E-cigarettes and vaping

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Learn about e-cigarettes, how they work and who is using them. Also find information about the health risks associated with vaping.

Key points

  • The use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, is very common among teens and young adults and has been increasing over the past several years.
  • Vaping solutions can contain nicotine and other chemicals such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
  • Nicotine is highly addictive and can quickly become a long-term addiction, especially for teens and young adults whose brains are still developing.
  • The chemicals in vaping solutions can lead to short-term health problems and increase the risk of long-term health problems.
  • If you are trying to quit using tobacco cigarettes, talk to your health-care professional to come up with a plan that makes sense for you.

About e-cigarettes

E-cigarettes belong to a group of devices commonly known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). While there are many types of ENDS, they have a few things in common including a:

  • battery
  • heating coil or atomizer
  • mouthpiece
  • reservoir or tank
  • sensor or button to activate the heating coil

E-cigarettes can be disposable, or have a reloadable cartridge or a refillable reservoir for the vaping solution. In some e-cigarettes the wattage and voltage can also be modified.

E-cigarettes are known by many different names, such as:

Small vaping device that looks like a flash drive
  • cig-a-like
  • vape/dab pen
  • box-mod
  • pod device (JUUL, Blu, Phix, Suorin, STIG)
  • Chronic/Dank Vapes

E-cigarettes are available in many different shapes and sizes. Some are small and look like a flash drive or pen, while others are much larger.

How e-cigarettes work

The action of using an e-cigarette is called vaping. When a user inhales from the mouthpiece of the e-cigarette, the heating coil is activated. The energy from the battery allows the heating coil to heat the vaping liquid and the vapor is then generated, which is inhaled, mimicking the use of a tobacco cigarette. The vapor that is generated is actually an aerosol that contains fine particles.

Vaping solutions

Vaping solutions are sometimes known as e-juice or e-liquid, and can contain a number of different chemicals.

  • Propylene glycol: One of the main liquids (along with glycerin) used to carry the other chemicals
  • Glycerin: One of the main liquids (along with propylene glycol) used to carry the other chemicals
  • Nicotine: The main addictive chemical found in tobacco cigarettes and vaping solutions
  • Flavorings: Various chemicals, including diacetyl, used to create different tastes and smells
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) oil: Two chemicals that are sometimes added to vaping solutions

Moreover, various heavy metals (nickel, tin and lead) can also be found in vaping solutions.

Who is using e-cigarettes?

The most recent studies from 2018 show that 37% of teens (aged 16-19) in Canada have tried e-cigarettes. This is an increase of 8% compared to 2017. Most of these teens do not use tobacco cigarettes. About 3.6% of 16 to 19 year olds in Canada when surveyed in 2018 had used e-cigarettes on more than 15 days in the past 30 days.

In addition, less than 1% of North American adults (45 year of age and older) use e-cigarettes on a daily basis whereas about 8% of 18 to 24 year olds use e-cigarettes daily. Currently, e-cigarettes are used disproportionally by young people.

Health risks and vaping

There are both short- and long-term health risks associated with vaping. One rare short-term risk is that devices have caught fire or exploded causing physical injury. Seizures have also been described. More seriously, severe, life threatening lung injury has been associated with e-cigarette use. Some people have died from this lung injury. While it is not known why the lungs of these people were injured in this way, there is evidence that it is related to one or more of the chemicals found in vaping solutions.

A long-term risk associated with vaping is that nicotine use by teens can have a negative impact on their brain development. It can harm the parts of their brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.

Another important risk is nicotine addiction. The developing brains of teens and young adults are highly susceptible to the addictive properties of nicotine. In a single pod, e-cigarettes can deliver more nicotine to a person than a pack of cigarettes. Moreover, while high doses of nicotine can lead to nausea and headache, there is no irritating smoke and no need to light a new cigarette, so a person can receive large amounts of nicotine in a day.

Nicotine is not harmless. Nicotine is toxic to the lungs and long-term use may increase the risk of chronic lung disease.

While vaping has not been around long enough to be sure of the long-term effects health effects, research studies in cells and animal models suggest that the other chemicals in vaping solutions may also lead to health problems with long-term use.

E-cigarettes as a type of nicotine replacement therapy

E-cigarettes that contain nicotine have sometimes been used as a type of nicotine replacement therapy to help adults, who are not pregnant, to quit using tobacco cigarettes or to reduce the use tobacco cigarettes. There is some data that suggests that e-cigarettes can help tobacco cigarette users to quit. However, there is also data that the use of e-cigarettes does not lead to more people quitting using tobacco cigarettes.

There are other types of nicotine replacement and other ways to quit using tobacco cigarettes that do not involve nicotine replacement therapy. If you are considering vaping in order to help you to quit using tobacco cigarettes, talk to a health-care professional and explore the different options that may work for you.


With the information that is currently available about e-cigarettes, the recommendation is, if you do not smoke then do not vape. If you do smoke and want to vape, know your options, and the risks and benefits so you can make an informed choice.

Last updated: November 4th 2019