Aaron Chy, BSc General, PharmD Student
Vaping vs smoking
Originally patented in 20071 as an alternative to harmful cigarette smoking, e-cigarettes – also known as vaporizers or simply vapes – have gained an impressive following in a short amount of time. Now, you can hardly walk into a gas station or convenience store and not see dozens of vaping products littering the shelves. Go online and you’ll likely see ads showcasing every flavour under the sun from cocoa-cola to gummy bear. From casual users to producers of quality smoke trick videos (we’ve all seen them), the vape community use has exploded.
Currently, it’s estimated that roughly 15% of Canadians use vapes on a daily basis or have tried them at least once. Interestingly enough though, about 25% of users report vaping is their way of reducing cigarette use2. So in the end, what’s safer? Is vaping an acceptable tradeoff for cigarettes? Or on the other hand, does vaping create an “easy” way for individuals to pick up negative habits that could harm their health?
The average cigarette contains at least 70 cancer-associated chemicals known as carcinogens. These carcinogens enter the body when they’re burned and turned into smoke. On the other hand, vapes work by heating liquid or oil into vapor – in other words, they essentially boil their material into steam, so no burning or combustion occurs.
Whether or not vaping material contains nicotine, the addictive component of cigarettes, depends on the product. But, the idea with vaping is you’re breathing in steam, not smoke, and therefore receiving less exposure to harmful chemicals.
This may actually be true. E-cigarette vapor may contain much fewer toxins than cigarettes3. However, there are still several chemicals in vape fluid that are known to be harmful when heated, regardless of whether or not combustion is occurring. Some of these include propylene glycol, glycerin and some flavouring ingredients that are found in almost all vaping products. Lastly, there is still no data on the effects of vaping long term say, five or ten years down the road.
Reasons for vaping
In addition to being “cleaner”, many users claim vaping has helped them reduce, or stop smoking cigarettes entirely. There is some good news on this: in controlled studies, it’s been found that people who used nicotine vapes were slightly more likely to reduce or stop smoking by the end of the study4,5. But users should still be cautious: vaping has not been proven to be better than prescription medications or nicotine products that are currently used for quitting.
Overall, vaping may be a “cleaner” or “healthier” alternative to cigarette smoke, but still contains some chemicals that can be harmful. Also, we still don’t know the long-term effects vaping has on our bodies. Switching to vapes as a step towards quitting may be a good idea, but users should still be responsible to control their vaping and avoid smoking at the same time. In the end, vape users who want to quit should consider slowly reducing their vape use as well.
It’s very likely we’ll learn more about vaping as time goes on, especially as new products are hitting the market every day. Until then, If you’re looking to quit smoking don’t be afraid to discuss this with your healthcare provider. There may be other options out there that have been around longer and are better understood.
Did you find this interesting or helpful? Have you or anyone you know tried vaping? Send this to someone who’d find this useful, and leave a comment or an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns!
- Caponnetto, P., Campagna, D., Cibella, F., Morjaria, J. B., Caruso, M., Russo, C., & Polosa, R. (2013). EffiCiency and Safety of an eLectronic cigAreTte (ECLAT) as Tobacco Cigarettes Substitute: A Prospective 12-Month Randomized Control Design Study. Plos ONE, 8(6), 1-12. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066317
- Bullen, C., Howe, C., Laugesen, M., McRobbie, H., Parag, V., Williman, J., & Walker, N. (2013). Articles: Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 3821629-1637. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61842-5