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Vapes May Produce Hundreds of Harmful Chemicals

Vapes are often used as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. However, a recent study suggests that heating e-liquids may produce hundreds of toxic byproducts.

In 2021, 4.5% of American adults used e-cigarettes, including vapes. Because vapes are tobacco-free, they are considered significantly less harmful than cigarettes and can be used to support smoking cessation. However, there are no FDA-approved e-cigarettes that could help smokers quit.

Vaping involves heating e-liquids to high temperatures, posing the risk that these chemicals may undergo thermal decomposition to new chemical entities, whose effects on human health are largely unknown.

A study published in Scientific Reports in May used artificial intelligence to predict the thermal decomposition of 180 e-liquid chemical flavors.

Nearly 93% of these flavors were predicted to produce at least one chemical that was classified as a health hazard. More specifically, these flavors were decomposed to 127 “acutely toxic” chemicals, 153 “health hazards,” and 225 “irritants.”

What are the health risks of vaping?

While the health risks of the carcinogenic chemicals found in tobacco smoke are well established, scientists are only beginning to understand the long-term implications of vaping on public health.

In 2019, the increasing cases of acute lung injury were associated with a single chemical additive, vitamin E acetate (VEA). The outbreak ended once the use of the additive stopped.

A study in mice discovered that even low, chronic e-cigarette aerosols increased inflammatory cells in the lung tissue. Moreover, prolonged inhalation of e-cigarette aerosols caused changes in respiratory immune cell composition and altered gene and protein levels in the lungs.

Vaping can damage epithelial cell DNA as much as smoking, according to a study in humans. The highest levels of damage were inflicted by sweet-flavored vapes, followed by mint/menthol and fruit-flavored vapes.

Most e-cigarettes deliver nicotine, sometimes exceeding levels of those found in traditional cigarettes. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm the developing brains of teens, kids, and fetuses in women.

Additionally, e-cigarette vapor includes potentially harmful substances such as diacetyl, carcinogens, volatile organic compounds, and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead.

People who use e-cigarettes may be at a higher risk of cavities, as vaping aerosols can change the oral microbiome, making it more hospitable to decay-causing bacteria.

A large study published in 2024 found that individuals who used vapes or e-cigarettes at any point in their lives had a 19% higher risk of a type of heart failure called heart failure with preserved ejection fraction.

The new study emphasizes that vaping has a significantly different profile of hazardous compounds compared to cigarettes. This means that vaping clinical disease manifestations could differ significantly from those of tobacco smoking.

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