What is Vaping? | Center on Addiction

Recreational Vaping 101

Recreational Vaping 101

What is Vaping?

What is Vaping?
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Published: October 2018

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 newest and most popular vaping product is the JUUL, which is a small, sleek device that resembles a computer USB flash drive. Its subtle design makes it easy to hide, which helps explain why it has become so popular among middle and high school students. It now accounts for about 72 percent of the market share of vaping products in the United States. It comes in several enticing flavors like crème brûlée, mango and fruit medley. Every JUUL product contains a high dose of nicotine, with one pod or flavor cartridge containing about the same amount of nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes

A growing body of evidence indicates that vaping products may be dangerous. Despite early optimism when these products first came on the market in the late 2000’s, health advocates now recommend caution in using them in light of growing evidence suggesting that their risks, especially to young people, outweigh their benefits. 

Linda Richter, PhD

Director of Policy Research and Analysis

Dr. Richter oversees the policy-oriented research projects at Center on Addiction. 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.