Chemicals in Vape

In recent years, scientists have found various chemicals and substances in vape products that may be dangerous to human health. These include flavoring chemicals like diacetyl, heavy metal particles, compounds like formaldehyde, and ultrafine particles. Researchers are currently investigating the long-term health effects of vaping.

Toxic Chemicals in Vape Devices

Vaping is often marketed as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. However, vape products contain a number of dangerous chemicals and other harmful substances.

Potentially harmful substances found in vape devices include: 

  • Diacetyl: Inhaling diacetyl has been linked to irreversible lung damage in factory workers, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  • Heavy metals: Exposure to heavy metals may cause flu-like symptoms, lung damage, and even cancer in some cases.
  • Ultrafine particles: If inhaled, ultrafine particles may damage the respiratory and cardiovascular (heart) system and other parts of the body.
  • Volatile organic compounds: These compounds may put people at risk for many health problems, such as cancer and heart damage.

Quick Facts About Vape Chemicals

  • Chemicals found in vape products may lead to lung disease, heart problems, and other serious health risks.
  • Toxic chemicals may be present in e-liquids (“vape juice”) or could be created as the liquid is turned into a gas.
  • Some of the toxic chemicals found in vape products, such as diacetyl, are used even though the health dangers are well-known.
  • The latest chemical of concern in regard to vaping-related lung injuries is vitamin E acetate, which was found in the lung fluid of each of the 29 patients recently sampled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Types of Toxic Chemicals in Vape

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, numerous chemicals have been found in vape products. The types of chemicals vary greatly, but they all have one trait in common: They can put human health at risk.

The most notable chemicals found in vape products today include:

Diacetyl

Diacetyl is a chemical used to give food enhanced flavors. It is often used to make microwavable popcorn taste more buttery. Today, diacetyl is also a staple ingredient of flavored vape products.

According to a 2015 study by Harvard University researchers, diacetyl was present in over 75% of flavored vape products reviewed.

Diacetyl is not dangerous to humans if it is eaten or swallowed. However, it may cause irreversible lung damage if it is inhaled. For this reason, scientists are concerned about the use of diacetyl in vape products, as flavored vapes are meant to be inhaled.

Diacetyl and Popcorn Lung

Diacetyl inhalation has been linked to popcorn lung, a progressive lung disease. With this condition, microscopic air passages in the lungs become inflamed, causing long-term scarring and difficulty breathing.

Popcorn lung got its name when, in 1999, a Missouri microwavable popcorn factory worker was found to have disabling lung damage. The same diacetyl that gave the microwavable popcorn its buttery flavor also gave an incurable disease to several employees of the Missouri factory when they inhaled the chemical.

Numerous studies published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information conclude that diacetyl is linked to popcorn lung. Today, more research is being conducted on diacetyl’s role in vaping-related illnesses.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds are created when different chemicals in vape products change and combine.

A 2018 study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research showed that these compounds are created when the chemicals used to flavor vape products interact with glycerol and polypropylene glycol (solvent liquids).

Volatile organic compounds in vape products can include: 

  • Acetaldehyde: Inhaling acetaldehyde can harm the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract, and may cause cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Acetone: According to the CDC, acetone can irritate the nose, eyes, and throat.
  • Formaldehyde: The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that formaldehyde can cause cancer in high doses.

According to the Surgeon General, when vape products reach temperatures above 300°F, formaldehyde — a cancer-causing carcinogen — forms and is breathed in when vaping.

Other volatile compounds found in vape products include: 

  • Acrolein
  • Butanol
  • Crotonaldehyde
  • Glyoxal
  • Methylglyoxal
  • Propanol

Heavy Metals

Particles of various heavy metals have been found in the vapors of many e-cigarettes and vape products.

Notable heavy metals found in vape products include: 

  • Arsenic: Arsenic was found in over 10% of vape dispensers sampled in a February 2018 study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Graz. Arsenic may cause muscle cramping, vomiting, skin numbness, skin cancer, and death.
  • Lead: Lead is poisonous to humans. Symptoms of lead poisoning include fatigue, headaches, constipation, and vomiting. In severe cases, lead poisoning can also cause seizures and permanent damage to the brain and kidneys.
  • Nickel: According to the CDC, workers who have inhaled nickel dust on worksites experienced harm to their lungs and nasal passages. Some developed cancer in the nose and lungs as well.
  • Tin: High doses of tin-based compounds may lead to respiratory, neurological, and gastrointestinal harm or death.

These heavy metals are only found in trace amounts in most cases. However, because vaping can be addictive, scientists are concerned with how these heavy metals may affect human health over time.

Ultrafine Particles

Ultrafine particles are tiny clusters of matter found in the surrounding air, such as water droplets, dirt, and toxic chemicals emitted from vape products. Ultrafine particles are created as the vape device heats up.

If inhaled, ultrafine particles can enter the lungs and even the bloodstream. From there, these particles can harm the lungs and heart.

According to the EPA, ultrafine particles can cause: 

  • Coughing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Lung damage
  • Non-deadly heart attacks
  • Worsening asthma
  • Death

Toxic Chemicals and Respiratory Problems

When a cloud of vape is inhaled, toxic chemicals enter directly into the lungs. In turn, doctors and scientists are especially concerned about lung and breathing problems among those who vape.

Respiratory illnesses being investigated include: 

  • Asthma: Studies show that vaping can worsen existing asthma symptoms.
  • Bronchitis: Research findings from the University of Kansas suggest that vaping may lead to bronchitis. Nickel, one of the toxic heavy metals found in vape products, has been known to cause bronchitis.
  • Lung Cancer: At this time, there have not been reported cases of lung cancer from vaping. However, some toxic chemicals, such as acrolein and arsenic, have been linked to lung cancer in other instances. The American Lung Association is very concerned with the evolving evidence about the impact of vaping on the lungs. According to the FDA, initial studies have shown changes to tissues in the airways that can induce or be a precursor to cancer.

Vape Toxic Chemical Lawsuits

If you believe a vape product has caused you harm, you may have medical and legal options available. Legal action may help you receive financial compensation for your injuries.

To learn more, start your free case review today.

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: November 14, 2019

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