Understanding vaping vs smoking cigarettes can be tough without research. Is vaping worse than smoking or is vaping safer than smoking?
When researching or reading about vaping, you will almost always hear it compared with smoking. To be fair, vaping’s existence was based in comparison to smoking, as it was invented for smoking cessation purposes. The vast majority of vapers are former smokers, meaning that without vaping there would be around 20 million more people in the world still smoking. But there is always a growing potential for vaping to help even more smokers quit in the future.
The choice between e-cig vs cigarette ought to be reasonably clear, but it still manages to be a hot button topic. There is still a huge portion of the general public that wonders “is vaping worse than cigarettes.” This is, in large part, due to lobbyists and the media disseminating lies and misinformation for their benefit. To distinguish the myths from facts, we’ve put together this guide to understanding the differences between smoke and vape.
Health and Safety Differences
There is no denying that smoking is one of, if not the worst thing you can do for your health and well-being. Tobacco companies have long ago given up on denying the effects of smoking, and we have over 70 years of hard scientific evidence about it. Globally smoking remains the number one cause behind preventable deaths and diseases.
The Surgeon General’s office concluded, in 2014, that over 16 million Americans are dealing with a smoking-related disease of some kind. They also counted over half a million deaths a year from these diseases. To break down the truth behind how vaping is safer than smoking we’re going to take a look at some of the most common conditions that result from tobacco use or exposure and compare them with the research we have on vaping.
The nickname “cancer sticks” has been well earned by cigarettes. Cancer has long been one of the most feared and deadly diseases that someone can develop, and there are a large variety of cancers that form due to cigarette usage. Lung cancer is one of the biggest offenders. Lung cancer is, more often than not, attributed to first or second-hand smoke. This means smokers are not only risking themselves but other’s health as well. Lung cancer is one of the fastest spreading cancers in the body, which is in part why it kills more annually than any other type of cancer. Smoking cigarettes doesn’t cause lung cancer alone; it can also be the cause of cancers of the blood, liver, colon, kidney, pancreas, stomach, and many more.
There isn’t just one single substance in cigarettes that leads to cancer. There are thousands of potentially harmful or dangerous substances found in the smoke and tar of cigarettes. For vapers, the only of those substances shared with tobacco smoke is nicotine. Nicotine, while being related to some mild conditions, has never been linked to the development of cancer. Several long-term studies found nicotine replacement therapies (i.e., gums, patches, vaporizers) do not lead to cancer.
“Nicotine Without Smoke” is a report published by the Royal College of Physicians in 2016. This study took an in-depth look at the effects of nicotine on the body when not tied to all of the other chemicals associated with cigarette smoke. Their major finding was that there is “no association between sustained NRT use and the occurrence of cancer (lung, gastrointestinal or any cancer) or cardiovascular disease.”
The most harmful part of cigarette smoking is the thick tar that coats the lungs over time. This build-up of burnt chemicals increases the likeliness of developing tumors and many of the other issues related to smoking. Since vaporizers do not burn anything, they don’t produce this tar. While we don’t have decades of research as we did with smoking, the studies that have been done so far on the effects of vaping are promising for long-term results. For example, a study out of the University of St. Andrews found that the cancer risk from vaping is around the same as other nicotine replacement therapies, totaling less than 1%.
Heart Disease/ Stroke
Of all the deaths caused by heart disease a year in the U.S., a third of them are traced to smoking. Death from heart disease is one of the most common, and it can come in the form of heart attacks, stroke, or aneurysms. There is ample research surrounding the vast increase in risk for heart disease that stems from smoking. Just like with cancer, there are thousands of chemicals in cigarettes that lead to heart disease.
However, it is not a direct connection as the primary cause of heart disease is the damage done to other parts of your body. Smoking increases triglycerides, which lower your good cholesterol. These factors lead to more prevalent and enduring plaque build up in the arteries. These built-up blockages can break free, and once they do they can cause a clot, leading to a stroke or heart attack.
Once again nicotine, the only shared ingredient between vaping vs cigarettes, has never been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. However, if you are diagnosed with heart disease, it does become imperative to monitor your intake of nicotine. Nicotine can have similar effects to caffeine, such as constriction of blood vessels which causes increases in blood pressure and heart rate, putting unnecessary strain on your heart.
Lung conditions are, for obvious reasons, some of the most commonly caused by smoking. While the short-term side effects of smoking can be mild such as a sore throat, long-term continued smoking can create conditions that eviscerate your lungs. So let’s take a look a vaping vs smoking lungs effect.
COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
This is one of the most common groups of diseases for long time smokers. It includes a variety of diagnoses like emphysema or chronic bronchitis. These diseases drastically reduce a person’s ability to breath or take deep breaths. People often find these diseases scary because people who die from it will usually be gasping for air as they pass.
COPD has a relatively small scope, but it is a very severe disease. What happens is the alveoli, the little pockets in your lungs that take in air, lose their ability to expand and therefore their ability to absorb oxygen. At the same time, the walls between the alveoli and your airways become porous and gradually lose the ability to transfer oxygen. Your lungs throughout this process produce mucus in increasing amounts, which further blocks your airways. The mucus is produced because it is your lungs attempt to fight off the chemicals in vape that have been absorbed into your lungs, but ultimately this mucus causes even more damage. There is no cure for COPD.
