The Health Risks of Secondhand Vaping (2023)

UPDATE:Recent illnesseshave been associated with use of e-cigarettes (vaping). Since the specific causes of these lung injury cases are not yet known, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)recommendsrefraining fromallvaping products.

The clear risks associated with secondhand smoke have led state legislatures throughout the United States to ban smoking in public places. But what about electronic cigarettes and vaping?

Secondhand smoke kills tens of thousands of people every year in the United States alone. It can cause sudden infant death syndrome and lung issues in children. In adults, it can lead to serious health conditions later in life, such as stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer—even in people who never smoked themselves.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the harms of secondhand vaping, but research suggests that bystanders who breathe in the aerosol might be exposed to many of the same toxins found in e-cigarettes and even some found in traditional tobacco.

The Health Risks of Secondhand Vaping (1)

(Video) Effect of second-hand fumes from vaping on young lungs

Secondhand Vaping

Just like people around smokers can breathe in cigarette smoke, it’s possible to breathe in e-cigarette aerosol if you’re around someone vaping. This is called secondhand vaping, and there isn't a lot of published research yet on how inhaling this aerosol affects the body, especially among adolescents.

About a quarter of middle and high school students surveyed in 2017 said they had been around someone vaping at least once in the past 30 days. Some of them used electronic cigarettes themselves, but roughly one in five didn’t.

Toxins Found in Vaping Aerosol

Vaping doesn’t produce as many harsh chemicals as smoking, but research suggests it still likely contains pollutants.

Some ingredients found in vaping aerosol include:

  • Formaldehyde: This is a compound created when solvents like propylene glycol and glycerin are heated up by the vaping device. It’s readily absorbed by the lungs and can be toxic—possibly even cancer-causing—in high doses.
  • Acrolein: This is a compound made when glycerin is heated by the coils in an e-cigarette. It can irritate the respiratory tract, including the delicate tissue of the lungs.
  • Benzene: This is a colorless, sweet-smelling, organic compound that can irritate the lungs. It is also found in car exhaust.
  • Diacetyl: This is a common food additive that is sometimes included in vaping fluids to add a rich, buttery flavor (for example, butterscotch or caramel). It’s been linked to a serious lung disease known as “popcorn lung,” which was first seen in individuals working in a popcorn factory where diacetyl was used.
  • Heavy metals: Ingredients such as lead, nickel, or tin can occur. E-cigarette devices use metal coils to heat the vaping fluid, and over time, small amounts of metals can sometimes get into the aerosol after repeated use at high temperatures.

While the person vaping will breathe in the full brunt of these toxins, some will be exhaled into the air.

(Video) The risks of second-hand vape smoke - NBC 15 WPMI

Factors Affecting Secondhand Vaping

The amount and type of toxins released into the air around vapers can depend on a variety of factors, including the brand of vaping fluid, the voltage of the vaping device, the number of people vaping at the same time, and how frequently or intensely they’re vaping.

For a long time, e-cigarettes and other electronic aerosolizers weren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They only came under the purview of the FDA in 2016, after they had been on the market for nearly a decade. Prior to that, it was the Wild West, where a variety of companies started making and selling products with their own personal spin.

As a result, there are a lot of differences among the various devices and fluid containers. These variations include:

  • Device design: How the devices and e-fluids are made, such as what metals they use for the heating coils, and how likely that metal is to leech into the aerosol
  • Voltage: How hot the devices get when activated, which can affect what kind of and how many compounds appear in the aerosol
  • E-fluid composition: What flavoring ingredients, solvents (which create the white, cloud-like “vapor”), and additives (such as nicotine or THC) are used

The makeup of these devices—combined with individual or group vaping patterns—can significantly impact what pollutants get into the air and how many.

One study, for example, found that under most conditions, someone vaping at home all day didn’t change the air quality a terrible amount unless they vaped intensely at a high voltage. At that point, levels of formaldehyde exceeded limits set by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), though other compounds didn’t come close.

