Does Vaping Fall into the Same Category of Harm as Smoking?

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Vaping, as a concept, traces its roots back to ancient times, with forms of vaping being practiced in Egypt around the 5th century BC. However, the modern form of vaping that we are familiar with today originated much later.

The idea of an electronic cigarette was first proposed by Joseph Robinson in 1927. He filed a patent for a device he called a 'Mechanical Butane Ignition'. But it wasn't until the mid-20th century that the first device closely resembling a modern e-cigarette was developed. This credit goes to Herbert A. Gilbert, who patented his "smokeless non-tobacco cigarette" in 1963.

Despite this early invention, the e-cigarette didn't gain much traction at the time. Fast forward to 2003, Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, invented the first commercially successful e-cigarette. His motivation was personal - his father, a heavy smoker, had died of lung cancer, and Lik himself was a smoker who wanted a safer alternative.

E-cigarettes made their way to the U.S. market in 2006 and have since evolved from nicotine delivery systems to customizable devices that can deliver a range of substances. Vaping has seen a surge in popularity over the past decade, partly due to perceptions of it being a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. However, the health effects of vaping are still a topic of ongoing research and debate.

It's time to address a common misconception: the notion that e-cigarettes or vaping is just as harmful as smoking traditional cigarettes. This isn't an accurate representation of the facts. Annually, around 480,000 deaths are attributed to cigarette smoking, which is known to cause a range of health issues such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, stroke, and diabetes, among others.

If you're skeptical about the relative harm of vaping versus smoking traditional cigarettes, let's examine the health risks associated with both. By comparing them, we can better understand the significant difference in the level of established health risks between these two practices.

According to Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, vaping is less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes but it’s still not safe. E-cigarettes heat nicotine (extracted from tobacco), flavorings and other chemicals to create an aerosol that you inhale. Regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic. While we don’t know exactly what chemicals are in e-cigarettes, there’s almost no doubt that vaping exposes you to fewer toxic chemicals than smoking traditional cigarettes1.

However, there has been an outbreak of lung injuries and deaths associated with vaping. In February 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 2,807 cases of e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI) and 68 deaths attributed to that condition. “These cases appear to predominantly affect people who modify their vaping devices or use black market modified e-liquids. This is especially true for vaping products containing THC,” explains Blaha1.

If you’re trying to reduce your risk of negative health effects, quitting is the most effective option2.

Continuing from where we left off, let's delve into the similarities and differences between smoking and vaping in terms of their chemical composition, usage methods, and health effects.

In terms of usage methods, both involve inhalation, but smoking involves burning tobacco, while vaping uses a device to heat the e-liquid into a vapor. This fundamental difference - combustion versus heating - leads to different health risks.

Smoking tobacco is well-documented as a leading cause of many serious health conditions, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It's also the leading cause of preventable death worldwide.

Vaping, on the other hand, is a newer phenomenon, and its long-term health effects are not yet fully understood. However, research suggests it is likely less harmful than smoking. A report by Public Health England stated that e-cigarettes are estimated to be 95% less harmful than smoking.


Yet, vaping is not risk-free. E-cigarettes have been linked to lung injury and recent studies suggest potential cardiovascular and respiratory effects. Furthermore, the high nicotine content in many e-cigarettes can lead to addiction, particularly among young people.


E-cigarettes, also known as electronic cigarettes or vapes, are devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales. The liquid usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. Here's a closer look at what these components are:

  1. Nicotine: This is the addictive substance found in tobacco. Most e-liquids contain nicotine, although the concentration can vary.

  2. Propylene Glycol (PG) and Vegetable Glycerin (VG): These are the base substances used in e-liquid. They're generally recognized as safe by the FDA for ingestion, but their effects when inhaled over the long term are not well understood.

  3. Flavorings: There are thousands of different flavors used in e-cigarettes. While these are often food-grade and safe to eat, it's unclear what happens when they are heated and inhaled.

  4. Metals and other contaminants: Some studies have found trace amounts of metals and other contaminants in e-cigarette vapor, likely coming from the heating element or other parts of the device. These can include lead, cadmium, nickel, and tin.

  5. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Some e-cigarettes have been found to emit VOCs, such as formaldehyde, acrolein, and acetaldehyde, particularly when used at high power settings.

  6. Particulate Matter: E-cigarette aerosols also contain tiny particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. The health effects of this are not yet fully understood.

Remember, while e-cigarettes generally contain fewer harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes, they are not risk-free. The long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes are still being studied. Also, the composition can vary greatly between different brands and products, so it's essential to know what you're inhaling.

In conclusion, while vaping appears to be less harmful than traditional smoking, it is not without risks. More research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of vaping on health. As a health expert, I would advise non-smokers to avoid starting either habit, and for smokers to seek professional medical advice when considering alternatives or methods to quit smoking. It's important for individuals to make informed decisions based on reliable sources and scientific evidence.

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