Vaping Basics

Vapes are battery-powered devices used to consume liquid nicotine products. There’s no shortage of names for these devices—they’re also known as e-cigarettes, e-cigs, vape-pens, tanks, mods, pod-mods, e-hookahs, and electronic nicotine delivery systems. 

How They Work

These devices work by heating a liquid solution that typically contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals to produce an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs. In addition to nicotine, the aerosol that is inhaled from a vape contains ultrafine particles and other substances created in the heating process—some of which are known to be toxic and cancer-causing. The aerosol from some e-liquids also contains cannabis concentrates such as THC and CBD.

Types of Devices

Here’s a look at the most widely used devices:

  • Prefilled pods (e.g., JUUL, Vuse)
  • Disposable vapes (e.g., Elf Bar, Puff Bar, Flum)
  • Refillable devices with pods (e.g., Suorin, Kangertech)

These products all consist of a cartridge to hold the e-liquid, a battery, and a heating element.

Are They Addictive?

Yes. Nearly all vapes sold in the U.S. contain nicotine, which is a powerfully addictive chemical. People who vape regularly may consume a higher daily nicotine intake than people who regularly smoke cigarettes.

When people vape, nicotine reaches the brain very quickly. This causes the release of chemicals in the brain that feel pleasurable. But the effects of nicotine are temporary, causing people to want to vape more. This can lead to nicotine dependence where more and more nicotine is needed to get the same effect over time—and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms occur when nicotine levels in the brain drop. Nicotine dependence makes it hard to stop vaping. Most people who vape have nicotine dependence and get cravings and withdrawal symptoms while quitting. Learn more about tobacco addiction in the brain and how medications can help.

How Does Vaping Affect My Health?

Vapes contain chemicals that are known to cause cancer and respiratory problems and can cause certain health problems in the short term. Long-term health effects are not well known since vapes are a relatively new tobacco product.

Lungs, Heart, and Blood

People who vape are more likely to have impaired lung function. They may notice that they’re more often short of breath or they cough and wheeze more. Vaping affects how much oxygen your lungs absorb. Vaping also increases heart rate, constricts blood vessels, and increases blood pressure.

Oral Health

Vaping may increase your risk of oral health problems like tooth loss, gum disease, and oral lesions.

The Brain and Mental Health

The brain continues to develop into your mid-20s. Nicotine can harm brain development, especially in the areas involved with attention, learning, and memory. Vaping may also increase the risk of depression and insomnia and can decrease sleep quality.

Vaping and Smoking

People who vape and also smoke cigarettes, even if only occasionally, are at greater risk for nicotine addiction and may be at greater risk of smoking-related health problems. They may also be exposed to more cancer-causing chemicals and other harmful substances than people who use either product on its own. Learn more about how smoking affects your health and how your health will improve after you stop.

Kids and Pets

Nicotine poisoning occurs when the body is overexposed to nicotine. Children and pets can get nicotine poisoning if they swallow, inhale, or absorb e-liquids through their skin or eyes. So can adults, for that matter.

Vaping and Pregnancy

Vapes contain toxic chemicals that can harm the developing lungs and brain of a fetus. It is important to stop vaping if you’re pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant. Talk to a VA health care provider about quitting—they can provide assistance and direct you to helpful resources.

The Price of Vaping

Vaping can cost you your health. But what about the monetary expenses? Consider what you spend on vaping in a week and multiply that by 52. That’s around how much you’re spending on vaping every year. Chances are, it’s quite a bit of money that you may want to use on something else.

The Takeaway

Whatever you call them, vapes and e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other chemicals—they are addictive and can harm your health. The best thing you can do for your health is to quit using any tobacco products, including vapes. Help is out there, which can dramatically improve your chances of quitting for good.

To get started, sign into My HealtheVet to send a question about quitting to your VA healthcare provider. In the meantime, you can visit our quit vaping page for more info and helpful resources to quit.