What is vaping?

Vaping is the inhalation of aerosol generated by an e-cigarette or other vaping device. The design of vaping devices varies from a small tube similar to a cigarette to pen-like devices to larger hand-held devices.  They contain an inhaler or cartridge, an atomizer, and a battery compartment.  The cartridge contains a liquid solution of primarily propylene glycol, glycerin, flavorings, and nicotine.  Different products will contain nicotine at different concentrations, and some vape fluid is nicotine-free.  The atomizer heats the solution to vaporize it, and the mist is inhaled.

Is vaping safe?

E-cigarettes and vaping fluids are regulated by the FDA as tobacco products, so may not be purchased by minors.  The FDA has not made any statements regarding the relative safety of vaping, but studies suggest that vaping may be lower-risk than traditional cigarettes.  FDA is currently evaluating this evidence.

Most vaping fluids contain nicotine, which could make e-cigarettes risky if adolescents begin vaping, become addicted to nicotine, and transition to other tobacco products.  Nicotine is toxic, and if vaping fluid is ingested children could receive a fatal dose.  Vaping fluid should be stored out of the reach of children.

The risks of vaping are not well understood.  Vaping fluid contains a mixture of chemicals, and the risks of these when inhaled have not been studied.  These chemicals may be altered by chemical reactions when the mixture is heated. It also contains heavy metals in trace amounts. While long-term effects are not well-understood, in the short-term people who vape may experience sore throat and mouth.

In 2019, there was an outbreak of a lung disease associated with vaping.  Most people affected had vaped THC-containing cartridges, usually purchased on the black market.  Some only reported vaping nicotine-containing products.  Because there is no quality control and the full ingredients are unknown, VDH recommends that people who vape only use commercial cartridges and not purchase cartridges that are refilled or sold on the secondary market.

Can vaping cause cancer?

Smoking tobacco causes lung cancer through exposure to carcinogenic combustion products in tar and from chemicals called nitrosamines that are generated while curing tobacco.  Vape aerosol does not reach high enough temperatures to generate tar, but it can contain trace amounts of nitrosamines.  The cancer risk of inhaling other vaping fluid components over a long time is not known yet.

Do I need to worry about second-hand exposure to vaping?

Bystanders can inhale exhaled vapors.  Studies have found that this vapor contains nicotine, ultrafine particles, and a range of volatile chemicals.  It is not known currently what the health risks of second-hand e-cigarette vapors might be to sensitive people such as babies and children. To reduce their risk of exposure, do not vape or allow others to vape around babies and children.

Where can I get more information about the health effects of vaping?

Contact your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your health and vaping.

If you need further information regarding the health effects of vaping, please contact the Virginia Department of Health, Office of Environmental Health Services, 109 Governor Street, 5th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219, or call (804) 864-8182.

You may also call your local health department if you have questions or concerns about vaping.  A directory of local health departments is located at


Updated 2020