Vaping and Respiratory Health Risks

E-cigarette emissions are filled with toxic chemicals — from compounds in weed killer to cancer-causing agents — that harm the respiratory system. These chemicals may lead to breathing issues such as popcorn lung, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and even lung cancer. As the damage vaping may cause becomes clearer, lawsuits related to respiratory illnesses are increasing.

Respiratory Health Risks of Vaping

E-cigarettes are a relatively new product that has been sold in the U.S. for over a decade. As such, they have not yet been systemically reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine their impact on lung health.

While much remains to be determined about the lasting health consequences of these products, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s 2018 consensus study report presented troubling evidence about the impact of e-cigarettes on the lungs.

Quick Facts

  • Chemicals found in vaping liquids and aerosols include diacetyl, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles.
  • According to the Academies’ report, evidence shows that children who use e-cigarettes are at increased risk for coughing, wheezing, and worsening asthma.
  • E-cigarettes contain acrolein, a chemical used to kill weeds. Its potential health risks include severe lung injury, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and lung cancer.
  • Bronchiolitis obliterans (popcorn lung) is caused by inhaling diacetyl, a flavoring chemical commonly found in vape e-liquids.
  • In August 2019, the first death caused by a vaping-related lung illness is reported.

What Causes Respiratory Health Risks?

Respiratory health risks are caused by toxic chemicals in vape aerosols — some of the same chemicals found in car exhaust and weed killer.

One August 2019 study published in the journal Radiology found that inhaling vape chemicals stiffens and tightens blood vessels, which may lead to lung and heart issues.

The U.S. Surgeon General and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine have both warned about the risks posed by the “chemical cocktail” in e-cigarette emissions.

What Toxic Chemicals Are in Vapes?

The main toxic chemicals found in vapes are diacetyl, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles.

These chemicals all pose risks to the respiratory system:

  • Volatile Organic Compounds: According to the American Lung Association, breathing in volatile organic compounds can irritate the nose and throat and cause breathing difficulty. Some compounds may also cause cancer.
  • Heavy Metals: A 2018 Johns Hopkins study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has linked prolonged inhalation of some of the metals in vaping devices to lung damage and an increased risk for lung cancer.
  • Ultrafine Particles: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to ultrafine particles may aggravate asthma, decrease lung function, irritate the airways, and increase coughing or breathing issues.
  • Diacetyl: Diacetyl can be harmful to the lungs because of its link with bronchiolitis obliterans, or popcorn lung. This incurable disease causes inflammation of lung tissue, which results in scarring that makes breathing difficult.

Respiratory Health Risks from Diacetyl

Diacetyl is a flavoring compound used to give foods a buttery flavor. Although it is considered safe to eat by the FDA, it has been directly linked to the lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans or “popcorn lung” when inhaled for long periods.

First found in popcorn factory workers, popcorn lung can cause scarring of the tissue and small airways of the lungs.

Symptoms of popcorn lung include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing

The UK has banned the use of diacetyl in vape e-liquids, but it remains a popular ingredient in U.S. e-liquids.

Types of Respiratory Health Risks

Vaping may cause various respiratory problems, including asthma, bronchitis, and other diseases.

These issues may result directly from vaping or from secondhand exposure to the chemicals in vape emissions.

Vaping and Asthma

Several findings suggest that vaping can worsen asthma symptoms and that long-term users may be at risk for developing asthma.

For example, a 2016 study of Korean high school students and a 2017 U.S. study found that vaping may aggravate asthma or even lead to asthma-like symptoms in both children and adults.

This is especially concerning, given that experts from the Minnesota Department of Health recently found that kids with asthma are more likely to vape than the general population. This may be because asthma and smoking are both more common in low-income households. The misconception that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking may also be a factor.

The research review Electronic Cigarettes: Their Constituents and Potential Links to Asthma found several potential links between vaping and asthma, including flavoring agents, diacetyl, and propylene and vegetable glycerin.

Vaping and Bronchitis

Cigarette smoking is the most common known cause of chronic bronchitis — however, new research suggests that vaping may also lead to the condition or to other types of COPD.

Multiple studies suggest that vaping may cause bronchitis:

  • One study presented at the American Thoracic Society meeting in May 2018 found that vapers were twice as likely to have COPD as those who did not vape.
  • Another study published in the Annual Review of Public Health found that chemicals in e-cigarettes depress immune function in the lungs and are associated with chronic bronchitis in children.
  • Recent animal and human studies headed by health science researchers Viktorija Reinikovaite and Itsaso Garcia-Arcos have shown that exposure to e-cigarettes changes lung air sacs in a way that resembles COPD.

Other Respiratory Health Risks

The potential respiratory health risks of vaping continue to expand as new studies and reports on illnesses are made.

Other respiratory vape health risks include:

  • Aldehydes: These chemicals can cause lung and heart disease, according to findings in the study Aldehyde Detection in Electronic Cigarette Aerosols.
  • Acrolein: This particular aldehyde, used to kill weeds, can cause severe lung injury and COPD and may cause asthma and lung cancer, according to a study produced by the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health.

In addition, since June 2019, the CDC  reported over 150 cases of a mysterious lung illness that appears to be linked to vaping. Symptoms varied but included severe pneumonia and coughing up blood.

A Nashville doctor, as reported by NBC News, even said, “one patient came in with full respiratory collapse and essentially had to be on life support.”

Vaping Respiratory Lawsuits

Currently, most vaping lawsuits involve teen nicotine addiction or battery explosions.

However, some existing vaping lawsuits do involve respiratory issues:

  • One 19-year-old recently filed a lawsuit against JUUL Labs, Inc. for allegedly racketeering and marketing their products to teens. He claimed to suffer from “exasperated asthma” after he began vaping at 16.
  • One county in Chicago is suing JUUL for targeting minors in its marketing. The Illinois state attorney claims that the company is “creating a public health crisis.”

As more research on the link between respiratory issues and e-cigarette aerosols is conducted, such lawsuits may become more common.

Legal Help for Vaping Respiratory Problems

Vaping is harmful to the respiratory system — countless studies and numerous hospitalizations have made that clear.

Our team is here to answer all of your questions about vaping-related personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.

Request a free case review now.

Author:Vape Danger Editorial Team
Vape Danger Editorial Team

Vape Danger helps people understand the dangers of vape and e-cigarette products. Vaping devices are marketed as a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes. However, vape pens and other devices may cause serious injuries and illnesses. The Vape Danger editorial team provides the latest studies and data to help readers make informed health and legal choices.

Last modified: August 26, 2019

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