However, when they looked at other scenarios, such as bar settings where many people were vaping, the researchers found that the concentration of toxins in the air was generally much higher than residential settings. The more people were vaping and the higher voltages were used, the worse the air quality. In some scenarios, levels of both formaldehyde and acrolein were above OEHHA safety standards for bar employees.

(Video) Vaping: More teens exposed to dangerous secondhand smoke | ABC7

Other studies suggest that while using e-cigarettes sends pollutants into the air, the concentration of these toxins drops quickly after someone stops vaping (much faster than cigarette smoke), but that doesn’t mean that the risk has gone away. Once out in the air, not all of these toxins will act the same way. Some, for example, will settle on surfaces, such as carpets or furniture, where small children might touch them or inadvertently ingest them when placing contaminated objects in their mouths.

Potential Health Effects of Secondhand Vaping

It’s still not clear how the toxins found in vaping can affect the health of non-vapers, especially long-term. The limited research available so far has largely focused on immediate health effects. That said, there are some concerns about how repeatedly inhaling e-cigarette aerosol over an extended period of time could affect bystanders’ long-term lung function and risk of allergic reactions.

Secondhand Vaping and Lung Function

Short-term studies haven't found evidence that exposure to secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes hurts lung function, with one notable exception. Researchers found that people who were around vaping aerosol showed increases in the serum cotinine, which is a marker that someone was exposed to nicotine (an ingredient often found in e-cigarettes). Given the long list of health risks posed by nicotine, more research needs to be done on how this exposure could affect someone’s lungs long-term like it can with secondhand smoke.


Another potential risk posed by vaping indoors is allergic reactions, especially among children. According to research, roughly 8% of kids in the United States have food allergies. Nuts (a common food allergy) are sometimes used to make added flavors in vaping fluids. If a child ingests or touches fluids with an allergen in it, they could have a reaction. This, however, is only a theoretical risk for now, as little research has been done on the topic.

Likewise, the U.S. government has taken steps to restrict most flavored vaping products, effective in 2020. While this should reduce the number of flavored cartridges available in the United States, the guidelines are limited to products submitted for market authorization and don’t include those made at home or purchased online from other countries.

Secondhand Vaping as a Gateway

In addition to the still uncertain health risks associated with breathing in e-cigarette aerosol, being around people who vape could have other consequences—particularly for adolescents who are more likely to be influenced by social norms and visual cues. A concern among some public health professionals is that seeing other people vape could encourage young people to take up vaping themselves and possibly help to renormalize tobacco use in general.

(Video) Local doctors concerned about effects of secondhand vaping

A Lot of Unknowns

Researchers spent decades studying the health consequences of secondhand smoking. It might be a while before we have a clear picture of how secondhand vaping can impact a person’s long-term health, especially for young children.

While research shows the concentrations of formaldehyde and other substances likely fall below OEHHA standards inside the home, the levels set by these safety standards are designed for healthy adults in a workplace—not children, pregnant women, older adults, or people with chronic health issues. What might be considered safe for the average workplace employee could still pose serious health risks for more medically vulnerable populations.

Laws Banning Vaping in Public Places

To lower the potential risks posed by secondhand aerosol exposure from vaping, some U.S. states, territories, and cities have started restricting where people can vape. According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, as of January 2020, 19 states and over 900 municipalities have included e-cigarettes and other electronic smoking devices in their laws and policies banning smoking in certain environments, such as schools or workplaces.

Some of these laws offer exceptions. For example, in New York and Vermont, vaping is prohibited in all smoke-free venues (like workplaces, bars, restaurants, and gambling facilities) except e-cigarette stores.

Why Vaping Causes a Sore Throat

(Video) Secondhand Nicotine Vaping Linked To Higher Risk Of Developing Bronchitis

A Word From Verywell

There isn’t a lot of research done on the health harms of exposure to secondhand aerosol from vaping. Early studies suggest that the risks posed by secondhand vaping are substantially lower than secondhand smoking, but that's a low bar considering how hard cigarette smoke is on the body. The aerosol produced by electronic cigarettes and other aerosolizers can still contain potentially dangerous toxins, including nicotine. We don’t yet know how these toxins affect the body long-term, particularly for young children who are exposed to vaping aerosol for many years and during crucial periods of development.

