Vaping vs. smoking: Which is safer or harmful in 2021?
Vaping vs. smoking: Both smoking and vaping have side effects and risks. Scientists do not fully understand the long-term health effects of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) yet, but the science indicates that they are not a safe alternative to smoking.
Vaping involves breathing in an aerosol that contains several chemicals, including nicotine and flavoring, through an e-cigarette or other device. A 2018 survey found that vaping is growing in popularity among teenagers.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), many people believe that vaping is safer than smoking, but this is not necessarily the case. Mounting evidence suggests that vaping is dangerous.
In this article, we discuss the risks of vaping vs. smoking and consider the long-term effects and risks of each.
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Which is less harmful?
Although evidence suggests that vaping may be less harmful than smoking, both can have dangerous side effects.
Neither smoking nor vaping is beneficial to human health. Based on the available evidence, smoking appears to be more harmful than vaping. However, this does not mean that vaping is safe.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, vaping may be slightly less harmful than smoking. They note that a person who smokes inhales about 7,000 chemicals, whereas vaping likely involves a lower number of chemicals.
The AHA note that vaping liquids contain fewer contaminants than cigarettes. However, they also state that vaping is not safe due to the following reasons:
- E-cigarettes contain a large dose of nicotine, a substance known to slow the development of brains in fetuses, children, and teens.
- The liquid that creates the vapor is dangerous to adults and children if they swallow or inhale it or get it on their skin.
- Vaping also delivers several dangerous chemicals, including diacetyl, cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
- Vaping may normalize smoking again as it becomes more popular.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by early 2020, there had been a total of 2,807 hospitalizations or deaths from vaping.
However, the CDC also acknowledge that since the removal of vitamin E acetate from vaping products, along with other harmful ingredients, the number of symptoms that people experience from vaping has declined.
Unlike vaping, which is relatively new, there are years of research to fully back up claims that smoking is damaging to human health. According to the CDC, smoking causes:
- damage to every organ in the body
- more than 480,000 deaths a year in the United States
- 90% of all lung cancer deaths
- about 80% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- an increased risk of death
- an increased risk of developing health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke
Long-term effects of smoking
Smoking has many adverse effects on the body in the long term. The CDC report that smoking:
- reduces sperm count
- increases the risk of pregnancy loss or congenital disabilities
- increases the risk of cataracts
- impairs immune system function
- increases general inflammation
- can cause cancer in nearly any part of the body, including the lungs, kidneys, and
- triggers asthma attacks
- causes blockages in veins and arteries
- increases the risk of stroke
- reduces the overall health of a person, causing issues such as missed work and increased healthcare costs
Long-term effects of vaping
Data on the long-term effects of vaping are currently limited. According to the University of Iowa, the idea behind vaping was that it would be a safer way for smokers to get nicotine. However, most evidence suggests that this is not the case. Vaping can:
- damage the lungs
- release free radicals into the body, which promote cancer development
- weaken the immune system
- delay brain development in fetuses, children, and teenagers
Future studies will likely show that vaping has additional long-term health effects that scientists have not yet discovered.
Some people have also reported sustaining burns when recharging e-cigarettes due to defective batteries leading to explosions.
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Some people believe that vaping is a good way to quit smoking. However, Harvard Health Publishing point out that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved it. Studies have not revealed whether vaping is an effective method of smoking cessation.
The AHA state similar information. They indicate that the studies on this subject are not comprehensive and that vaping to quit smoking may lead to dual use. Dual use occurs when someone vapes and smokes interchangeably.
The CDC recommend that people use an FDA-approved method to help them stop smoking. They also strongly urge people to talk to their doctor about quitting either smoking or vaping.
Vaping vs. smoking weed
A person can use a vaping device to inhale tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the chemical in cannabis that produces a high.
According to a 2018 study that looked at infrequent cannabis smoking in adults, vaping THC produced stronger mind-altering effects than smoking a similar amount of weed.
As a result, vaping THC may produce a faster, stronger high, but it may also mean that people experience more adverse effects.
Vaping and smoking share similar negative effects on the body, such as damage to the lungs and increased cancer risk.
Researchers know more about the long-term effects of smoking than those of vaping. However, vaping produces enough short-term effects to make it, at best, only marginally better than smoking.
People should not use vaping to quit smoking. Instead, they can use FDA-approved methods. A person who would like more advice about quitting can speak to their doctor.
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