There has been no valid evidence linking vaping with an increased likeliness of COPD. There have been studies that indicate that making the switch from vaping to smoking can significantly improve a patient’s condition.
Not all types of Asthma are related to smoking, but almost every kind of asthma is made more severe by it. Smoke sets off the same responses in your lungs as an asthma flare-up. On the other hand, there is no evidence of vaping increasing the severity or frequency of asthma flare-ups and attacks. Dr. Riccardo Polosa published research concluding that e-cigarettes, through their smoking cessation, can help improve patients quality of life.
Popcorn Lung is the common nickname for Bronchiolitis Obliterans. This disease has not been connected to smoking whatsoever. There is also no evidence indicating that vaping causes this debilitating condition. Silly things like facts, however, have not stopped lobbyists and the media from spreading this detrimental lie.
This falsehood stems from the earliest days of vaping when a tiny amount of diacetyl was used in some e-liquid brands. Diacetyl can cause popcorn lung when the person inhales large amounts of it on a near-daily basis. For many years now no reputable manufacturer has put even the slightest bit of the substance, or any other substance that is known to cause the condition, in their products. Vapers today shouldn’t worry about the substance, let alone it leading to popcorn lung.
Effects On Pregnancy
Most people understand that smoking during pregnancy can cause a lot of harm to the baby. Smoking increases the amount of carbon monoxide in the blood, significantly decreasing the amount of oxygen reaching the child. If continued, the reduction of oxygen can lead to a plethora of complications or even miscarriage. Some research indicates that smoking could also be a significant factor in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Nicotine on its own has not been shown to harm the unborn. ResearchGate published a study that concluded nicotine replacement therapies are safe for children during pregnancy. This means that expectant mothers who are having difficulty quitting smoking outright can turn to vaping.
Professor Linda Bauld is one of several well-respected researchers who work to educate and encourage smokers who are now pregnant to take up vaping if quitting outright is not a viable option. Bauld published a report directed at healthcare providers and midwives to help them understand and recommend vaping for its significant harm reduction and smoking cessation value. This is a step towards assisting expecting mothers understand how their choices affect the development of their child.
Effects On Weight
It is true that smoking helps users lose weight, or at least keep themselves at a lower weight. This benefit for many people makes it harder to give up an otherwise deadly habit. However, the reason smoking has this effect is primarily nicotine. This means that anyone worried about gaining weight when they switch to vaping doesn’t need to worry. Nicotine works as an appetite suppressant as well, and it has been proven to work in vaping as well. It works so effectively that researchers have begun studies looking at vaping as a weight control aid in its own right.
Breakdown Of The Side Effects
For this section, just in case you’re still questioning whether vaping is better for you, we will briefly go over some of the more prevalent and significant side effects of vaping and smoking. That way you’ll have a clear and honest picture of your choices.
Effects of Smoking
We’ve already gone into detail about the possible diseases and conditions you could be putting yourself at risk for. But there are still several effects of smoking that have to be acknowledged. We’re going to list the highlights here.
- Eye cataracts, macular degeneration
- Loss of sense of smell and taste
- Yellow teeth, tooth decay, and bad breath
- Possible hearing loss
- Contributes to osteoporosis
- Chronic bronchitis
- Stomach ulcers
- Early wrinkles
- Slower healing wounds
- Increased likelihood of back pain
- Increased susceptibility to infection
- Early menopause
- Damaged sperm and reduced sperm
Now let’s compare that list with the side effects of vaping.
Effects of Vaping
Vaping has not been shown to contribute to any long-term adverse health effects or diseases, but there are still side effects and things to watch out for. So here we’ll talk in a little more detail about the most common side effects.
This is the most common side effect of vaping. It can cause dry mouth, skin, throat, or even eyes. With vaping dehydration occurs because many of the ingredients of e-liquids are humectants. Humectants are substances that absorb moisture from their environment. If left unchecked this can lead to a sore throat, coughing, headaches, or nosebleeds. To prevent it you should make sure you are keeping up on your fluid intake.
Too Much Nicotine
The next most common side effects come from ingesting too much nicotine. These are tied more to nicotine usage, meaning they are relevant to people who use tobacco, but since many vapers opt to use e-liquid with nicotine it is relevant to vaping as well. Putting too much nicotine in your system can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, cold sweats, insomnia, elevated heart rate, and ringing ears. For vaping the way to avoid this is to use the nicotine strength that is best for you and not take too much in one session. If you do run into this, you should opt for a lower strength nicotine dosage in your e-liquid.
Some people are allergic to the main ingredients of e-liquids, propylene glycol, and vegetable glycerin, and they would likely know about said allergy before picking up vaping since these ingredients are commonly found in food. That said, a more mild sensitivity could go unnoticed, so it’s important to be careful when starting out so that you avoid a severe allergic reaction. In most cases, however, a mild sensitivity would manifest itself much like dehydration, with dry skin or similar responses.
