Vaping products may contain substances that could potentially cause cancer in humans.

The vapor from e-cigarettes may contain nicotine and toxic chemicals that may be cancer-causing.

This article looks at the potential link between vaping and cancer, other health issues vaping may cause, and tips for quitting.

A cloud of vape smoke. -1Share on Pinterest
Yana Iskayeva/Getty Images

E-cigarettes produce an aerosol, or vapor, that people inhale. The aerosol may contain nicotine and other substances that may cause cancer and other health problems, such as heart disease and lung disease.

A 2020 review suggests that using e-cigarettes causes significantly less harm to the body than smoking tobacco cigarettes but may still pose serious health risks.

The nicotine in e-cigarettes may lead to DNA changes that promote cancer and tumor formation. E-cigarettes may also contain toxic substances such as formaldehyde and N-nitrosamines, which may be carcinogenic.

Scientific research generally suggests that nicotine does not cause cancer in humans or animals.

According to the authors of a 2021 research article, while studies have found that animals who received nicotine through drinking water and injections developed cancerous tumors, the evidence was not reliable enough to draw any clear conclusions.

In cigarettes, sodium nitrates can mix with nicotine during the tobacco drying and burning process to form nitrosamines — this process is called nitrosation. Many nitrosamines may cause cancer in humans.

In human cells, nicotine and a type of nitrosamine called NNK may cause DNA damage and increase the risk of cell mutations and tumor formation.

The authors suggest that in human cells, nicotine may convert to nitrosamines and potentially have cancer-causing effects.

In a 2018 study, researchers found that e-cigarette aerosol resulted in the same form of DNA damage in lung, heart, and bladder tissue in mice. These results suggest that e-cigarettes may lead to cancer in mice, but there is insufficient evidence to know whether this may occur in humans.

The researchers suggest that due to nitrosamines, e-cigarettes may be a potential carcinogen for humans.

Nicotine from e-cigarettes may also affect the nervous system by increasing levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which may promote cancer formation and tumor progression.

E-cigarettes may contain harmful chemicals. According to the American Cancer Society, the aerosol from e-cigarettes may have several negative health effects:

  • Nicotine may be harmful to brain development in teenagers.
  • Nicotine use during pregnancy may cause low birth weight and premature birth.
  • Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin may irritate the lungs and airways when present in high concentrations.
  • Some e-cigarettes may contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat; cause nausea and headaches; and damage the liver, kidneys, and nervous system.
  • Certain flavorings in e-cigarettes may contain diacetyl, which may cause bronchiolitis obliterans, a severe lung disease.
  • If e-liquid in vapes does not heat correctly, it may form formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently regulate all the chemicals that may be in e-cigarettes, so it can be difficult to know whether e-cigarettes contain harmful substances.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also issued warnings that e-cigarettes may cause severe lung disease.

The CDC has reported e-cigarette- or vaping-use-associated lung injury due to the use of e-cigarettes containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or vitamin E acetate.

If people want to quit vaping, the following tips may help:

  • Write down a list of all the positive reasons for quitting vaping, such as improving health, saving money, and improving quality of life.
  • Quit using any tobacco products alongside quitting vaping.
  • Choose a date to quit and plan in advance for it.
  • Use support tools and resources such as making a quitting plan.
  • Understand situations and emotions that may trigger the urge to vape, and avoid or plan for these triggers.
  • Use positive distractions, such as exercise or talking with a supportive friend, to cope with cravings and withdrawal.
  • Ask people for specific support.
  • Talk with a healthcare professional for advice on quitting.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about vaping and cancer.

Which is worse, vaping or smoking?

The authors of a 2023 study found that people who switched from smoking tobacco to using e-cigarettes had lower levels of biomarkers that indicate harm than people who smoked tobacco or smoked tobacco and used e-cigarettes.

The research suggests that although e-cigarettes are not risk-free, they are less harmful than smoking tobacco products.

What does vaping do to your body?

Vaping may have the following effects on the body:

  • Lungs: Certain flavorings, such as diacetyl, may cause serious lung disease.
  • Kidneys and liver: VOCs may damage the kidneys and liver.
  • Brain: In addition to being an addictive substance, nicotine may affect brain development in teenagers.
  • Respiratory tract: Substances in vaping products, such as propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and VOCs, may irritate the airways.
  • Nervous system: VOCs may damage the nervous system, and nicotine may also have negative effects on the nervous system.
  • Heart: Long-term use of vaping products may damage blood vessel function and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

What are the long-term effects of vaping?

According to the National Institutes of Health, recent studies in both humans and animals suggest that long-term vaping may have a significant negative effect on blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, due to the relatively recent introduction of vaping products, there is still not enough research to fully understand the long-term effects of vaping.

Some researchers have suggested that carcinogenic products, such as tobacco, may take decades to cause cancer in humans and that frequent use of e-cigarettes may cause cumulative damage to cells.

E-cigarettes may have serious health risks. Nicotine and other chemicals in vaping products may be toxic to the body and could potentially cause cancer.

However, there is currently not enough evidence to know whether vaping causes cancer or to determine its long-term effects on the body.