Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol produced by a vaping product, such as an electronic cigarette. Vaping doesn’t require burning like cigarette smoking. The device heats a liquid into a vapour, which then turns into aerosol. This vapour is often flavoured and can contain nicotine.
Vaping devices are usually battery-powered. They may come with removable parts. Vaping products have many names, including:
- vape pens
- tank systems
- electronic cigarettes / e-cigarettes
- electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)
They may also be known by various brand names.
Most vaping devices consist of a:
- heating element
- chamber, such as a tank or reservoir to contain a liquid solution
Most vaping devices use electrical power from a battery to heat a liquid solution. The heat causes the solution to become vaporized. The vapour then condenses into an aerosol, which is breathed in by the user through the mouthpiece.
Vaping devices are available in many shapes and sizes. Some are small and look like USB drives or pens, while others are much larger.
There are two kinds of vaping devices:
- open, which means they can be refilled
- closed, which means either the whole product, or the part that holds the vaping substances, can’t be refilled
Vaping liquids and substances
Most vaping substances available for sale:
- are flavoured
- contain nicotine
- are liquids, but some are offered as:
In vaping liquids, nicotine and/or flavouring compounds are dissolved in a liquid mixture. This mixture is typically propylene glycol and/or glycerol (vegetable glycerin).
In the vaping substances that contain nicotine, the level of nicotine can vary widely. Some mixtures have:
- very low levels of nicotine
- more nicotine than in a typical tobacco cigarette
Flavouring compounds consist of chemicals and blends of chemicals used to make different flavours.
Contents of vaping vapour
Vaping products produce an aerosol that may contain dozens of chemicals. The ingredients typically found in vaping liquids are also found in the aerosol. They include:
- propylene glycol
- nicotine (possibly)
Health risks of vaping with nicotine
Nicotine is not known to cause cancer. It is approved for use in nicotine replacement therapies, such as the patch or nicotine gum. However, there are risks linked to nicotine.
Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Vaping with nicotine could:
- lead to dependence
- cause nicotine addiction among users who would not have started using nicotine otherwise (e.g. smoking)
Children and youth are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of nicotine, including addiction. They may become dependent on nicotine with lower levels of exposure than adults.
- can affect memory and concentration
- is known to alter teen brain development
Exposure to nicotine during adolescence may cause
- reduced impulse control
- cognitive and behavioural problems
Vaping may predispose youth to addiction to nicotine and possibly other drugs.
Vaping liquid containing nicotine is poisonous, particularly to young children.
Even in small amounts, vaping liquid containing nicotine can be very harmful if:
- absorbed through the skin
There have been fatalities as well as non-fatal nicotine poisoning caused by children swallowing vaping liquid.
When buying a container of vaping liquid with nicotine, look for one that has a child-resistant closure and a ‘poison’ hazard symbol. The closure and symbol are required by law. They help protect children in three ways:
- The closure makes it harder for a child to gain access to the liquid in the container.
- The poison hazard symbol reminds parents and caregivers to keep the product out of sight and reach of children.
- Children are taught that the hazard symbol means Danger! Do not touch.
Tips to handle vaping liquids safely
- Store out of sight and reach of young children and pets.
- Store vaping liquid in a cool, dry place where it cannot be confused for food, drinks, or medicine.
- Close the container securely after each use.
- Wash your hands immediately after handling vaping liquid.
- If someone has swallowed vaping liquids, seek emergency medical attention or call 9-1-1.
- Read more about household chemical safely.
Health risks of other chemicals in vaping
There are health risks linked to other chemicals found in vaping products.
Vaping substances have fewer and different chemicals than in tobacco products.
Vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol are the main liquids in vaping products. These are considered safe for use in many consumer products such as cosmetics and sweeteners. However, the long-term safety of inhaling the substances in vaping products is unknown and continues to be assessed.
Chemicals used for flavour in vaping products are used by food manufacturers to add flavour to their products. While safe to eat, these ingredients have not been tested to see if they are safe to breathe in.
There is no burning during vaping but the vaping process needs the liquid to be heated. This can create new chemicals, such as formaldehydes. Some contaminants (e.g. nickel, tin, aluminum) might also get into the vaping products and then into the vapour.
The amount of substances (including nicotine) a person can be exposed to by vaping is affected by the:
- battery power
- type of vaping device
- settings on the device
- combination of internal components
- type of vaping liquid and amount of nicotine
- user behaviour patterns
- user’s experience with vaping
Using vaping products with higher power and temperature settings can produce more chemicals.
Some of these chemicals and contaminants are linked to negative health effects. However, the amount of chemicals and contaminants in vapour is normally at much lower levels than in cigarette smoke.
We are still learning more about how vaping affects health. The long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown. However, there is enough evidence to justify efforts to prevent the use of vaping products by youth and non-smokers.
There is a concern that people who vape might get ‘popcorn lung’ from being exposed to diacetyl. Diacetyl is a flavouring chemical used to give butter-like and other flavours to food products, as well as vaping products. However, there have been no reports of popcorn lung occurring due to vaping.
This disease is named popcorn lung because workers in popcorn plants developed it after inhaling heated flavours such as diacetyl.
Popcorn lung, or popcorn worker’s lung, is:
- a chronic disease that damages the small airways in the lung
- the common term for the medical condition known as bronchiolitis obliterans
While once common in vaping products, steps have been taken to reduce its use.
Second-hand vapour is not harmless but it does contain far fewer chemicals than second-hand smoke. Bystanders can be exposed to vapour that is exhaled by users. The health effects from exposure to second-hand vapour are still unknown. However, the risks are expected to be much lower compared to smoke from a tobacco product.
We recommend that users be cautious around non-users and youth.
There is some evidence that e-cigarette use increases the level of nicotine and other chemicals on indoor surfaces.
Vaping devices are regulated under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. Although uncommon, another risk to consider involves defective batteries or defective vaping products that have caused fires and explosions.
If you notice a safety problem with a vaping device or vaping liquid, you can report the problem:
- to the manufacturer or retailer
- using our online consumer product safety reporting page
For more information on product safety requirements and how to protect yourself, read about vaping product safety and regulation.
Batteries and vaping devices
Lithium-ion batteries and vaping devices can pose a hazard if they are not properly:
Tips to prevent injuries from batteries and vaping devices
- Do not modify your device.
- Buy batteries that are compatible with your device.
- Buy batteries from a trusted source.
- Do not carry lithium-ion batteries in your pocket or anywhere they can come into contact with loose coins, keys or other metal objects. Lithium-ion batteries can overheat, catch fire or even explode when in contact with metal objects. Incidents have caused serious injuries.
- Keep spare batteries in a protective case.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions for storing and recharging your device.
- Do not exceed the recommended charging time.
- Read more about battery safety.
Vaping and pregnancy
While vaping products contain fewer harmful chemicals than cigarettes, they may still contain nicotine. Talk to your health care provider about your options of quitting nicotine during pregnancy.