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What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes, also known as vapes, e-cigs, mods, tanks, or vape pens, are battery-powered devices that mimic smoking. They come in many different shapes and sizes such as long tube-shaped devices, small boxes with a mouthpiece or flat sticks similar to USB memory key. There are two kinds of vaping devices:

  • Open systems: which means they can be refilled
  • Closed Systems: which means the cartridges are sealed and e-juice can’t be refilled

Components of a Vaping Device

E-juice, which is the liquid used in vapes, is made up of many different chemicals but it often contains 3 main substances: a carrier solvent, flavourings and possibly nicotine. In e-juice containing nicotine, the level can vary widely (from no nicotine to more nicotine that a typical commercial cigarette). Once the e-juice is heated, it turns into an aerosol, which is breathed into the lungs, absorbed into the bloodstream, and then exhaled. 

Contents of a Vaping Liquid

Health Risks

E-cigarettes contain many chemicals, some of which may be harmful. Nicotine, which is the chemical that makes commercial tobacco products so addictive, can lead to physical and psychological dependence.  The heating process involved in vaping causes many chemical reactions, which creates toxic and cancer-causing products (such as formaldehyde and acrolein) to be present in the aerosol. These toxic chemicals can be up to 125 times higher than the levels found in pre-heated e-juice, which is as high as some commercial cigarettes.

The short-term side effects of using vaping devices can include headaches, sore throat, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest pain.

The long-term effects of inhaling vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol are unknown and continue to be studied.

Everyone using vaping devices should monitor themselves for symptoms of pulmonary illness and seek prompt medical attention if they have concerns. Symptoms include:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain

How to reduce your risk:

If you are going to use vapes, avoid using any vaping products from illegal or unregulated sources. These products do not go through the proper testing to meet quality/safety standards.

Do not modify your device or add any substances to these products that were not intended by the manufacturer.

Vaping products should be avoided by certain populations, such as:

  • Non-smokers: Adults who do not currently use commercial tobacco products should not start using e-cigarettes or vaping products.
  • Children and youth: The brain is not fully mature until age 25, therefore children and youth are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of nicotine. Nicotine is known to be very addictive and can negatively affect brain development, memory, and concentration.
  • Pregnant women: Vaping while pregnant exposes the baby to nicotine and other harmful chemical, which can damage their developing organs, including the brain and lungs.

E-cigarettes and quitting smoking

At this time, e-cigarettes have not been scientifically proven to help people quit smoking.

Options to quit smoking that are research-based and proven safe and effective include, self-help guides, individual or group counselling, prescription medications, and nicotine replacement therapies (patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler and spray). If you are an adult who is currently vaping to quit smoking, do not go back to using cigarettes and do not use both cigarettes and e-cigarettes at the same time.

Vaping among youth increases cigarette use

Public use of e-cigarettes increases social exposure to smoking, which has been linked to increased use among youth. There is growing evidence that youth who vape go on to smoke cigarettes. Vaping also provide visual cues to smoke, which makes it more difficult for those trying to stay smoke-free and increases the chance of relapse.

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**Images obtained from: Health Canada. Infographic: Vaping – The Mechanics Available: