Vaping is less harmful than smoking; but it comes with a caveat.
There have been more than 400 studies done on vaping, and while they reveal e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking, they are not 100% risk-free.
Vaping is Significantly Less Harmful than Smoking
A review of 400 vaping studies show that it is effective in helping smokers stop smoking tobacco cigarettes, and results in less harm than smoking. However, vaping is not without harm, and action is needed to ensure vaping isn't marketed as 'risk free' and stop the use of e-cigarettes in children.
Researchers find that smokers who switch to vaping experience a drop in toxic levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and nitrosamines. This includes things like formaldehyde, benzene, styrene and toluene, which are harmful to the respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological systems. This means that for smokers still needing their nicotine hit, they can get it in a safer form than tobacco smoking.
Is Vaping Risk-Free?
In the short to medium term, vaping poses a small fraction of the risks than smoking does. This makes it an ideal tool to stop smoking, minimise harm, and then move to quitting smoking altogether.
While the levels of toxic chemicals in vapers was lower than in cigarette smokers, they were still higher than in non-smokers. Despite vaping being better than smoking, it is not free of risk.
- The Respiratory Medicine Case Reports journal showed an association between e-cigarette use and pneumothorax (double lung collapse)
- There is limited evidence that suggests some of the flavouring may change cellular responses
- Nicotine is a known addictive substance which raises blood pressure and spikes adrenaline
- Vaping seems to increase the risk of COPD and asthma
- Increases the risk of cardiovascular disease
It's worth noting that vaping presents less risk of all these things than smoking. Therefore, smokers moving to vaping is a positive change. However, non-smokers starting vaping is not a desirable outcome of this technology and trend.
The Balance Between Risk and Reward
Many adult smokers are not aware that vaping is less harmful than smoking. It's also significantly cheaper than smoking, making it an easy way for someone to reduce outgoings and the risk of disease. This information needs to be widely shared and accepted in order for smoking tobacco cigarettes to be a thing of the past.
In the US in 2018, cigarette smoking cost:
- More than $240 billion in healthcare spend
- Almost $185 billion in lost productivity due to smoking related illness and disease
- $7 billion in lost productivity due to premature death due to second-hand smoke exposure
- 480,000 deaths
The drop in harm by switching to vaping is immense simply by reducing the harm caused by tobacco.
However, there to be a way of deterring non-smoking people from starting vaping, yet encouraging smokers to start vaping.
For adults, numbers of people vaping and trying disposable vapes is increasing, and smoking is decreasing. But while it's illegal to sell vapes to under 18's, vaping rates are increasing among teenagers, doubling popularity in the 16-to-18 year old bracket. However, unlike adults, for teens, smoking levels are static. Vapes, with their flavours such as waffles, gummy bears, and cola, are seen as trendy.
Sellers need to be forced into compliance to ensure they don't sell vapes or liquids to young people. There needs to be increased legislation around the packaging, advertising, and marketing of vaping. Action needs to be taken to reduce the appeal of vaping - yet encourage adult smokers to use vaping as a way to stop tobacco smoking. One leading vape brand was even promoting their products on TikTok, marketing targeted to teenagers.
The Way Forward for Vaping
There is a tightrope for vaping in the future. There's likely to be increased legislation and tougher rules around selling, in order to deter people who take up e-cigarettes. Alongside this, there needs to be more publications about the harm that vaping can cause.
However, there needs to be increased visibility of vaping as a healthier alternative to smoking. Health agencies need messaging that encourages smokers to switch to vaping, but making the danger of e-cigarettes clear to at-risk populations.