Escape the Vape: Help Stop the E-Cigarette Epidemic Among Adolescents

How E-cigarettes Work

photo of various types

Electronic cigarettes simulate smoking. They are battery-operated devices used to inhale an aerosol, which usually includes nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. E-cigarettes may look like tobacco cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Or they may resemble common objects like a large pen or a digital USB memory stick. The e-cigarette cartridge, or “pod,” holds a liquid solution that contains flavoring chemicals that are vaporized when puffing activates an electronic heating element. The act of using an e-cigarette is called “vaping” because the aerosol vapor is inhaled into the lungs.


E-cigarettes can blow up

E-cigarettes can unexpectedly explode, causing burns and facial injuries such as broken bones and blown out teeth. Between 2009 and 2016, 195 explosions and fires involving electronic cigarettes were documented, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (2017). The incidents resulted in 133 acute injuries, including 38 severe enough to require hospitalization.

Vapor Trails

E-cigarette vapor is not harmless water vapor. The vapor may not contain tar like traditional cigarette smoke, but it still contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene, that are carcinogenic. Youth who vape need to be warned of the health risks from exposure to cancer-causing compounds, the health dangers of nicotine, and the risk of future addiction to tobacco and other harmful substances.

According to the CDC, potentially harmful ingredients of e-cigarette vapor include:

  • Nicotine
  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Flavoring chemicals such as the solvents propylene glycol and glycerol, and diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOC) that are linked to cancer
  • Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead
photo of vape cloud

Second Time Around

Secondhand vapor from e-cigarettes can harm those who are involuntarily exposed, including unborn babies and children, and can pollute indoor air. In addition, third-hand vapor clings to surfaces and dust, and can become a pollutant.

Taste Test

Adolescents may not know that most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. They are drawn to e-cigs by the variety of appealing flavors such as mango, cheesecake, crème brulee, mint, and blueberry. Manufacturers, who have heavily marketed their products to youth, are not required to report the ingredients of e-cigarettes, so users don’t know exactly what’s in them. Nearly two-thirds of teens believe their e-cigarettes contain only flavoring. “I believe certain flavors are one of the principal drivers of the youth appeal of these products,” stated former FDA Commissioner Gottlieb (2018).

vape usage chart
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018.

Fast Fact

More than 460 brands of e-cigarettes are on the online market, and more than 7,700 flavors are available.