Secondhand vape exposure can be harmful. This is because people can inhale the fine particles in vape aerosol, which may have health risks.

Vape aerosol contains nicotine and toxic substances, which people can inhale through secondhand exposure.

This article looks at the risks of secondhand vape exposure, other risks of vaping, and tips for quitting.

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According to the American Cancer Society, secondhand vape exposure may be harmful because people may breathe in substances such as nicotine and toxic chemicals within the vapor.

Secondhand vape aerosol may contain harmful chemicals such as:

  • nicotine
  • ultrafine particles that can enter the lungs
  • diacetyl, a flavoring that may cause serious lung disease
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene
  • heavy metals such as nickel, lead, and tin

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), research suggests that the use of e-cigarettes may link to respiratory and cardiovascular health issues due to the substances in vape aerosol.

Secondhand vape exposure may cause people to inhale ultrafine particles, which may enter the lungs and bloodstream and cause health issues.

A 2022 study found a link between secondhand vape exposure and an increased risk of shortness of breath and bronchitic symptoms in young adults.

E-cigarettes contain ultrafine particles that can reach the distal airways and the alveoli, which are small air sacs in the lungs.

The vapor, or aerosol, from e-cigarettes may contain substances that are harmful to the lungs, including volatile aldehydes and oxidant metals.

E-cigarette aerosol may also contain other harmful substances, such as:

  • nicotine
  • propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, which may increase irritation of the airways and lungs
  • VOCs, which may cause headaches; nausea; irritation of the throat, nose, and eyes; and damage to the nervous system, liver, and kidneys
  • flavorings, such as diacetyl, which may cause bronchiolitis obliterans, a severe lung disease
  • formaldehyde, which may cause cancer

Secondhand exposure to nicotine from vaping may also worsen asthma. A 2019 study found that secondhand exposure to aerosol from electronic nicotine delivery systems increased the risk of asthma symptoms and asthma attacks in young people.

According to the American Lung Association, vaping products may have several harmful effects on health:

  • Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, two of the main ingredients in e-cigarettes, may be toxic to cells.
  • E-cigarettes may form chemicals such as acetaldehyde, acrolein, and formaldehyde, which can lead to lung and cardiovascular disease.
  • E-cigarettes may contain acrolein, a weed killer, which may cause asthma, lung injury, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.

Nicotine may also negatively affect brain development in adolescents and may cause low birth weight and premature birth if used during pregnancy.

The AHA provides the following tips for people who want to quit vaping:

  • Choose a day within the next week to stop using vaping products and tobacco products.
  • Gradually decrease the amount of vaping in the lead-up to the quit day.
  • Keep a reminder of the reasons for quitting, such as improving health.
  • Choose an option for quitting that feels best, such as quitting in 1 day, gradually reducing vaping over several days, or reducing the number of puffs every few days.
  • Talk with a healthcare professional or quitting support service for help and advice on quitting successfully.
  • Plan healthy snacks to support quitting, such as nuts, fruit, vegetables, and sugar-free chewing gum.
  • Plan positive distractions for any urges to vape, such as taking a walk, trying a new hobby, or talking with supportive friends.
  • Get rid of all vaping products and quit on the chosen day.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about secondhand vape exposure.

How long does secondhand vape stay in the air?

According to the American Thoracic Society, harmful chemicals from vaping may stay in the air long after people stop vaping.

According to a 2021 study, exhaled vape particles can persist in the air and mix with the environment indoors. They can also increase concentrations more than 3.6 meters away from the original vaping source.

In a 2020 study, researchers looked at levels of vape chemicals in the air in vape shops during open and closed hours. Concentrations of nicotine, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde were 3–4 times higher when the shops were open than when they were closed.

Nicotine may also stay on clothes and surfaces, resulting in possible thirdhand vape exposure.

Is vaping inside bad for the house?

According to a 2021 study, using vaping products inside the house may cause secondhand exposure to harmful vape aerosols.

The researchers found that using e-cigarettes indoors increases air pollution in the home.

E-cigarettes increase particulate matter in the rooms in which people smoke them. The particulate matter the researchers found was very fine, with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers.

“Particulate matter” is the term for fine particles of solids and liquids in the air, which people can inhale.

Inhaling particulate matter may cause health problems. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter may cause the biggest health risks.

Is it safe to vape around toddlers?

It is best to avoid vaping around babies, toddlers, pets, and any others at risk of secondhand or thirdhand vape exposure.

According to a 2020 study, e-cigarette aerosol may collect on indoor surfaces, resulting in thirdhand vape exposure. Young children may be especially at risk of thirdhand exposure due to hand-to-mouth behaviors.

Baby clothes and toys may absorb nicotine, and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) may form. TSNAs are a carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance.

Nicotine exposure in early childhood may also increase nicotine dependency later in life.

Secondhand vape exposure may increase the risk of respiratory problems such as shortness of breath and asthma.

Vape aerosol may contain harmful substances such as nicotine, diacetyl, and heavy metals.

If people want to quit vaping, making a plan and preparing strategies to address withdrawal and cravings may help them successfully quit.