Is Vaping Really Safer Than Smoking Cigarettes?

Grab a room full of former smokers. Then, ask the vapers to step out. Is there anyone left? I’ll bet you there’s not. Vaping has become the stand-in for nicotine patches or gum. You ask if someone quit, they say yes, but then they pull out their vape. It could be due to a widespread dissemination of misinformation. I’ve even heard something as crazy as “It’s just water!” In fact, Public Health England promotes vaping as a means to quit cigarettes and has stated that it is 95% safer than cigarettes. However, recently released studies have left us wondering if vaping truly is a safe option.

Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conducted a comprehensive review titled “Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes”. In the review, it was confirmed that the short-term effects are likely to be far less harmful than traditional tobacco cigarettes. However, it has been found that many potentially harmful chemicals substances are introduced to users through vaping.

Substantial evidence from animal studies has proven that the vapors from e-cigarettes are not as innocent as proponents believe. The constituents of the vapor, including formaldehyde, can cause damage to DNA. While scientists are uncertain as to whether e-cigarettes introduce such substances at a dangerous level, it is something to be considered.

Diacetyl is flavoring used in both popcorn and some flavors of e-cigarette liquid. This chemical has been confirmed to cause a serious condition in popcorn factory workers, known as “popcorn lung”. The EU has already banned the sale of e-cigarette “juice” containing diacetyl, but the e-cigarette producers elsewhere have yet to follow suit.

Millions of Americans use electronic cigarettes with a far greater percentage of those users being youth. “The net public health effect, harm or benefit, of e-cigarettes,” according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “depends on three factors: their effect on youth initiation of combustible tobacco products, their effect on on adult cessation of combustible tobacco products, and their intrinsic toxicity.”

The report goes on to say that “e-cigarettes cannot be simply categorized as either beneficial or harmful to health”. The review examines the potential for cardiovascular disease, cancers, respiratory disease, oral disease, developmental and reproductive effects, injuries from product malfunction, and poisoning from poorly regulated “e-juice”. So, to vape or not to vape? Conclusively, it beats combustible tobacco products, but if you’re not weening off the smokes, the laundry list of potential threats speaks for itself.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Public health consequences of e-cigarettes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/24952.

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