The popularity of electronic cigarettes, known as vapes, has skyrocketed. Even if you don’t smoke, secondhand vape aerosol can harm you and those you care about. The toxins in the aerosol can damage the respiratory systems of children and adults, especially those with asthma. They can also damage cilia in the lungs.
A toxic substance is any chemical that can cause harm when ingested or absorbed by the body. Toxic chemicals are found in many dairy products, including household cleaners, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, gasoline, alcohol, pesticides, fuel oil, and cosmetics. Toxic chemicals, including hazardous waste sites, can also be in our environment. The chemicals in e-cigarette aerosol can affect the respiratory health of exposed bystanders. A 2019 study showed that secondhand vape exposure increased the risk of bronchitic symptoms and asthma attacks in young adults. This may be because the toxins found in e-cigarettes can form acrolein, known to irritate the lungs, and benzene, which can cause lung injury.
Another problem is that the residue from e-cigarettes can stay on clothes and surfaces, resulting in thirdhand exposure. In addition, the metals that are used to heat the liquid inside e-cigarettes can become part of the aerosol and be inhaled. These include lead, nickel, and tin, which can hurt the lungs. These chemicals are natural toxins and must be kept at low levels to protect human and animal health. This can lead to shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.
Nicotine from e-cigarettes or vape devices (which look like thumb drives, pens, and styluses with holes on both ends) is absorbed through the lungs and enters the bloodstream. It triggers chemical reactions that create temporary feelings of pleasure, concentration, and alertness but also increases heart rate and blood pressure. There’s yet to be a lot of research about secondhand vaping, so we don’t know the long-term effects. However, we know that vaping aerosol can contain various harmful chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene. It’s also possible to inhale pollutants the device releases, such as volatile aldehydes or oxidant metals. Residue from vapor that settles on surfaces can remain in the air for minutes to months and be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. Young children, in particular, can be vulnerable to thirdhand exposure. They crawl, explore with their hands, and put things in their mouths, which can result in exposure through the nose, throat, or
The liquid in e-cigarette tanks contains many chemicals known to be harmful. Some of these chemicals can become aerosolized and inhaled by nonsmokers exposed to secondhand vaping. These chemicals can be absorbed through the mouth and throat and reach deeper into the lungs and respiratory tract. They can cause lung damage and irritation, leading to diseases like bronchiolitis or popcorn lung. Other ingredients in e-cigarettes can also produce toxic chemicals. For example, acrolein is a chemical made when heated by glycerin, which can irritate the lungs. Diacetyl is a flavoring linked to popcorn lung and can trigger asthma symptoms in some people. The metals used to heat the e-cigarettes, such as nickel, tin, and lead, can also release toxins into the air. While the vapor produced by e-cigarettes can linger in the air, it does not travel like tobacco smoke. This means bystanders who are not smokers or vapers will be exposed to only a short burst of toxicants. However, the chemicals may stay on clothes and surfaces, resulting in possible thirdhand exposure.
Vape aerosol isn’t tobacco smoke, and fewer studies about its short-term health effects exist. But the chemicals it contains do pose some risks. Benzene is a colorless, sweet-smelling organic compound that can irritate the lungs. It’s also found in some car exhausts and some household cleaning products. It’s an ingredient in some e-liquid flavors and is associated with popcorn lung (a condition similar to bronchiolitis). Other chemicals, including diacetyl and formaldehyde, are added for flavor and to make the vapor swell when heated. These chemicals are linked to several diseases, including respiratory illness and heart disease. The good news is that when someone stops vaping, what isn’t inhaled falls to the ground and is quickly removed from the air. Even so, evidence of adverse health effects should be a compelling reason to limit home exposure and restrict the use of vaping devices where people live or work. Another risk is allergic reactions in children. Some flavors contain nuts, which may cause a reaction in kids with food allergies. Some of the metals used in the vaping device, such as nickel, tin, and lead, can also trigger allergies.
Vapers can use formaldehyde to create a solution that dries quickly in the vaporizing chamber. This process can leave behind residue that can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas with a strong, pungent odor that irritates the nose, mouth, and throat mucous membranes. It is also a suspected human carcinogen. It can cause nose cancer and leukemia in people exposed to it over long periods. It can also cause eye irritation. If ingested, it can damage the stomach and liver. It can be poisonous if swallowed or inhaled in large quantities and is fatal unless given emergency oxygen. It is also a known irritant for the skin and can cause contact dermatitis in some people. Studies that measure airborne chemical levels in and around vape shops have shown that the toxicants, including nicotine and flavoring chemicals, stay in the indoor air for an extended period. This is why vapers need to make their homes and offices smoke-free and respect the concerns of family members and friends who don’t want to be exposed to secondhand vape vapor.