Health effects of vaping

The use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), or vaping, has been proposed as a safe, or safer, alternative to the smoking of tobacco products. E-cigarettes contain many chemicals, often with known harmful effects, and there is growing research that demonstrates vaping has adverse health impacts. 

Information provided below explains what vaping is and provides details on the research into the health effects of vaping. 

What is vaping?

Vaping is the inhaling of an aerosol (sometimes referred to as a vapour) created by an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) or other vaping device. The aerosol is made up of a fine spray of chemicals and small particles. Vaping devices heat up a liquid (e-juice) to turn it into a mist (vapour), which is then inhaled. Vaping has been proposed as a healthier alternative to smoking. 

What is in e-juices?

Vaping e-juices generally contain water, flavours, solvents, and nicotine. Chemicals found in the e-juices, and vapours that they generate, include very fine particles, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Some of these are known to be toxic,including chemicals that can cause cancer. The levels of most of these compounds are less than in tobacco smoke but there are hundreds of different e-juices and the ingredients of these can vary greatly and therefore the combined effects are unpredictable.

Health effects of vaping

Vaping has been the cause of a number of deaths from acute lung disease. There are also an increasing number of studies that demonstrate that vaping has both short- and medium-term effects on the heart and lungs. The long-term health effects of vaping are still not known as it is a fairly new activity and some diseases, such as cancer, can take many years to develop.

Vaping and lung disease: In 2019 there were a large number of cases (>2600) of acute lung disease, including over 60 deaths, from using e-cigarettes. Vitamin E acetate in e-cigarettes was identified as the most likely cause, but other unknown constituents may also be involved. Other adverse lung effects have been observed in both humans and animals exposed to e-cigarette vapours. In humans, just 5 minutes of vaping can cause changes in the way the lungs work and can increase inflammation in the airways. There are also reported increases in respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat and dry mouth directly after vaping. In animal studies, medium term exposure to vapours can damage the lungs and make breathing harder. Not much is known about vaping and the development of chronic respiratory disease, although a recent study that followed a large number of people (21,000) over a number of years found that compared with people who never used e-cigarettes, those who vaped were 30% more likely to develop asthma and 60% more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.[1]

Vaping and heart disease: As yet there is not enough research to know if vaping causes heart disease. However, a small number of studies have shown that people who use e-cigarettes have an increased chance of heart attack, stroke and angina[2]. E-cigarette use has also been shown to increase blood pressure, heart-rate and the stiffness of arteries[3]. All of these increase the risk of developing heart disease or having symptoms. Therefore, it is highly likely that vaping is bad for your heart.

Vaping and cancer: Most cancers that are caused by smoking can take many years to develop. Most vapers have not been vaping long enough to know if this activity can cause cancer. However, laboratory studies have shown that vapours from e-cigarettes can damage human DNA, which is a pathway to developing cancer.

Is vaping safe ?

The evidence to date suggests that it is NOT safe.

The World Health Organisation (external site) has concluded that both tobacco products and e-cigarettes pose risks to health and the safest approach is not to use either. 

  1. Xie W et al. Association of electronic cigarette use with incident respiratory conditions among US adults from 2013 to 2018. JAMA Netw Open 2020; 3: e2020816
  2. Boakye et al. The promise and peril of vaping. Curr Cardiol Rep 2020; 22: 155
  3. Peruzzi wet al. Vaping cardiovascular health risks: and upadated umbrell review. Curr Emerg Hosp Med Rep 2020; 8: 103

More information

Chemical Hazards

Phone: (08) 9222 2000

Last reviewed: 14-09-2021
Produced by

Environmental Health Directorate