Chemistry Review of Vaping Products and Respiratory Injury


  • Chester Lau University of Alberta
  • Ran Zhao, PhD University of Alberta
  • Dilini Vethanayagam, MD, FRCPC University of Alberta



Background: While the Public Health Agency of Canada notes 19 cases from May 2019 to February 2020 relating to e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in Canada, there are likely many more unreported cases, including non-hospitalized and asymptomatic cases. E-cigarette use or vaping exposes users to numerous aerosolized chemical species, some of which have proven to be deleterious to health. These chemical species can include vitamin E acetate (VEA), flavourants, base / solvents (propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin), psychoactive substances, pesticides, endotoxins, metals, and pyrolysis by-products from e-cigarette heating coils.

Objectives: We aim to review current findings related to EVALI from the standpoint of known chemical species currently used in vaping products. We specifically examine the toxicological profiles of these chemical species and the mechanisms through which they cause lung injury.

Methods: A comprehensive literature search was performed with MEDLINE for EVALI-related human studies that were published between January 1, 2010, and May 15, 2020. This search strategy identified 832 case reports, case series, clinical trials, and in-vitro laboratory studies. From this group, 71 records were examined in greater detail.

Results and Conclusions: Although the chemical composition and toxicology of vaping products have largely been characterized, the physiological effects of the chemical interactions between various constituents of vaping products and the generation of new species remain inconclusive. Given the rapid increase in the popularity of vaping and e-cigarettes, there is a need for further research. Developing a comprehensive understanding of the chronic health effects of vaping through randomized controlled trials and physiological studies is prudent and necessary to reduce the long-term impacts on users and the health care system.

Author Biographies

Chester Lau, University of Alberta

Department of Chemistry

Ran Zhao, PhD, University of Alberta

Department of Chemistry

Dilini Vethanayagam, MD, FRCPC, University of Alberta

Department of Medicine






Health Sciences