Addiction | 6 min read

Smoking Vapor: Why It May Be Riskier Than You May Have Previously Thought

Medically Reviewed

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On August 28, 2022

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On February 24, 2022

Vaping risk
Reading Time: 6 minutes

There has been a longstanding battle in the US between its citizens and substance abuse, and while most of the bad press goes to the most well-known street drugs like meth, crack, and heroin, other threats don’t get nearly as much attention. Other substances like nicotine destroy the health and lives of those that fall prey to its incredible potential for addiction, and they are sold just about everywhere.

One way nicotine is seeing a huge resurgence in popularity is the proliferation of e-cigarettes and other vapor devices. These allow a user to get their nicotine by smoking vapor instead of burning a cigarette, giving the illusion of increased health and safety over inhaling combusted plant material. This imaging also makes it more attractive to younger smokers, and by smoking vapor, they consume a much higher dose of nicotine than they would by smoking.

This means that people addicted to nicotine are getting a way to consume their nicotine in much larger doses than they would from simply smoking cigarettes. Those smoking vapor cannot only choose what sort of complex flavor or combination of flavors but also their nicotine content, so they’ll be consuming it in larger doses, leading to much more severe addiction and far stronger withdrawal symptoms.

Side Effects & Risks of Smoking Vapor

Many users believe that smoking vapor using any popular e-cigarette format like box mods or Juul devices is safer than smoking cigarettes. While it is true that smoking vapor has less particulate contamination than smoke from burning cigarettes, this comes with a greatly elevated risk of addiction and subsequent withdrawal symptoms from consuming much greater amounts of nicotine.

Getting nicotine from smoking vapor means it hits the system just as fast as it would with conventional smoking. It is a powerful central nervous system stimulant that takes effect within a few seconds of consumption, causing an immediate spike in the user’s blood pressure. A similar spike in heart rate causes this blood pressure spike. Alongside this elevated cardiovascular response is also a significant change in the brain’s neurochemistry.

One of the biggest side effects of smoking vapor is that nicotine causes a sudden flood of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the user’s system. Dopamine is one of the body’s pleasure chemicals, giving the user a rush of pleasure as soon as it crosses the blood-brain barrier.

Side Effects & Risks of Smoking Vapor

Smoking vapor is much easier than lighting up a cigarette and can be done almost instantly, creating a nicotine consumption solution that is highly concealable. Unfortunately, this also helps to reinforce the addictive nature of nicotine and allows people to potentially continue using it even in areas where smoking is traditionally banned. This constant availability leads to constant use and incredibly high risks of many dangerous conditions.

Increased Risk Of Heart Disease

Since nicotine puts such significant stress on the cardiovascular system as soon as it’s ingested, it contributes to one of the deadliest conditions resulting from smoking vapor, heart disease. Smoking vapor can add greater than 50% to the risk of heart attack or general cardiac dysfunction, which increases with higher doses of nicotine. In addition, since nicotine is taken in much larger quantities from smoking vapor, it can be a much more significant risk for those addicted to it.

Elevated Occurrence Of Airway & Lung Damage

Early evidence seems to show that even though there is less airway irritation from hot smoke, negative effects are still created because of the user smoking vapor. While irritation and burning are less common with smoking vapor since the vapor is cooler, there are risks of lung damage and chronic conditions. Smoking vapor is a significant cause of chronic bronchitis and other airway sicknesses.

Some additives or adulterants in the products used for smoking vapor can cause permanent lung injury and damage to the sensitive lung tissues. This damage can lead to a measurable reduction in the ability of your lungs to oxygenate your blood. This lack of blood oxygenation can be debilitating and even deadly for those with existing breathing difficulties like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Cancer Risks

Along with high doses of nicotine come high risks of additional complications beyond those associated with smoking vapor. Some of the most substantial risks that arise from smoking vapor to obtain nicotine are the risks of various types of cancer. Since smoking vapor exposes the mouth, gums, throat, and lungs to several substances considered to be carcinogenic, the eventual development of one or more types of cancer should be a persistent concern to anyone smoking vapor.

