Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. The term is used because e-cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, but rather an aerosol, often mistaken for water vapor, that actually consists of fine particles. Many of these particles contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and heart disease.
Vaping has grown in popularity with the rise of e-cigarettes, which were introduced to the mass market in the U.S. in 2007. Vaping devices include not just e-cigarettes, but also vape pens and advanced personal vaporizers (also known as ‘MODS’). E-cigarettes, which resemble smoked cigarettes, and vape pens, which resemble large fountain pens, are typically simpler in design and less expensive than devices that have been customized by the user.
Generally a vaping device consists of a mouthpiece, a battery, a cartridge for containing the e-liquid or e-juice, and a heating component for the device that is powered by a battery. When the device is used, the battery heats up the heating component, which turns the contents of the e-liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs and then exhaled.
The e-liquid in vaporizer products usually contains a propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin-based liquid with nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals and metals, but not tobacco. Some people use these devices to vape THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's mind-altering effects, or even synthetic drugs like flakka, instead of nicotine.
The health risks and benefits of using these relatively new devices are still being evaluated. However, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that the chemicals in these products may be dangerous. Health advocates are recommending caution in using them and calling for additional research into their potential risks versus benefits.
Linda Richter, PhD
Director of Policy Research and Analysis
Dr. Richter oversees the policy-oriented research projects at the Center. Her work includes translating the science of nicotine, alcohol and other drug use and addiction for lay audiences and researching ways to improve addiction prevention, treatment and policy.