Health Risks of E-cigarettes

E-cigarettes are still fairly new, and more research is needed over a longer period of time to know what the long-term effects may be.

So far, research has found that using e-cigarette products is likely to be significantly less harmful than smoking regular cigarettes. This is mostly because e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco, a process that produces an estimated 7,000 chemicals, including at least 70 chemicals that cause cancer. But e-cigarettes do contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco and is very addictive.

While the possible long-term health effects of e-cigarettes aren’t yet clear, there have been recent reports of serious lung disease in some people using e-cigarettes or other vaping devices. Symptoms have included:

  • Cough, trouble breathing, or chest pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Fatigue, fever, or weight loss

Some cases have been severe enough to require hospitalization, and several people have died from their illness. However, it's not yet clear exactly how widespread these cases are, or if they all have the same cause. There are a huge number of different vaping devices on the market, and an even larger number of different chemicals (in the form of e-juice) that can be used in them, including ones that users sometimes add themselves. At this time, the main thing these cases have in common is that the people used e-cigarettes or other vaping devices. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and several state health departments are looking into these cases to try to figure out what else they might have in common. For the latest information on this topic, see this notice from the CDC.

You can learn about answers to other questions about e-cigarettes in What Do We Know About E-cigarettes?

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Outbreak of Lung Illness Associated with Using E-cigarette Products. September 6, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html on September 9, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and Office on Smoking and Health. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2010. Publications and Reports of the Surgeon General. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US). Accessed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53017/
on November 15, 2018.

Drope J, Cahn Z, Kennedy R, Liber AC, Stoklosa M, Henson R, Douglas CE, Drope J. Key Issues Surrounding the Health Impacts of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) and Other Sources of Nicotine. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2017;87(6):449-471. Accessed at https://doi.org/10.3322/caac.21413 on November 15, 2018.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes. Eaton DL, Kwan LY, Stratton K, eds. 2018. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Accessed at https://doi.org/10.17226/24952 on November 15, 2018. 

Last Medical Review: November 15, 2018 Last Revised: September 9, 2019

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