These cancers are due to the DNA damage that smoking vapor causes and can occur anywhere that the vapor contacts internal tissues like mucous membranes or brachial tissue in the lungs. The substantial cellular damage that occurs leads to an increased prevalence of cancers of the mouth, head, neck, and lungs.

Dosage Inconsistencies

Since cigarettes are highly uniform and standardized in most cases, the average dose of nicotine per cigarette remains relatively constant, as does the amount of nicotine in the average draw on a cigarette. However, since that standardization is removed when smoking vapor, the dosages can be all over the place from product to product and even from one hit to the next.

Most people smoking vapor are using their vapor products constantly, often more than a smoker would be smoking. This results in the smokers taking much bigger hits from their vapor product and hitting the product much more frequently than they would take a drag off a cigarette. This means that people who smoke vapor take incredibly high doses of nicotine on a near-constant basis, pushing their chemical and psychological dependence to the maximum.

Smoking Vapor Withdrawal Symptoms

When smoking cigarettes, the nicotine withdrawal symptoms can be bad enough to create an intense psychological dependence on them, but when smoking vapor, it can be much worse. In some cases, someone smoking vapor products will take a dosage of nicotine in just one or two hits, which can be the same as smoking several cigarettes. Those smoking vapor constantly get the equivalent nicotine each day from several packs of cigarettes. This naturally leads not only to tolerance but also to a strong physical dependence.

When this supply of nicotine is cut off or even reduced, someone addicted to smoking vapor will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms are a by-product of the shock, stress, and trauma the system goes through when adjusting to a sudden change in operating conditions, and it no longer has nicotine to speed things up.

Smoking Vapor Withdrawal Symptoms

The most common withdrawal symptoms for someone quitting smoking vapor include:

  • Emotional instability, including significant mood swings
  • Irritability, frustration, anger, and even hostility in situations where the individual is placed under stress
  • Getting tremors or “jitters”
  • Painful, long-lasting headaches
  • Profuse sweating
  • Restlessness and the inability to get restful sleep
  • Constant tiredness and fatigue
  • State of near-constant “brain fog”
  • Feeling hungry again only a short while after eating
  • Powerful cravings, both physical and psychological, to smoke vapor

While the average individual addicted to smoking vapor will not experience all of these symptoms, it is common for most people in recovery to experience several or even many of them.

For the first week of the recovery, it will be difficult for the individual to shake the persistent brain fog. This should generally only last for a short period while the body readjusts to the absence of nicotine, but it may also be accompanied by other reduced capacities for functioning.

Other changes that should be expected, particularly in those who have been smoking vapor for some time, include a temporary reduction in the individual’s educational, professional, and even domestic abilities during this period of adjustment.

Since the withdrawal process can be different for everyone, it’s recommended that anyone considering detoxing from smoking vapor should reach out to a professional. Withdrawals and detoxing can be intimidating, and working with a healthcare professional to reach sobriety milestones is one of the best ways to begin the long road to recovery on the right foot.

How To Get Help If You Are Addicted To Smoking Vapor

One of the strongest indicators of needing help with an addiction to smoking vapor is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the vapor hasn’t been used for a while. If you or someone you care about may be addicted to smoking vapor, the best thing you can do is to reach out today for confidential help.

Nicotine withdrawal can be difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes even painful, but completing the detox and withdrawal stage in a comfortable, upscale facility can be the strongest first step. Once the right foundation has been created, the individual has much better chances of consistent, long-term recovery.

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  1. Alzahrani T, Pena I, Temesgen N, Glantz SA. Association Between Electronic Cigarette Use and Myocardial Infarction. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2018;55(4):455-461. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2018.05.004
  2. Hill L. Vaping and Lung Cancer: What You Should Know. WebMD. Published April 24, 2021. Accessed August 28, 2022.