Vaping has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among teenagers and young adults. Disposable e-cigarettes, also known as “disposables”, are a type of vaping device that has gained particular popularity. But what exactly does vaping, especially frequent use of disposables, do to your body? Here we review the research on the short- and long-term health effects of disposable vaping.
How Do Disposable Vapes Work?
Disposable vapes are pre-filled, non-rechargeable e-cigarettes. They contain nicotine, flavors, and other chemicals suspended in a liquid base. When you inhale from the mouthpiece, a battery heats up the e-liquid into an aerosol that you inhale. This aerosol contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. The battery and heating element stop working when the e-liquid runs out.
Compared to rechargeable vapes, disposables are more convenient – no need to charge batteries or refill pods. However, they produce more waste since the entire device is discarded when the liquid runs out. Most disposables contain roughly 0.7mL of liquid, the equivalent of around 200-300 puffs. They come in fruit, mint, and other flavor varieties.
The most well-established effect of vaping is nicotine exposure. The amount of nicotine in one disposable vape ranges from 0.8ml to over 5% by weight. For comparison, a single cigarette contains about 10-15mg of nicotine.
Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development. With repeated exposure, the brain grows more nicotine receptors and becomes tolerant, requiring more and more nicotine to get the same effect. This makes vaping very habit forming.
When inhaled, nicotine enters the bloodstream almost immediately. It triggers a release of adrenaline, providing an instant stimulant effect. Nicotine affects parts of the brain that control pleasure, mood, appetite, and memory. In the short term, it can:
- Increase heart rate and blood pressure
- Raise alertness and concentration
- Provide a mood boost
- Suppress appetite
However, as the effects wear off, nicotine withdrawal can set in within 30 minutes, leaving people feeling irritable, depressed, and anxious. This prompts frequent use throughout the day to manage withdrawal.
Other Chemical Effects
Along with nicotine, disposables contain various flavorings, metals, and other chemicals:
- Propylene glycol – thinning agent added to create vapor
- Vegetable glycerin – produces vapor
- Flavorings – variety of approved and unapproved flavor chemicals
- Formaldehyde – known carcinogen
- Acetaldehyde – possible carcinogen
- Heavy metals – nickel, tin, lead
Heating and inhaling these ingredients carries risks. Both short- and long-term exposure can irritate the lungs and airways. Some flavorings contain diacetyl, which is associated with a serious lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. The flavorings themselves are largely untested for safety when heated and inhaled.
Short-Term Lung Effects
With frequent vaping, disposables can irritate the delicate lining of the lungs and lead to inflammation. Studies show short-term effects can include:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Phlegm production
- Bronchitis symptoms
The aerosol particles themselves can deposit deep in the lungs, where they interact with cells and fluids. One study found vaping for just 5 minutes significantly impaired lung functions for the next hour.
Long-Term Lung Damage
The long-term lung impacts of disposable vaping are still being investigated. But researchers believe regularly vaping could increase the risk of chronic lung conditions like:
- COPD – chronic, progressive lung disease including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Causes permanent airflow obstruction.
- Asthma – inflamed, swollen airways that restrict breathing.
- Popcorn lung – rare condition from chemical exposure that damages tiny air sacs in the lungs.
- Pulmonary fibrosis – scar tissue builds up in the lungs, causing progressive and irreversible damage. Can be fatal.
In one study, young adult vapers performed significantly worse on lung function tests compared to non-vapers. More research is needed, but these early findings are concerning.
Increased Cancer Risk
Carcinogens like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde are formed when vape liquids are heated to high temperatures. These chemicals can damage DNA and lead to cancer. One study found disposable vape users had significantly higher levels of these carcinogens in their urine compared to non-users.
Specifically, vaping could increase the risk of:
- Lung cancer
- Oral cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Bladder cancer
It will likely take decades of research to definitively determine if vaping causes cancer. But early evidence indicates there are elevated risks, especially with long-term use.
Harmful Effects on the Heart and Blood Vessels
Nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline, which can cause spikes in blood pressure and heart rate. The flavoring cinnamaldehyde also restricts blood flow. These effects strain the cardiovascular system.
Studies link vaping to an increased risk of:
- Higher blood pressure
- Faster heart rate
- Artery damage and stiffness
- Higher bad cholesterol (LDL)
- Blood clots
- Heart attack
One study found just one vaping episode significantly reduced blood vessel function in healthy adults. These vascular changes increase the risk of serious cardiovascular events.
Other Potential Effects
Research into other possible health consequences is still emerging. But early studies have linked disposable vaping to:
- Immune suppression – vaping may weaken the immune system and make users more susceptible to respiratory infections like pneumonia.
- Intense nicotine addiction – the high nicotine content makes disposables very addictive, especially for teens whose brains are still developing.
- Hormonal effects – nicotine may disrupt normal hormone levels and affect fertility.
- Oral health effects – vaping dries out the mouth, increases bacteria, and raises the risk of mouth and gum disease.
Research makes it clear that frequent disposable vaping poses substantial health risks, both in the short- and long-term. Lung damage, cancer, heart disease, and nicotine addiction are chief concerns. While occasional, light use may have minimal effects, regular vaping likely causes cumulative damage over time.
Teenagers and young adults whose brains are still developing are especially vulnerable. Parents should be aware of these harms and educate their kids about the risks of vaping. More research is still needed, but current evidence overwhelmingly suggests disposable vaping is far from harmless.