or patches.  

There is still much more to learn about the effects of just nicotine in the body like that delivered via e-cigarettes.  Researchers so far are finding real evidence that switching to vaping can help arrest the harmful effects on the body that are caused by the chemicals present in a traditional cigarette.  Often these added chemicals are used as enhancing agents to make the smoking experience more pleasurable, and thus harder to quit.  There is always the possibility that the popularity of vaping will create a population of long-term users that obtain nicotine via electronic cigarettes instead of traditional cigarettes. However, researchers currently project that vast majority of e-cigarette users will be transitioning from traditional smoking.  


Much is known about the harmful side effects of traditional cigarette smoking because of the vast amount of years that research has been conducted on the subject.  Research on vaping is ongoing and will take years to catch up to what is known about traditional cigarettes.  

Based on what is known about the components of e-liquid it is fair to assume that vaping is much less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes due to the reduced presence of chemicals and carcinogens.  Though no form of smoking is risk-free, at least those addicted to traditional cigarettes can find an alternative to the higher doses of nicotine and chemicals found in traditional tobacco products.  

While research continues in this arena, it is a matter of delicate balance between not overstating any possible harmful side effects of electronic cigarettes, and not overly restricting their use.  Giving another tool to those addicted to traditional cigarettes only helps them fight the temptation to continue to use the product.  The use of the electronic cigarette gives a much lower nicotine dosage. This makes it entirely possible for a person to get to a zero dosage level over time and thus to kick smoking altogether.