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Death & Disease

Toxic metals in vapes may increase your risk of cancer

Published Apr 11, 2022
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The tobacco industry has done it again – created a product where the more it’s studied, the more serious harm is discovered. A study published by researchers at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) found that, just as in cigarettes, vape e-liquids and aerosols contain many cancer-causing heavy metals. While the actual heavy metals differ between cigarettes and vapes, each significantly increases the users’ overall cancer risk.1

We already protect people from heavy metals, So, why not vapes?

We require people to be protected in most places where they can be exposed to toxic heavy metals. People who work with these metals in industries like welding and electroplating, are required to wear respirators to protect them from breathing in heavy metals. But the story is different for vapes. Even though people who vape are exposed to these dangerous chemicals, there are no protections in place for them. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for setting manufacturing standards, labeling, and package requirements for e-cigarettes,2 and yet under that responsibility, they have failed to issue manufacturing standards that would protect people, reducing cancer risks from vape products. They have also failed to require warning labels on vapes or vape packaging about exposure to carcinogens such as heavy metals.

Heavy metals in vapes are toxic

Multiple studies have found that harmful heavy metals, such as cadmium and lead, are present in both cigarette smoke and vape aerosol.34 However, in this recent research, CDPH found that vape aerosol and e-liquids can contain a greater concentration of certain toxic heavy metals compared to cigarettes, including chromium, nickel, manganese, and lead.56

Exposure to heavy metals in e-cigarettes can have serious health consequences.7 It’s hard to believe anyone would want to put these chemicals into their lungs:

  • Chromium and nickel, found in multiple e-cigarette brands,8 have been linked to respiratory diseases, including lung cancer.910 Chromium and nickel compounds are used in electroplating, welding, and other industrial processes.
  • Manganese and lead exposure may cause neurological and developmental defects. Manganese compounds are used in steel production, pesticides, and batteries.11 Lead compounds are used in the production of batteries, ammunition, metal products, paints, and ceramics.12
  • Cadmium exposure can harm the kidneys and has been linked to lung cancer. Cadmium compounds are used in plating, pigments for coloring plastics, ceramics, glasses, and plastic production and are found in nickel-cadmium batteries.13

Heavy metals aren’t the only ingredients in e-cigarettes that increase cancer risk. Other chemicals like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde are also carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances, further putting people who vape at risk.14 In short, there are a lot of ingredients in e-cigarettes that could increase a user’s risk for cancer.

E-cigarettes contribute to other health complications

It’s not only cancer you need to worry about, though. E-cigarettes can contribute to many other health risks, too. They can increase risk of heart damage,15 and cause lung inflammation,16 nausea,17 and a decrease in lung immune system response.18 Solvents and additives used in vapes appear to be the culprits behind EVALI, the mysterious lung illness outbreak that occurred in 2019.19

Secondhand smoke from vape is harmful, too

E-cigarettes can be harmful to people who are around them too, not just to people who use them. The US Surgeon General has concluded that secondhand vape is an aerosol that contains a mixture of dangerous chemicals, including heavy metals.20

Don’t let the tobacco industry fool you – using a vape device is hazardous to your health. The studies have been piling up about the harm of vapes for nearly a decade.20 The best way to protect yourself against all the harms of vapes is to quit. If you need help quitting, call Kick It California at 1-800-300-8086 or visit KickItCA.org

  1. Fowles J, Barreau T, Wu N. Cancer and Non-Cancer Risk Concerns from Metals in Electronic Cigarette Liquids and Aerosols. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(6):2146. Published 2020 Mar 24. doi:10.3390/ijerph17062146 21 U.S.C. § 387p.
  2. 21 U.S.C. § 387p.
  3. Olmedo P, Goessler W, Tanda S, et al. Metal Concentrations in e-Cigarette Liquid and Aerosol Samples: The Contribution of Metallic Coils. Environ Health Perspect. 2018;126(2):027010. Published 2018 Feb 21. doi:10.1289/EHP2175.
  4. Caruso RV, O'Connor RJ, Stephens WE, Cummings KM, Fong GT. Toxic metal concentrations in cigarettes obtained from U.S. smokers in 2009: results from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) United States survey cohort. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2013;11(1):202-217. Published 2013 Dec 20. doi:10.3390/ijerph110100202.
  5. Williams M., Bozhilov K., Ghai S., Talbot P. Elements including metals in the atomizer and aerosol of disposable electronic cigarettes and electronic hookahs. PLoS ONE. 2017;12:e0175430. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0175430.
  6. Zhao D, Aravindakshan A, Hilpert M, et al. Metal/Metalloid Levels in Electronic Cigarette Liquids, Aerosols, and Human Biosamples: A Systematic Review. Environ Health Perspect. 2020;128(3):36001. doi:10.1289/EHP5686.
  7. Jaishankar M, Tseten T, Anbalagan N, Mathew BB, Beeregowda KN. 2014. Toxicity, mechanism and health effects of some heavy metals. Interdiscip Toxicol. 7(2):60– 72, PMID: 26109881, https://doi.org/10.2478/intox-2014-0009.
  8. Hess CA, Olmedo P, Navas-Acien A, Goessler W, Cohen JE, Rule AM. E-cigarettes as a source of toxic and potentially carcinogenic metals. Environ Res. 2017;152:221-225. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2016.09.026.
  9. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Chromium (VI) compounds. IARC Monographs 100C:147–167.
  10. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Nickel and nickel compounds. IARC Monographs 100C:169–218.
  11. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 23930, Mn. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Mn. Accessed July 31, 2020.
  12. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 5352425, Lead. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Lead. Accessed July 31, 2020.
  13. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Toxicological Profile for Cadmium. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Services. 2012.
  14. Klager S, Vallarino J, MacNaughton P, Christiani DC, Lu Q, Allen JG. Flavoring Chemicals and Aldehydes in E-Cigarette Emissions. Environ Sci Technol. 2017;51(18):10806-10813. doi:10.1021/acs.est.7b02205.
  15. Vindhyal MR, Ndunda P, Munguti C, Vindhyal S, Okut H. Impact on Cardiovascular Outcomes Among E-cigarette Users: A Review From National Health Interview Surveys. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 2019;73(9):Supplement 2. doi: 10.1016/S0735-1097(19)33773-8.
  16. Gotts JE, Jordt SE, McConnell R, Tarran R. What are the respiratory effects of e-cigarettes? [published correction appears in BMJ. 2019 Oct 15;367:l5980]. BMJ. 2019;366:l5275. Published 2019 Sep 30. doi:10.1136/bmj.l5275.
  17. American Lung Association. What It Means to be “Nic-Sick” [blog post]. lung.org. https://www.lung.org/blog/nic-sick. Published October 2, 2019.
  18. Sussan TE, Gajghate S, Thimmulappa RK, et al. Exposure to electronic cigarettes impairs pulmonary anti-bacterial and anti-viral defenses in a mouse model. PLoS One. 2015;10(2):e0116861. Published 2015 Feb 4. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116861.
  19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products. cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html. Updated February 25, 2020. Accessed July 31, 2020.
  20. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health 2016.

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California has already protected people from other harmful products, and it's time to hold the tobacco industry to the same standards.