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Is vaping better for me than smoking cigarettes?

Health & Wellness Uncertainty and Misinformation

Vaping has not been around long enough to know the long-term health effects, but research so far shows that vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes.

E-cigarettes (also called vapes) and regular cigarettes have a lot in common. They both contain nicotine, the addictive part of tobacco products, and people inhale both products to access the nicotine. Cigarettes contain more than 7,000 chemicals when burned, and many of them are toxic and are known to cause cancer, lung disease, and heart disease.

Vaping is considered less harmful than smoking cigarettes because vape products contain fewer harmful chemicals that lead to cancer. However, vaping can still cause lung problems, including a condition called EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury). Vaping can also lead to nicotine dependence or addiction because of the high concentration of nicotine in vapes. Since vaping is a relatively new product, we know very little about the effects of vaping in the long term, including risks of cancer, lung disease, and heart disease.

Harm reduction is a key consideration when comparing vaping and cigarette use. If you are a smoker who is unable or unwilling to quit nicotine altogether, switching to vaping can significantly reduce your exposure to the harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke. Because vapes are similar to regular cigarettes in how they look and feel, they might be more appealing to smokers than other nicotine replacement therapies (NRT). This appeal could make vapes more effective in helping people quit smoking, especially for those who haven’t had success with other methods. Therefore, vapes might be a useful tool for reducing the harm caused by smoking without having to give up the experience completely.

Since there are a lot of unknowns about the harms of vaping, some researchers are concerned about their use for this purpose. These concerns include the potential health risks of vapes (especially the unknown long-term effects) and the risk of people starting to use regular tobacco products or going back to them. Vaping as a form of initiation of cigarette smoking is especially a concern in adolescents (if you’re interested, we’re planning a future post on vaping and young people). There are other well-established and safe tobacco cessation treatments (like varenicline or bupropion) available from a clinician.

One of the biggest public health issues with vaping is how popular it has become among young people. In young adults between 19 and 22 years old, the use of vapes rose dramatically from 2017 to 2020, increasing from 6% to 18.6%, making this age group the largest consumer of vapes. Vapes come in lots of flavors intended to appeal to younger people. Using vapes at young ages is dangerous as nicotine exposure can cause addiction and damage the developing brain.

So, while vaping is likely less harmful than smoking cigarettes in terms of cancer risk and some lung and heart issues, it still comes with risks and is not considered completely safe, especially for developing brains. The best option is to avoid both smoking and vaping. If you are a smoker looking to quit, talk to your clinician about the best cessation methods for you.

This is the first in a short series of posts about vaping. Please put your questions about vaping in our question box.

Stay safe, stay well,

Those Nerdy Girls

Young Adults’ Electronic Cigarette Use and Perceptions of Risk

Electronic cigarettes and public health: a policy brief 

Know The Risks: E-Cigarettes and Young People

Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes: Harm Reduction

E-Cigarettes, Harm Reduction, and Tobacco Control: A Path Forward?

Electronic Cigarettes for Smoking Cessation: Cochrane Living Systematic Review