Learning Resource Type

Learning Activity

Research: Are E-Cigarettes Safe?

Subject Area



9, 10, 11, 12


Students will complete a guided research activity about electronic cigarettes and vaping and their effects on the respiratory system. Students will read and take notes on two articles retrieved from the Alabama Virtual Library. After taking notes, students will organize the information according to Statistics, Health Effects, Pros and Cons (related to conventional cigarette smokers), and Other Information. 

This learning activity was created as a result of the ALEX - Alabama Virtual Library (AVL) Resource Development Summit.

    Science (2015) Grade(s): 09-12 - Human Anatomy and Physiology


    Develop and use a model to explain how the organs of the respiratory system function.

    Unpacked Content



    • Lung
    • ventilation
    • lower/ upper respiratory system
    • nose
    • quadrangular cartilage
    • nostrils/ nares
    • nasal cavity
    • paranasal sinuses
    • turbinates
    • pharynx
    • nasopharynx
    • adenoids
    • oropharynx
    • tonsils
    • laryngopharynx
    • glottis
    • larynx
    • vocal cords
    • epiglottis
    • thyroid cartilage
    • laryngeal prominence (adam's apple)
    • cricoid cartilage
    • arytenoid cartilage
    • trachea
    • primary bronchi
    • tracheal cartilage
    • bronchial tree
    • bronchi (secondary and tertiary)
    • bronchioles (terminal, respiratory)
    • brochoconstriction
    • bronchodilation
    • pleura (parietal, visceral), pleuritis
    • lobes, lobule
    • surfactant
    • alveolus
    • diaphragm
    • inspiration/ inhalation
    • expiration/ exhalation
    • phrenic nerve
    • intrapleural pressure
    • partial pressure
    • bronchitis
    • emphysema
    • ARDS
    • atelectasis
    • pneumothorax
    • bronchiectasis
    • COPD
    • sleep apnea
    • lung cancer
    • pneumonia
    • tuberculosis
    • tidal volume
    • vital capacity
    • residual volume
    • lung capacity


    Students know:
    • The respiratory system is composed of the upper respiratory system (nose, nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, pharynx),and the lower respiratory system (larynx, trachea, bronchial tree and lungs).
    • Breathing is due to the action of the muscles and bones of the thorax and is controled by the antonomic and somatic nervous systems.
    • Inspiration is due to the contraction of the diaphram and expansion of the rib cage.
    • Alveoli expand and fill with air upon inspiration
    • The partial pressure of gases in the air determines the direction of diffusion during breathing.
    • Diseases of the respiratory system are either developmental (due to genetic conditions or lifestyle factors) or infectious (due to microorganisms).
    • Lifestyle plays a significant role in respiratory system aging. Aging can lead to a reduced ability to carry out respiration and reduced diffusion of gases across the alveoli.


    Students are able to:
    • Gather, read, and interpret scientific information about the respiratory system including its structures and their function.
    • Use evidence to develop a model of the respiratory system.
    • Develop a model to predict and show relationships among variables between the respiratory system and its components.
    • Use a model to collect respiratory function data.
    • Gather, read and interpret scientific information about environmental factors that may affect the respiratory system.
    • Gather, read and interpret scientific information about genetic factors that may affect the respiratory system.
    • Use evidence to form an argument about environmental or genetic factors that may cause pathological conditions in the respiratory system.
    • Use evidence to defend an argument about environmental or genetic factors that may cause pathological conditions in the respiratory system.
    • Evaluate counter-claims and revise argument based on evidence.


    Students understand that:
    • The respiratory system is made of several different tissues, and organs that move air in and out of the body.
    • The respiratory system closely interacts with the cardiovascular system performing gas exchange between capillaries and alveoli.
    • Numerous organs organs are structurally designed to play several different roles in the respiratory process.
    • Genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors can contribute to the development of respiratory disorders.
    • Lifestyle choices and various medications can help alleviate respiratory disorders.

    Scientific and Engineering Practices

    Developing and Using Models; Engaging in Argument from Evidence

    Crosscutting Concepts

    Cause and Effect; Structure and Function
    Science (2015) Grade(s): 09-12 - Human Anatomy and Physiology


    Engage in argument from evidence describing how environmental (e.g., cigarette smoke, polluted air) and genetic factors may affect the respiratory system, possibly leading to pathological conditions (e.g., cystic fibrosis).


    Learning Objectives

    Learning Objectives

    Students will be able to note and organize evidence about how e-cigarettes affect the respiratory system.

    Activity Details

    1. The teacher will explain to students that they will deepen their current knowledge about e-cigarettes by reading two provided articles: “Vaping and Health: What Do We Know About E-Cigarettes?” by Carrie Arnold and “Vaper, Beware: The Unique Toxicological Profile of Electronic Cigarettes” by Silke Schmidt.

    2. The teacher will show students where to locate the articles. Students should be instructed to click the “PDF Full Text” link located in the top left corner after clicking each of the original links.

    3. The students will read through the articles, taking notes as they read. Students may use the Are E-Cigs Safe? Note Organizer to organize information as they read. Students should organize their information according to the following categories: Statistics, Health Effects, Pros and Cons, and Other Information. It should be noted to students that “Pros and Cons” refers to the possible benefits and risks when using electronic cigarettes versus conventional cigarettes. For example, students may note that using electronic cigarettes may be beneficial to current smokers when replacing conventional cigarettes.

    4. Students will turn in their notes for teacher review.

    Assessment Strategies

    Assessment Strategies

    The teacher will review each student's note-taking organizer and check for the following criteria:

    • Did the student provide information for each category within the organizer (Statistics, Health Effects, Pros & Cons, Other Information)?
    • Did the student include accurate evidence describing how e-cigs can affect the respiratory system?
    • Did the student correctly organize evidence into the provided categories (Statistics, Health Effects, Pros & Cons, and Other Information)?


    Students who finish early may wish to complete further research on the topic, using the AVL database HealthSource: Consumer Edition (EBSCO).

    Students may also create their own graphic organizer including the information obtained from the articles.



    Students who have time to read only one article can work with a partner who reads the other article, sharing notes with each other when complete. Students may also focus on only one or two of the topics listed in the note organizer, rather than all five.

    Approximate Duration

    Total Duration

    31 to 45 Minutes

    Related Learning Activities

    Learning Activity (Before)

    Learning Activity (During)

    Learning Activity (After)

    Background and Preparation

    Background / Preparation

    Teacher Preparation:

    • Teacher should access the AVL articles by searching in EBSCOhost on the AVL using the titles of the articles. Teacher should have a familiarity with the linked AVL articles and the information provided within them.
      • "Vaper, Beware: The Unique Toxicological Profile of Electronic Cigarettes."
      • "Vaping and Health: What Do We Know about E-Cigarettes?"
    • Teacher should decide whether students will be working in groups, pairs, or individually to read the articles.
    • Teacher should post AVL article links on school’s digital platform or otherwise share with students.
    • Teacher should print and copy Are E-Cigs Safe? Note Organizer OR provide students with a digital copy.

    Student Preparation:

    • Students should be familiar with the structures and functions of the respiratory system.
    • Students should be familiar with what electronic cigarettes are.

    Materials and Resources

    Materials and Resources

    Teacher Materials:

    Student Materials:

    Digital Tools / Resources