Initially created as an alternative to traditional cigarettes, vape pens are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals.
These devices, sometimes called e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), can resemble everything from a traditional cigarette to everyday items like pens and USB memory sticks.
Regardless of their design and appearance, they all function in basically the same way. For instance, a cartridge, reservoir, or pod, which holds the liquid, is heated by an atomizer releasing a vapor containing nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse there are more than 460 different brands on the market.2
5 Truths About Vape Pens
When vape pens first appeared on the market, they were advertised as a safe alternative to smoking. But health officials are beginning to see that this may not be the case. Here is an overview of five truths about vape pens that people often don’t realize.
Vape Pens Can Explode
There have been reports of vape pens exploding and causing everything from burns to serious injuries. In fact, during the more significant explosions users lost teeth or part of their jaw during the explosion. Meanwhile, others received chemical burns and lacerations.
The prevalence of vape pen explosions is hard to calculate because the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products didn’t begin documenting explosions and fires until 2012.
Since then they have documented 92 cases of explosion.3 However, they acknowledge that due to the lack of reporting by manufacturers as well as underreporting by users, they cannot determine an accurate count of vape pen explosions.
What’s more the exact cause for the explosions is unknown as well. The FDA speculates that explosions are related to the battery and urge people using vape pens to pick a device with safety features like firing button locks, vent holes, and protections against overcharging.
Until all vape pens and other e-cigarettes conform to consistent safety standards, the FDA recommends knowing as much as you can about your vape pen including how to handle it and how to charge it. Here is an overview of their suggestions:
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions making sure you understand how it is used and how it should be cared for. If you don’t understand something, call the manufacturer.
- Leave the safety features intact. Do not remove or disable them.
- Use only the batteries recommended for your device. Do not mix and match batteries or use batteries with different charge levels.
- Charge your vape pen in an area that is clean, flat, and free of anything flammable. Do not put it on your pillow, in your bed, or in your pocket while it is charging.
- Report any explosions or fires to the FDA. Doing so allows them to determine how frequently these incidents occur as well as if a product should be recalled.
Vape Pens Are Not Effective Smoking Cessation Tools
Although vape pens and e-cigarettes were initially marketed as a smoking cessation tool and a safer alternative to smoking, research is beginning to show that they are not effective at helping smokers quit.4 What’s more, the FDA has not approved vape pens as an effective smoking cessation tool like they have with other aids like nicotine patches.
In fact, a recent study of 729 smokers found that people who began using vape pens to kick the smoking habit ended up either going back to cigarette smoking or using both the devices and traditional cigarettes.5
Meanwhile, a study in New Zealand found that the patch was much more effective for people hoping to quit smoking.6 And in another study, researchers found that financial incentives plus free cessation aids were more effective than free e-cigarettes in getting people to quit smoking.7
Vape Pens Contain Harmful Ingredients
Most people assume that vape pens are a safe alternative to cigarettes. In fact, young people often believe that vape pens only produce water vapor when the devices actually create aerosols containing harmful chemicals and ultra-fine particles that are inhaled into the lungs.
Nearly every vape pen or e-cigarette contains harmful ingredients like nicotine, THC, vitamin E acetate, and other chemicals.8
For instance, acrolein is a known ingredient in many vape pens and e-cigarettes and is known to cause irreversible lung damage.9 Meanwhile, nicotine exposure is extremely harmful not only to the lungs, but also to the brain.
Vape Pen Liquids Are Addictive
Many people believe that using a vape pen is less addictive than smoking a traditional cigarette. But that is simply not true. Both vape pens and cigarettes contain nicotine, which has shown to be just as addictive as heroin and cocaine.10 What’s more, many people who vape get more nicotine than they would if they smoked a cigarette.
For instance, people can buy extra-strength cartridges or use a higher voltage on the vape pen to get a bigger hit. When this happens, they get hooked much more quickly than if they were smoking regular cigarettes.
Research also suggests that vaping can even prime the brain’s reward system, putting users at risk for addiction to other drugs. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that nicotine addiction can make other drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine more pleasurable, especially in a teen’s developing brain.11
Vape Pen Use Can Lead to Lung Diseases
Aside from lung irritations like coughing and bronchitis, the use of vape pens has recently been linked to EVALI, or “e-cigarette or vaping product associated lung injury.” This illness was first recognized by the CDC in August 2019 after health department officials around the country started to recognize that lung infections were occurring in otherwise healthy individuals.1
They discovered that the patients, which were having difficulty breathing and had to be hospitalized, all had one thing in common—vaping. Although the agency has not identified a single ingredient that caused EVALI, they have indicated that vitamin E acetate may be linked to the illness.12 This ingredient is often used in combination with THC, a chemical in marijuana, when people vape.
A Word From Verywell
When it comes to vape pens and other e-cigarettes, it’s important to remember that these devices are still very new products that have not been on the market very long. Consequently, the long-term effects and health risks are not yet known.
So it is best to avoid using them, or if you do use them, use caution. Even without a substantial number of research studies, it is clear that these devices are harmful to your health and wellbeing. If you feel you are addicted to vaping and want to quit, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-877-44U-QUIT to talk with a tobacco cessation counselor. You also can chat online using the National Cancer Institute’s LiveHelp service