If you or someone you know is addicted to vaping, talk to a healthcare provider right away about what might help you quit or reduce how much you use electronic cigarettes.


Can Second Hand vaping cause problems? ›

Secondhand vape exposure was associated with increased risk of bronchitic symptoms and shortness of breath in young adults, even after accounting for active smoking and vaping.

Is second hand vape worse than first hand? ›

Secondhand Vape Exposure May Be Worse Than Firsthand Exposure for Respiratory Symptoms in Youth. Secondhand nicotine vape exposure may increase the risk for bronchitic symptoms and shortness of breath in young adults, according to the results of a recent study.

How long does secondhand vape smoke stay in your system? ›

Even if you only vape once in a while, you should have cotinine in your urine for at least four (4) days. Regular cotinine exposure would result in measurable quantities of vaping being in the system for up to three weeks after the last exposure.

What are 3 risks of secondhand smoke exposure? ›

Health problems caused by secondhand smoke in adults who do not smoke include coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer, as well as adverse reproductive health effects in women, including low birth weight.

Can passive vaping harm you? ›

Is passive vaping harmful? There is no good evidence that second-hand vapour from e-cigarettes is harmful. As vapes are still relatively new, we can't be sure there aren't any long-term effects to people who breathe in someone else's vapour. But this is unlikely to be harmful.

Does vape smoke stay in the air? ›

Secondhand vapor (which is technically an aerosol) is the vapor exhaled into the atmosphere by an e-cig user. Like secondhand smoke, it lingers in the air long enough that anyone in the same room (assuming the room is small enough) is likely to inhale some of the exhaled aerosol.

How long does vape smoke stay in the room? ›

Even in a poorly ventilated area with windows shut, any smells from vaping should be gone in only ten minutes or so, instead of lasting around for hours like smoking. When one is vaping outdoors in comparison, the smell from your vape will hardly be noticeable at all and will disappear extremely quickly.

Is it safe to vape indoors? ›

Health harm

In contrast to the known harm from secondhand smoke, there's no evidence so far of harm to bystanders from exposure to e-cigarette vapour. The many harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke are either not contained in e-cigarette vapour at all, or are usually found at much lower levels.

Are you allowed to vape indoors? ›

Yes, you can vape in public places. There is no law which forbids the use of vaping products in public places. However, rules on the use of e-cigarettes and vape products can be imposed by the setting which you are in.

Can you have nicotine in your system from second hand smoke? ›

NIH-funded study shows how secondhand smoke may increase vulnerability to nicotine addiction.

Is vape worse than smoking? ›

1: Vaping is less harmful than smoking, but it's still not safe. E-cigarettes heat nicotine (extracted from tobacco), flavorings and other chemicals to create an aerosol that you inhale. Regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic.

Can second hand vaping cause headaches? ›

For many people who have smell sensitivities or allergies, there can be adverse effects from the vapor. Common side effects are headaches and nausea, but can also cause respiratory distress and disease, according to a study from UC Riverside.

What are 5 physical effects of secondhand smoke? ›

Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis, middle ear disease, more frequent and severe asthma, respiratory symptoms, and slowed lung growth.

Who is most at risk from exposure to secondhand smoke? ›

Children and pets may be most vulnerable. Learn about the American Lung Association's programs to help you or a loved one quit smoking, and join our advocacy efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Visit or call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872).

Why is second hand smoke harmful? ›

Secondhand smoke damages the body in many different ways. Adults exposed to secondhand smoke may experience: Cardiovascular (heart, veins and arteries) disease like high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart attack or stroke. Lung problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and asthma.

Does vaping cause damage to homes? ›

Vaping residue can create a thin layer that allows dust to stick and accumulate over most of the interior space. Over time, this can result in ductwork that is extremely dirty, aggravating allergies and making the entire home harder to clean.

