Is Vaping without Nicotine Bad For You

By Dr. Annie Macpherson
Updated: 2019-09-14

Tobacco and Vaping

How Does Nicotine Relate To These Two

Nicotine is the addictive substance found in tobacco, that makes it so hard to stop smoking. It is a common misconception that the nicotine found in cigarettes contributes to the serious health risks associated with smoking. It is, in fact, many other toxic components of cigarette smoke that cause these harmful effects. People smoke to satisfy their nicotine addiction, but will die from exposure to tobacco smoke. Nicotine is used in e-cigarettes to help smokers quit tobacco. The nicotine found in nicotine replacement therapies such as gum, patches and e-cigarettes is generally considered harmless, aside from it’s addictive potential. Vaping with nicotine is not going to put you more at risks than if you vape nicotine-free.

Why Vape Without Nicotine?

Why Vape Without Nicotine.

Many non-smokers vape nicotine-free to enjoy vaping ‘trick’ culture

There are several reasons why someone might vape without nicotine:

Former Smokers

Someone who is quitting smoking may vape nicotine-free e-cigarettes for a short period after they have decreased the nicotine content of their e-liquid from a high level down to zero. The last step in this quitting process is to break the psychological habit of using an e-cigarette, which is easiest if the e-juice is nicotine-free.

Pure Enjoyment

Some people find the flavors and sensation of vaping highly pleasurable, and consider vape ‘tricks’ as a hobby. There is a huge vaping trick culture online that revolves around the simple pleasure and physical fun of vaping.

Social Life

Similar to smoking a shisha pipe, some people enjoy the social aspects and community culture of vaping. Some cities have a thriving social scene based around vape culture.

Is it Safe to Vape Without Nicotine?

What The Research Says

Research shows it is relatively harmless to vape nicotine free, unflavored e-juices. However, this is not something people often choose to do. People who vape nicotine-free are more likely to choose a complex or high-concentration flavor to enhance their enjoyment, increasing their exposure to flavorings.

Any food-grade flavouring can be used in an e-juice, yet digestion of food involves multiple breakdown processes before the final nutrients hit our bloodstream. When you vape, vapor enters the lungs and goes directly in the bloodstream, so we do not really know the effects that inhaled flavorings are having on our lungs and body. Limited research shows that some e-juice flavorings carry higher risk profiles than others [1]. Ultra-sweet flavors are now proven to damage your teeth, similar to sugary drinks [2]. Apple flavour (hexyl acetate) and triacetin are responsible for this effect. Other studies show that cinnamon flavor may cause harm to your lungs, due to the compound cinnamaldehyde [3]. Diacetyl, found in some e-juice flavours (at levels 700 times lower than tobacco), can have devastating effects on the lungs when inhaled in its pure powdered form. Due to this, diacetyl is rarely used anymore [4].

Side Effects of Vaping Without Nicotine

Less minor and short term side-effects

Some studies have shown vaping has less minor and short term side-effects if it is nicotine free [5, 6]. However, similar to smoking, it is not the nicotine in e-cigarettes that carries potential health risks – it’s the compounds found in some e-cigarette flavorings [1]. The good news is, if you choose to vape nicotine-free unflavored e-juices, you are doing very little harm to your body.

Known short-term side effects of vaping without nicotine, that will occur regardless of the flavor, include:

  • Dehydration
  • Dry cough
  • Throat irritation

Conclusion

The Risk Of Vaping

The risks associated with vaping aren’t due to the nicotine – people who vape with or without nicotine are exposed to similar risks. People who vape without nicotine may in fact be increasing their risk of harmful effects, if they are replacing a nicotine hit with a flavoring that is high-concentration or ultra sweet. It is important to remember that although the risks of vaping exist, the possibility of these risks resulting in real health issues over time is unlikely.

Because of the lack of research into the long term effects of vaping, health professionals never recommended for a non-smoker to take up vaping as a hobby. When compared to smoking, experts believe vaping is relatively harmless. Vaping should only be used as a tool to stop smoking, as it is not entirely risk free, with or without nicotine.

Sources

  1. Caponnetto P, Campagna D, Cibella F, et al. EffiCiency and Safety of an eLectronic cigAreTte (ECLAT) as tobacco cigarettes substitute: a prospective 12-month randomized control design study. PLoS One. 2013;8(6):e66317.
    https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0066317/

  2. Vasundhra Bahl, Sabrina Lin, Nicole Xu, Barbara Davis, Yu-huan Wang, Prue Talbot. Comparison of electronic cigarette refill fluid cytotoxicity using embryonic and adult models,
    Reproductive Toxicology, Volume 34, Issue 4, 2012, 529-537
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890623812002833

  3. Kim, Shin Ae et al. “Cariogenic Potential of Sweet Flavors in Electronic-Cigarette Liquids.” Ed. Neal Doran. PLoS ONE 13.9 (2018): e0203717. PMC. Web. [accessed 18 Oct. 2018]

  4. Identification of toxicants in cinnamon-flavored electronic cigarette refill fluids. Behar RZ, Davis B, Wang Y, Bahl V, Lin S, Talbot P. Toxicol In Vitro. 2014 Mar; 28(2):198-208.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2002). Fixed obstructive lung disease in workers at a microwave popcorn factory (7th ed.). [accessed 20/10/18]

  6. Chest. 2016 Jan;149(1):161-5.Effect of e-Cigarette Use on Cough Reflex Sensitivity.
    Dicpinigaitis PV1, Lee Chang A2, Dicpinigaitis AJ2, Negassa A3.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26291648

  7. Thorax. 2016 Dec;71(12):1119-1129. Chronic electronic cigarette exposure in mice induces features of COPD in a nicotine-dependent manner. Garcia-Arcos I, Geraghty P, Baumlin N, Campos M, Dabo AJ, Jundi B, Cummins N, Eden E, Grosche A, Salathe M, Foronjy R.

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Dr. Annie Macpherson
Dr. Annie Macpherson

Annie has a PhD in Genome Stability from the University of Sussex. She has first-hand experience in cancer and human disease research. This allows her to provide us with new and unbiased insights into the ongoing research of the public and health effects of vaping. She loves an adventure, and has travelled through South East Asia and Australia working for Vaping Insider.