There are also a wide variety of flavorings that one may be allergic to as well, so it is vital to check all of the ingredients of an e-liquid before using it. If you are allergic to something and vape that substance you could have a drastic or dangerous reaction to it, same as if you ate it. That is why it is essential to check the ingredients before vaping.
The media has paid it’s fair share of attention to e-liquid poisoning. The incidents of e-liquid poisoning are few and far between. However, it is much more dangerous for children than for adults. It is essential that you ensure your e-liquids are safely put away out of the reach of children for their safety.
The Relative Danger
While we’ve gone into detail about the effects smoking and vaping have on one’s health there are also dangerous users ought to be aware of.
According to a 2013 report by the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 20% of all house fire-related deaths are connected to smoking. That translates to over 17,000 structure fires caused by smoking every year. Vaping also has fire concerns as batteries, when malfunctioning or not properly maintained, can explode and cause fires.
The United States Fire Administration published a report that states between January of 2009 and December 31st, 2016 there have been a total of 195 critical battery failures that resulted in fires. Of these 195 only 38 have lead to severe injury. So while vaping still clearly poses some risk for fires, the amount of risk is minuscule in comparison with smoking. Over the span of time when there were 195 fires caused by vaporizers, there were 121,000 caused by smoking.
You also have to consider, when vaping or smoking, the effect it has on the people around you. As mentioned earlier, second-hand smoke can lead to numerous diseases and conditions like cancer and heart disease. To reiterate that: smoking cigarettes is so unhealthy that merely being exposed to the smoke someone else has exhaled can cause cancer in another person who does not smoke.
Vape smoke, on the other hand, has not been shown to have any risk to bystanders. A study out of San Diego State University tested air quality in the homes of people who do not smoke or vape, those who vape, and those who smoke. In their report, they stated, “We observed no apparent difference in the weekly mean particle distribution between 43 homes reporting any electronic cigarette usage and those reporting none.” This means that the air quality around someone vaping is practically the same as someone who isn’t. So choosing vaping means not affecting those around you.
Another significant difference between smoking and vaping that affects your life on an immediate and daily basis is the cost. It varies from state to state, but an American who smokes regularly can easily spend upwards of $5000 on cigarettes a year. As legislators continue to put tax after tax on tobacco products the cost gets passed to the smokers, meaning that number will continue to climb.
Vaping, over time, has been shown to save a substantial chunk of that money. Initially, it may seem counterintuitive as vaping often has a higher upfront cost. Depending on what sort of vaporizer you use, the savings can quickly add up. Even with the option that costs the most over time, the disposable cig-a-like vaporizers, you begin saving money almost immediately. One of these will run you around $9, but it lasts as long as three packs of cigarettes, then you throw it away and buy a new one. By switching to a cig-a-like you could be saving around $1300 a year, and as mentioned, that is the least cost-effective method. If you were to opt for a box mod, your upfront costs would be steeper, but you would only need to upkeep with coils and e-liquid which would drop your yearly spending down to around $500. That is a potential $4,500 savings. At that point, you’re smoking away a nice vacation or car. Depending on where you live that’s the down payment on a house or a year’s classes at community college. As said there is vast variation depending on the state or even the county you live in, but even if your savings is a quarter of what’s discussed here, think of what you could do with that kind of savings.
Is Making the Switch For You
Everything we’ve discussed is the truth backed by factual evidence. We link to our sources so you can validate them for yourself. What all this evidence points to is that there is a ton of reasons for smokers to make the switch to vaping. Short term or long term, for money, for love, for yourself, for others. Continuing to smoke will more likely than not lead to cancer, or heart disease, or a terrifying death in which you’re gasping for air.
Vaping is not harmless. You have to be mindful of battery safety, and you have to keep your e-liquids safely out of reach of children. The research we have from the past decade is a lot, but it’s not everything. As of right now, with the ten years of information, we have, vaping is the best option to help quit smoking that we have. According to Public Health England, it is a fantastic harm reduction tool, 95% safer than smoking. According to the University of Louisville, vaping is the most effective smoking cessation tool on the market, beating out patches, gum, and even prescription drugs.
If you want to dip your toes in the water, try a cig-a-like to start. If you’ve already made the decision and you are ready to delve deeper, check out some of our other features that can help you decide what the next step is. Either way, if you’re unsure about making the switch feel free to reach out to the community of vapers. Most of them are former smokers, and all of them want you to succeed. There are groups around the country or online who can help you figure out if vaping is the right move for you or give you even more input to help you decide what your next steps should be. These vapers have been where you are now and are more than willing to help you with their insights.
For people all over the world, vaping has been the thing they needed to help them quit smoking. The experiences that people have with the transition to vaping can be vastly different; for some, it’s like a light switch, for others it takes hard work to persevere. In the end, those who have made it will tell you, it’s worth it. The question to “Is vaping better than smoking cigarettes?” is hands down, absolutely, YES. But understanding e-cig vs. vape takes adequate research.
Now with a large selection of options, there is a vaporizer out there that can foster precisely the experience you want and need. It’s up to you to discover what that is and find it. We’ve laid out the facts. Now the next step toward a healthier future is up to you.