Researchers still do not know the safety and long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes and other vaping products. In September 2019, federal and state health authorities began investigating an outbreak of a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarettes and other vaping products. We are closely monitoring the situation and will update our content as soon as more information is available.

Vaping without nicotine may not be as safe as some people believe. Vaping overall, even without nicotine, can have harmful effects.

Vaping, the act of vaporizing a liquid to inhale, is an increasingly popular alternative to cigarette smoking. However, it could damage health by irritating the lungs and throat and introducing toxins into the body.

Some vape product manufacturers claim that vaping is a completely safe alternative to smoking. However, early research into the safety of the practice suggests this is not the case.

This article discusses the current research on the side effects of vaping without nicotine.

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E-liquid refers to the liquid that vape devices or electronic cigarettes vaporize. People may also call it e-juice or vape juice. The side effects a person experiences when vaping depend partly on the type of e-liquid they use.

The specific components of e-liquids vary among brands and products. The base liquid is generally a blend of water, vegetable glycerine, and propylene glycol. Manufacturers then add different flavorings or additives to this mixture to create a particular flavor.

Many of these ingredients have a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) certification — a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designation — for use in food products. However, the vaping process heats and vaporizes these ingredients, and there is little research that suggests food-grade ingredients are safe for vaping.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that vape aerosol can contain dangerous substances aside from nicotine, including:

  • diacetyl, which has links to lung disease
  • heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead
  • other volatile organic compounds

Vaping without nicotine prevents nicotine dependence and other side effects that have an association with nicotine.

However, vaping without nicotine can also cause side effects, including those below.

General toxicity

Many of the chemicals in e-liquids may have toxic effects on the body. A 2020 laboratory study examined the effects of 68 e-liquids on hamster cells and human cells. The researchers found that e-liquids had cytotoxic effects and induced DNA damage and chromosome breakage.

A 2018 study investigated the effects of e-liquid on young vape users.

The study compared three groups of adolescents:

  • those who used e-cigarettes only
  • those who used e-cigarettes in addition to smoking standard cigarettes
  • and those who had never used either

Overall, the study showed that vaping was less damaging than cigarette smoking. However, adolescents in the e-cigarettes-only group had significantly higher quantities of toxic chemicals in their urine compared with those in the control group. These chemicals included:

  • acrylonitrile
  • acrolein
  • propylene oxide
  • acrylamide
  • crotonaldehyde

Other research supports these findings, showing that heating and vaporizing e-liquid chemicals makes them especially toxic to lung cells. As a result, the researchers “caution against the widely held opinion that e-cigarettes are safe.”

Additionally, some vape manufacturers add vitamin E acetate to vaping liquids containing tetrahydrocannabinol — a cannabinoid commonly known as THC — to thicken or dilute them. According to a 2019 study, vitamin E acetate is a sticky substance associated with lung injury.

Lung and throat irritation

In the short term, vaping e-liquid can irritate the lungs and throat. People who vape often refer to this as a “throat hit.” This term describes the tingling, burning sensation a person experiences as they inhale the vapor.

This sensation comes from heating and inhaling the chemicals in the e-liquid. Inhaling propylene glycol and glycerol can irritate the airways and increase the risk of lung infections.


A 2018 study found several common e-liquid flavoring ingredients caused a damaging inflammatory response in lung cell samples. The e-liquids that the study examined did not contain nicotine.

Chronic inflammation of lung tissue can lead to irreversible lung scarring.

Larger scale studies in humans will help establish the long-term risks of e-liquid vapours to lung tissue. However, early evidence suggests they negatively affect these organs.

Read about 10 steps to quit vaping.

A large body of research focuses on the negative effects of cigarettes. This evidence is one reason why vaping became popular in the first place.

The CDC notes that cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States, making it responsible for almost 20% of all fatalities. Therefore, the risks of cigarette smoking are very likely to be more significant than the risks of vaping without nicotine.

However, many manufacturers falsely claim that their vape products are completely safe. On the contrary, a growing body of evidence suggests vaping also carries health risks.

Scientists still need to conduct large-scale studies over many years to understand the long-term risks of vaping fully. Despite this, initial research indicates vaping with or without nicotine is harmful to the body.

Even so, a 2019 study shows that vaping can be a more effective method to stop smoking compared with other nicotine replacement methods.

Vaping can have many side effects, even when the e-liquid does not contain nicotine. Despite being food-grade ingredients, the flavorings and additives in e-liquids can have numerous harmful effects on the body when a person heats and vaporizes them.

Research shows that the chemicals in e-liquid may have particularly harmful effects on lung tissue. Heating these chemicals can also trigger the release of carcinogens.

Research into the safety of vaping is still in its early stages, and large-scale studies are necessary to establish the long-term risks. However, early research shows that vaping, even without nicotine, is not a completely safe alternative to cigarette smoking.