Are Nicotine-Free E-Cigarettes Harmful? | Center on Addiction

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Are Nicotine-Free E-Cigarettes Harmful?

Are Nicotine-Free E-Cigarettes Harmful?
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Published: December 2016

Discussions around e-cigarettes and other vaping devices tend to focus on nicotine, which is highly addictive and carries other health risks. But what about nicotine-free options? Many users believe that if they stick to these products, they would only be inhaling harmless water vapors. The truth is, the other chemicals found in e-cigarette liquid, flavorings and aerosols are not safe. 

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, inhalation of diacetyl and acetyl propionyl, which have been found in almost three quarters of flavored e-cigarettes examined in one study, is associated with respiratory disease.

Another study evaluated 40 e-cigarette refill liquids and found toxic levels regardless of nicotine content. The toxicity seemed to be associated with the number and concentration of chemicals used in the flavoring. Though the toxicity of e-liquids varied depending on brand and flavor, this and a number of other studies found that cinnamon flavored e-cigarettes have the greatest potential health risk.

Regardless of nicotine levels, there is good reason to be concerned about the effects of potentially toxic chemicals found in these products. While it’s too soon to speak conclusively about the health effects of e-cigarette aerosols and flavorings, with or without nicotine, the evidence to date suggests that e-cigarettes and other vaping devices certainly are not risk free.  

Azure Thompson, DrPH

Associate Director of Policy Research and Analysis

Dr. Thompson's work focuses on tobacco use among young adults, women and racial/ethnic minorities. Her projects include the development of tobacco-related reports for general and policy audiences and research on tobacco use among young adults.