In recent years, e-cigarette and vape usage has exploded in the United States; vape-associated risk has grown alongside this boom in popularity. Looking into the growth of vape, the harms it brings with it, and the potential risk for insurers allows us to better understand how to manage this risk effectively.
What is vape?
Though you may have heard different terms like e-cigarette, e-cig, vape pen, e-pen, e-hookah, and mods, they ultimately all mean the same thing: vape.
But what is a vape? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide us with a working definition:1
[Vapes] come in many shapes and sizes. Many have a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold a liquid. [They] produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine – the addictive drug in regular cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products – flavorings, and other chemicals that help to make the aerosol. Users inhale this aerosol into their lungs.
There isn’t just one type of vape; some look like traditional cigarettes, some come in bright colors, some are reusable, some are disposable, and some are modular.
Harms of vape
Because vapes are still a relatively new product, entering the US market in the mid-2000s, we do not have a complete picture of their long-term health effects. However, there are a few things that we know for certain.
ONE: The aerosolized liquid inside vapes that users inhale often contain nicotine.
Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical that is toxic to developing fetuses and can harm adolescent/young adult brain development. That said, nicotine is not greatly harmful in and of itself. Rather, nicotine causes users to become addicted to the substance, furthering their exposure to other, more harmful substances.
TWO: The aerosolized liquid contains harmful and potentially harmful substances.
Some of the substances which have been found to be present in vape liquids are:2
- Flavoring, namely diacetyl
- Small amounts of toxicants, including formaldehyde
- Carcinogenic compounds
- Ultrafine particles, or nanoparticles
- Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, chromium, and lead
During a 2021 study at Johns Hopkins University, researchers detected over 2,000 unknown chemicals present in vape clouds.3
Vapes, while healthier than cigarettes, still carry with them the chance for severe physical health impacts, including lung disease and death.
THREE: Vape devices themselves can cause injuries.4
Defective vapes have caused fires and explosions in the past. The exact causes of these incidents are not yet clear, but evidence points to battery-related issues. Although uncommon, vape fires and explosions can seriously harm exposed individuals. During one such instance in 2019, the force from a vape explosion shattered a teen's jaw and knocked out several of his teeth.5
Growth of vape
Since the introduction of vapes into the US market, their popularity has continued to grow. As of 2021, the vape market generated upwards of $7 Billion in revenue6. By current estimates, the market is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 30% from 2022 to 2030, reaching over $180 Billion in revenue by 2030.
A 2018 Gallup poll concluded that roughly 9% of U.S. adults said they “regularly or occasionally” used vapes.
The increase in vape usage is most profoundly visible among children. According to the FDA, high school students who had tried vaping between 2011 and 2019 grew to over 25%.7
A 2022 youth survey conducted by UK-based Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) showed habitual vape use among children, defined as ages 11-17, rose from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022; the number of children who admitted to trying vaping also increased during this period, from 14% to 16%, with 29% of 16- and 17-year-olds having tried it.8
Risk for insurers
As of 2019, there were at least 530 confirmed and probable cases of vaping-related illness and 7 deaths within the US alone.9 Though this may not seem like a large number, we are only just beginning to see the fallout as the long-term effects of vaping become apparent. As the resulting consequences of vape continue to mount, insurers will likely face an increase in litigation and regulatory changes.10
Several states have already placed regulations on the sale of specific types of vape products, most notably cracking down on colorfully fruit-flavored offerings. But even with a growing regulatory framework built up around the burgeoning vape industry, many vape products have dubious origins.
Underregulated manufacturing and distribution bring with it the possibility of legal trouble related to improper labeling, false advertising, and product defects.11 On top of that, the problem of underage sale can further complicate things for retailers, embroiling them in legal battles which can come back to bite companies that insure them.
In short, the unknown future of a new industry brings with it fresh dangers.
BuildingMetrix Vape Check
Managing your exposure can help mitigate any potential hiccups down the road.
The BuildingMetrix Vape Check allows insurers to pinpoint their vape risk and chart the best course of action for their business. Provide us with your book of business, and we will return a list of known vape-related locations.
 National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4018182/
 Johns Hopkins University, https://hub.jhu.edu/2021/10/07/vaping-unknown-chemicals/
 Grand View Research, https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/e-cigarette-vaping-market
 Action On Smoking and Health, https://ash.org.uk/media-centre/news/press-releases/fears-of-growth-in-children-vaping-disposables-backed-up-by-new-national-survey
 Risk and Insurance, https://riskandinsurance.com/insurers-refuse-to-inhale-the-liability-risk-of-vaping/
 Risk and Insurance, https://riskandinsurance.com/vaping-smoking-gun/