Anything that is inhaled into your lungs can pose a threat to your lung health. However, we are less likely to experience lung damage from environmental inhalants, which are often out of our control, than we are from direct inhalation of cigarettes and/or e‑cigarettes. With the rising trend seen in e‑cigarette use, or vaping, it’s more important now than ever to educate the community on the short and long-term medical risks these devices may have on your lungs.
DMG Pulmonologist, Brett Collander, MD, shares his medical expertise on the detrimental side-effects that vaping can have on your lungs.
E‑cigarettes contain a variety of chemicals that can be harmful to your overall health. However, when it comes to lung health, there are a handful of specific chemicals directly associated with lung disease.
Chemicals linked to lung disease
Acrolein is primarily used as an herbicide to kill weeds. Acrolein has also been found in the aerosol, or vapor, produced by e‑cigarettes. When inhaled into your lungs, acrolein may cause acute lung injury, asthma, COPD and lung cancer.
Nicotine is a highly addictive substance found in tobacco, which is used in cigarettes and e‑cigarette solutions, or ingredients. Once nicotine is inhaled into your lungs, it can cause significant inflammation that may impair your lungs’ ability to fight infection.
Diacetyl is a chemical found in the butter flavoring of microwave popcorn. It is also used to flavor e‑cigarette solutions. When inhaled, diacetyl can be toxic to the lungs and cause a condition called bronchiolitis obliterans. With this condition, the airways of the lungs become inflamed. This can lead to extensive scarring that blocks the airways, causing shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.
Benzene is a highly flammable chemical that is primarily used in producing other chemicals to help manufacture detergents, drugs, dyes, lubricants, pesticides and rubbers. Benzene has been found in the vapor produced by e‑cigarettes.
Most people are exposed to small amounts of benzene every day. However, when benzene is directly inhaled into the lungs in the form of e‑cigarette vapor, it can lead to lung inflammation. Also, benzene exposure has been linked to several types of cancer.
Vitamin E acetate is a synthetic form of vitamin E that is sometimes used as an additive in e‑cigarette solutions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vitamin E acetate is a main chemical of concern for those who vape and develop vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI).
When vitamin E acetate is inhaled from vaping, the direct exposure to your lung tissue can cause severe lung injury, and in some cases, has resulted in death. As of November 20, 2019, 2,290 cases of EVALI have been reported to the CDC, including 47 confirmed deaths.
E‑cigarettes contain a variety of chemicals that can contribute to significant health consequences. Our Pulmonary team is a great resource for helping educate and treat health concerns related to vaping. Please visit our Pulmonary Medicine page to learn more about our physicians and locations or to schedule an appointment.
 Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh. Acrolein — a pulmonary hazard. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21994168
 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Flavorings — Related Lung Disease. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). October 3, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/flavorings/exposure.html
 Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Public Health Statement for Benzene. August 2007. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=37&tid=14
 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E‑Cigarette, or Vaping, Products. Nov. 21, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e‑cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html