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Vaping: What You Need to Know

Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD

What Is Vaping?

Vaping is the inhaling of an aerosol (mist) created by an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) or other vaping device.

E-cigarettes (often called vape pens) are battery-operated vaping devices that heat a liquid until it becomes an aerosol (mist), which is inhaled. The aerosol is not just water vapor. It usually contains nicotine, other harmful chemicals, and flavorings. Even e-cigarettes that claim to have no nicotine have been found to contain nicotine. Some might contain marijuana, herbs, or oils.

Some e-cigarettes are disposable and designed for one-time use. When the liquid is used up or the battery dies, the user throws the device away. Others can be refilled with liquid, recharged, and used over and over. Some people buy pre-filled cartridges for the e-cigarette. Others buy a bottle of liquid and refill the e-cigarette as needed.

What Are the Health Effects of Vaping?

The health risks of vaping include:

  • addiction: E-cigarettes contain nicotine, a drug that’s highly addictive. You don’t have to vape every day to get addicted.
  • anxiety and depression: Nicotine makes anxiety and depression worse. It also affects memory, concentration, self-control, and attention, especially in developing brains.
  • becoming a smoker: People who vape are more likely to start smoking regular (tobacco) cigarettes and may be more likely to develop other addictions in the future.
  • impotence: There is some evidence that vaping can cause sexual dysfunction in men.
  • sleep problems
  • exposure to cancer-causing chemicals
  • chronic bronchitis
  • lung damage that can be life-threatening

Other health effects are possible that we don’t yet know about. Vaping hasn’t been around that long, so its health risks aren’t all known.

Why Should I Quit?

Wanting to be the best, healthiest version of yourself is an important reason to quit vaping. Others include:

Addiction: Addiction in the growing brain may set up pathways for later addiction to other substances.

Brain risks: Nicotine affects your brain development. This can make it harder to learn and concentrate. Some of the brain changes are permanent and can affect your mood and ability to control your impulses as an adult.

Use of other tobacco products: Studies show that vaping makes it more likely that someone will try other tobacco products, like regular cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, and smokeless tobacco.

Toxins (poisons): The aerosol made from e-cigarettes is not made only of water. It contains harmful chemicals and very fine particles that are inhaled into the lungs and exhaled into the environment.

Sports: You want to do your best in sports, and vaping may lead to lung inflammation (irritation), which can make it harder to do well in sports.

Money: Vaping is expensive! The cost of the cartridges over time starts to add up. Instead, you could spend that money on other things you need or enjoy.

To go against tobacco company advertising: Many e-cigarettes are made by the same companies that produce regular cigarettes. Their marketing targets young people by making fun flavors for e-cigarettes and showing young, healthy people vaping. They're trying to make you their next lifetime customer.

How Can I Get Ready to Quit?

  • Decide why you want to quit and write it down or put it in your phone. Look at the reason(s) when you feel the urge to vape.
  • Pick a day to stop vaping. Put it on the calendar and tell supportive friends and family that you're quitting on that day.
  • Get rid of all vaping supplies.
  • Understand withdrawal. Nicotine addiction leads to very strong cravings for nicotine. The signs of withdrawal are strongest in the first few days after stopping, but get better over the next days and weeks. At first, someone might:
    • have headaches
    • feel tired, cranky, angry, or depressed
    • have trouble concentrating
    • have trouble sleeping
    • feel hungry
    • feel restless
  • Download tools (such as apps and texting programs) to your phone that can help with cravings and give encouragement while you try to stop vaping. You can try:

What Happens When I Quit?

Be ready for feelings, people, and places that make you want to vape. If possible, avoid places and people that trigger the urge to vape. If you feel the urge to vape, try these things instead:

  • Chew sugar-free gum or drink water.
  • Text, call, or hang out with a friend who will support you.
  • Listen to your favorite playlist.
  • Go for a walk or jog.
  • Try yoga or meditation.
  • Take 10 deep breaths.
  • Keep your hands busy with a hobby, like drawing or making jewelry.
  • Go somewhere where smoking/vaping isn't allowed.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor right away if you vape and have:

  • coughing, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • tiredness, fever, or weight loss
Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2024