Can second-hand vaping cause asthma? ›

Just like exposure to secondhand smoke, exposure to secondhand aerosols from e-cigarettes is associated with an increased risk of asthma exacerbations in children, according to a review of the 11,830 kids with asthma in the 2016 Florida Youth Tobacco survey.

Can my baby get second-hand smoke from vaping? ›

Studies have found that second-hand exposure to vaping can raise nicotine levels in the bloodstream to rates similar to the levels found with second-hand smoke. Many of the e-cigarette chemicals that end up in the air your babies breathe are known to be toxic.

Can hotels tell if you vape in the room? ›

Can hotels tell if you vape in the hotel room? Well, sort of. Non-smoking hotel rooms have smoke detectors that will be set off by vaping. However, if you are determined to do it anyway, the bathroom is the best spot to avoid getting caught.

Does vaping stain teeth? ›

Can Vaping Stain Teeth? Much like smoking, vaping can make your teeth yellow. Nicotine in e-cigarettes can cause teeth to become deeply stained.

How quickly does vape dissipate? ›

While particles from conventional cigarette smoke linger in the air for upwards of 45 minutes, researchers found that those stemming from e-vapor products evaporate within seconds, even indoors.

Is it safe to vape around children? ›

It's not safe to use vape pens or e-cigarette devices around kids. The vapor from e-cigarettes has chemicals in it that can be harmful to kids. There's another serious problem with e-smoking devices: Kids can get poisoned if they drink the liquid in nicotine delivery devices or refills.

Does vaping stain walls like smoking? ›

While it won't stain your walls with a nasty yellowy tinge, vapour is just that - vapour! As exhaled e-liquid clouds settle on your walls and windows they leave behind a slight residue. This residue is predominantly water vapour but does contain small amounts of nicotine and flavouring too.

What are 5 risks of vaping? ›

What are the dangers of vaping?
  • Asthma. Vaping can make you more likely to get asthma and other lung conditions. ...
  • Lung scarring. ...
  • Organ damage. ...
  • EVALI (e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury). ...
  • Addiction. ...
  • Cigarette smoking. ...
  • Second-hand exposure. ...
  • Explosions.
Aug 22, 2022

Does vaping set off smoke alarms? ›

Vaping shouldn't generally trigger a smoke or fire alarm, but it does happen sometimes. Most smoke alarms may well be completely fine with you vaping around them, but if you happen across one which detects the particle change or broken light beam means you are going to hear that ringing bell.

Can vaping indoors cause mold? ›

Do E-Cigarettes cause lung mold? E-Cigarettes in and of themselves do not put their users at risk for coming into contact with mold and bacterias. The correlation of increases of mold and bacterias in the mouth and lungs of users appears to be due to hygiene issues. A recent study by Dr.

Does vaping smell indoors? ›

Likewise, though some people may notice that vaping inside leaves a slight odour, this is much less noticeable than that of traditional cigarettes smoke. Again, this can be reduced by ensuring good ventilation throughout your home.

How long does it take for vape smoke to dissipate indoors? ›

However, for e-vapour products the particle concentration returned to background values within a few seconds; for conventional cigarettes it increased with successive puffs, only returning to background levels after 30-45 minutes.

Will vaping make my room smell? ›

Vaping will not leave that horrible stale smoke smell that clings to clothes, curtains, drapes, carpets and walls. This is a great thing about vaping. As a non smoker, there is nothing worse than going in a lift or meeting room with someone who has been smoking tobacco.


1. Akron Children's shares secondhand vaping warning
2. What Vaping Does to the Body
(Institute of Human Anatomy)
3. E-Cig Vapor Or Secondhand Smoke: Which Is Worse For You?
4. Health Risks of Vaping: Lessons From the Battle With Big Tobacco | Retro Report
5. Vaping: what people are getting wrong
(The Economist)
6. Can Secondhand E-Cig Vapor Harm Children?
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