Vaping vs smoking cigarettes: Which of the two evils is less dangerous?

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E-cigarettes have become insanely popular in the last few years, especially among teenagers. E-cigarette companies are aggressively marketing them as a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes. They also claim that electronic cigarettes could help you quit smoking. All these fancy claims might tempt you to try e-cigarettes. Vaping is not all good. It’s still a major public health threat. In this vaping vs smoking cigarettes comparison, let’s find out which of the two evils is less dangerous.

For the uninitiated, e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices. They are available in different forms, looking like cool tech gadgets, pens, and even traditional cigarettes. The device heats a liquid to form aerosol or vapors, which users inhale. That’s why it’s called “vaping.” The liquid in e-cigarettes comes in many flavorings, and may contain nicotine, marijuana, and other harmful substances.

Vaping vs smoking cigarettes: Chemical substances

The traditional tobacco cigarettes contain an estimated 7,000 chemicals. At least 20 of them have been linked to cancer. Prolonged use of regular cigarettes could cause heart diseases, lung cancer, breast cancer, emphysema, and many other diseases. Here are some of the chemicals in cigarettes that have been found to cause cancer:

  • Nicotine
  • Formaldehyde
  • Arsenic
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Lead
  • Ammonia
  • Benzene
  • Nitrosamines
  • Carbon Monoxide

E-cigarettes don’t contain as many harmful chemicals as traditional cigarettes, including tobacco. They also don’t produce smell or visible smoke, which is what leads people to believe that vaping is not harmful, or at least not as harmful as smoking cigarettes. But e-cigarettes still have many of the same chemicals as cigarettes.

  • Nicotine
  • Formaldehyde
  • Benzene
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Nitrosamines
  • Acetaldehyde

The University of California San Francisco has identified at least nine carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) and reproductive toxins in the aerosols of e-cigarettes.

Which is more addictive?

According to Dr. Michael Blaha of Johns Hopkins University, both smoking and vaping are highly addictive because nicotine is the primary agent in both of them. They both make you crave smoking. If you attempt to control the craving, you’ll suffer withdrawal symptoms.

But e-cigarettes could be even more addictive than smoking. Users could use extra-strength cartridges with high nicotine concentration. Some people even use cartridges with added substances like marijuana, which makes e-cigarettes more addictive.

Vaping vs smoking cigarettes: Effects on your health

Since both of them have nicotine, they are both highly toxic. Nicotine raises your heart rate, adrenaline, and blood pressure, increasing the likelihood of a heart attack.

It’s no secret that smoking cigarettes (including second-hand smoke) causes respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Smoking kills an estimated 480,000 people every year in the United States and more than 8 million people worldwide. However, most of the diseases develop after several years or decades of smoking.

In contrast, e-cigarettes have been around for just a few years, and they have already caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases of lung illnesses. There is not enough data from the CDC or NIH yet to determine whether vaping is less dangerous than smoking, but one thing that can be said with certainty is that it’s not “safe.”

The CDC has determined that vaping could cause serious lung damages with just one year of use. Though most of the e-cigarettes are marked “tobacco-free,” the USFDA has detected tobacco-related carcinogenic compounds in many “tobacco-free” cartridges.

Scientists have also found high levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogenic compound, in many brand-name cartridges. A 2018 study showed that e-cigarette aerosols contain acrolein, which could alter your DNA and cause cancer. E-cigarettes also contain volatile organic compounds and heavy metals such as lead, tin, and nickel. These compounds are harmful not only for users but also for others via second-hand exposure.

On top of that, there have been numerous incidents of explosions and severe burns while recharging the e-cigarettes. There is also the possibility that e-cigarettes could explode in your mouth due to faulty batteries.

Can e-cigarettes be used for smoking cessation?

Almost every e-cigarette company markets their product as a device to help you quit smoking. An addictive-containing product claiming to help you quit another addictive-containing product! The result will be that you’ll remain addicted to one or the other.

Some people claim vaping has indeed helped them quit smoking. However, scientists have found that people who started vaping to quit smoking end up using both cigarettes and e-cigarettes. The USFDA has not approved e-cigarettes as smoking cessation devices due to the lack of sufficient long-term data showing it indeed helps people quit smoking.

The biggest risk of vaping

Smoking cigarettes was considered cool – especially among teenagers and the younger population – until a couple of decades ago. The number of smokers has declined significantly in the United States over the last several years. The biggest risk of vaping is that it could make consuming nicotine – albeit via e-cigarettes – normal again, which would be catastrophic from the public health perspective.

Thanks to aggressive marketing, e-cigarettes are perceived to be relatively safer than smoking. The fact that they don’t produce smell or visible smoke works in their favor. The vape cartridges come with flavorings such as watermelon and apple pie, which appeal to the young population. As a result, vaping has been growing in popularity among teenagers in the United States.

According to a study, at least 37% of high-school seniors tried vaping in 2018. That’s a significant jump from 28% in 2017 and just 5% in 2011. As per the FDA, more than 3.6 million middle school and high school students reported vaping in 2018. It’s a clear indication that age restrictions have failed to prevent teenagers from vaping.


Vaping is not “safe” and the FDA has not approved it as a tobacco cessation therapy. E-cigarettes have a lower number of harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes, but they do contain nicotine and several other carcinogens. Researchers are still studying the long-term health effects of vaping, but it appears to be the lesser of the two evils.

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