It’s widely known that smoking greatly increases your risk of developing lung cancer. Some smokers choose to switch to vaping to help them quit, and many young people pick up vaping in the belief that it’s not harmful like smoking.

But it’s important to know that vaping isn’t a risk-free endeavor. For example, some studies suggest that e-cigarette use can have negative effects on your heart and cardiovascular system.

While there’s still a lot to learn about the potential risks of vaping, there is a growing body of research that shows that vaping puts your lungs at risk — and it’s possible that lung cancer may be on the list of serious effects caused by vaping.

The link between smoking and lung cancer is well established.

According to the American Lung Association, smoking contributes to 80 percent of the lung cancer deaths in women, and 90 percent of those in men. Exposure to secondhand smoke can be deadly, too, as about 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year can be linked to secondhand smoke exposure.

Vaping is believed to be less dangerous than smoking. But it’s not without risk.

In fact, the e-cigarette or vaping liquid contains nicotine and other chemicals that can be potentially toxic to your lungs. And based on the knowledge that exists about those chemicals, it’s possible that exposure to them via vaping might also increase a user’s risk of lung cancer.

While ingesting these chemicals is concerning to many experts, it may take some time before researchers can draw definite conclusions. E-cigarettes and vaping devices have only been available in the United States since the mid-2000s, so there is not yet a body of research that analyzes the long-term effects. It may take a couple of decades before the magnitude of the effects of vaping or e-cigarette use are fully known.

Another concern is that evidence suggests teens who vape are more likely to go on and try traditional cigarettes, which are linked to an increased risk for lung cancer. Also, smoking is associated with numerous health concerns, such as an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and others.

Lung cancer isn’t the only concern that experts have about vaping. In the short term, the aerosol produced by a vaping device can irritate your eyes, mouth, and nose, and might even make you more vulnerable to colds and the flu.

Your lungs are also at elevated risk for other types of damage from vaping, such as vaping-related lipoid pneumonia, which develops when you inhale the oily substances in the e-liquid, which then creates inflammation in your lungs.

Another concern is bronchiolitis obliterans, which is a serious and irreversible condition that causes scarring in the tiny airways in your lungs. People with this condition often need to take corticosteroids or use an inhaler with medicine that can dilate those scarred airways.

EVALI, which stands for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury, causes a variety of respiratory symptoms and damage to lung tissue. EVALI cases were responsible for about 2,800 hospitalizations in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the numbers peaked in 2019 and have been on the decline since.

Nicotine is addictive. When a smoker inhales, that nicotine goes into their lungs, where it’s eventually absorbed into their bloodstream. Then it spreads throughout their body. But it also affects their brain, creating a wash of dopamine over their brain’s reward circuits.

Over time, smokers need more to get the same experience, and they’re exposed to greater levels of the dozens of carcinogens in the cigarette smoke, like benzopyrene.

Vaping devices don’t produce all the same chemicals that regular cigarettes do. But they do contain nicotine. And a 2018 report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine called the amount of nicotine that adult e-cigarette users take in “comparable” to the amount of nicotine they would take in from a regular cigarette.

But it’s not just about nicotine. The same report also noted there is “conclusive evidence” that e-cigarettes “contain and emit numerous potentially toxic substances,” although in lower levels than would be found in combustible tobacco cigarette.

Here are some substances beyond nicotine that vapers may be exposed to:

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

When you vape, you may be exposed to certain volatile organic compounds like crylamide, benzene, and propylene oxide, which can pose health risks to you. Although 2020 research notes that the levels are lower than the toxic VOCs produced by regular cigarettes.

Flavoring chemicals

How dangerous could something that tastes so good be? As it turns out, some of the flavoring chemicals used in e-cigarette liquid, or e-liquid, are associated with lung damage.

For example, diacetyl adds a buttery flavor, but it’s also linked to “profound lung toxicity,” according to a 2021 literature review. Inhaling diacetyl can lead to scarring in the tiny airways in your lungs, which can cause bronchiolitis obliterans, which is also known as “popcorn lung.”

Ethyl maltol is often used to add a caramel flavor to e-liquid, but it has been linked to both an inflammatory response and the generation of free radicals, which research suggests could contribute to the rise of cancerous cells.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E can be added to e-cigarette liquid to dilute or thicken it. But this 2021 study notes that vitamin E acetate has been linked to some vaping-related lung injury cases, including many in e-cigarettes that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Vitamin E in acetate form yields some gas that can be irritating and even toxic to the lungs.


Formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen, has also been detected in e-cigarettes, including in the aerosol that’s produced by vaping. Research from 2018 suggests that it can work its way deeper into the lungs than previously thought and lead to lung disease.


Acrolein is best known as a weed killer, but it’s also a chemical associated with lung damage as a result of exposure through vaping and e-cigarette use. When you use a vaping device, it heats up the propylene glycol and glycerin in the e-liquid, which breaks down and emits chemicals like acrolein and formaldehyde.

Heavy metals

Vaping devices often contain metal-heating elements, as well as metal in the soldering of joints. When you heat up the e-liquid, it creates aerosolized microparticles. Research from 2013 suggests that those microparticles can contain carcinogenic toxins like:

  • lead
  • chromium
  • strontium
  • nickel

They can also lead to other compounds that are linked to certain kinds of lung disease. Those compounds include:

  • boron
  • silicon
  • barium
  • alumni
  • iron
  • inorganic tin

The prospect of inhaling heavy metal or other dangerous substances that can damage your lungs may have convinced you to quit vaping, but often it’s easier said than done. A 2016 study estimated that the average person needs 8 to 10 attempts before they can fully quit smoking cigarettes.

So, it may take multiple attempts to quit vaping, too. Quitting vaping can be difficult, as you’ll have to cope with nicotine withdrawal, as well as nicotine cravings, but there are resources to help you along the way:

  • Visit’s special section titled “Quit Vaping.”
  • Use the quitSTART app.
  • Sign up for texts from SmokefreeTXT by texting QUIT to 47848.
  • Try an online cessation support group like Quit the Hit.
  • Consult a healthcare professional, if you think you could benefit from nicotine replacement therapy.

Don’t forget to enlist your friends and family to support you, too. They can help in a number of ways, including not vaping around you or talking about vaping in front of you.

The bottom line is that it may be a few years before evidence is available to conclusively prove that vaping causes lung cancer. But experts point out that we already know that vaping is associated with lung damage, and it’s very possible that it may later be linked to cancer, too.