Teach Me

Vaping Vs. Smoking: Why One Isn’t Better Than the Other

If you’re trying to kick your smoking habit, you may have considered taking up vaping, or e-cigarettes, to ease your transition from tobacco cigarettes.

More than a decade ago, vaping exploded in popularity as a “healthier” alternative to smoking and other regular tobacco products, but current research is shining a grim light through this smoky haze.

Is vaping worse than smoking?

With the help of Michel Corban, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Banner Health in Tucson, AZ, we break down four major risks associated with vaping and why you should avoid it.

Risk one: E-cigarettes don’t make it easier to quit smoking

You may notice e-cigarette brands touting their products as tools to quit smoking, but these claims aren’t recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As such, e-cigarettes aren’t approved as smoking cessation aids or a safe alternative to smoking.

In addition, current research is showing that electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) may actually promote addiction to vaping—encouraging you to replace one vice with another or to use both.

“While a recent review found that nicotine e-cigarettes were more effective than nicotine replacement therapies and behavioral support in helping tobacco smokers quit smoking, many smokers who used vaping as a smoking cessation aid ended up using both,” Dr. Corban said.

Risk two: E-cigarettes contain harmful, toxic chemicals

Many users may wonder, "Is vaping worse than smoking?" Although e-cigarettes don’t emit smoke like burning tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarettes contain thousands of the same toxic chemicals. “Most e-cigarettes contain freebase nicotine or nicotine salts, some contain vitamin E acetate, and many produce a vapor containing a number of harmful chemicals including diacetyl, formaldehyde, acrolein, benzene, other toxicants, carcinogens and heavy metals,” Dr. Corban said.

One chemical, in particular, making headlines is vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent often used in THC vaping products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified vitamin E as a chemical of concern after an outbreak of lung injuries and deaths associated with vaping.

So, while e-cigarettes emit a more palatable, sweet scent, they’re only masking harmful chemicals.

Risk three: E-cigarettes negatively affect your heart and lungs

We’ve long known that tobacco smoking contributes to lung and cardiovascular disease. Recent studies have found that e-cigarettes do as well.

A large observational study found that compared to non-smokers, e-cigarette users were 34% more likely to have a heart attack, 25% more likely to develop heart disease and 55% more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.

“Both nicotine and non-nicotine toxins in tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes are harmful to the cardiovascular system,” Dr. Corban said. “Nicotine increases your heart rate and blood pressure. It can also constrict blood vessels leading to decreased blood supply to organs throughout your body, resulting in an increased risk for heart attacks, strokes and abnormal – sometimes fatal – heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation and ventricular fibrillation.”

In addition, non-nicotine toxins in e-cigarette vapor can damage the endothelium, a thin membrane that lines all the blood vessels. “When this occurs, it can put you at greater risk for developing atherosclerosis, sometimes called hardening of the arteries, and heart attacks,” Dr. Corban said.

When it comes to your lungs, e-cigarette smoking, similar to tobacco smoking, has been recently shown to increase risk of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Risk four: A growing number of young people are hooked

E-cigarettes are so popular, sadly even young adults are vaping too.

“A growing number of teenagers and young adults, many of whom were never-smokers, have started vaping,” Dr. Corban said. “In fact, 30% of high school seniors reported vaping in the past 30 days.”

It’s unclear why e-cigarettes have become so popular among young adults, but it has raised concerns about the long-term health risks associated with e-cigarettes and their potential to act as a gateway to tobacco cigarettes.

“The fact that almost one-quarter of e-cigarette users are previous non-smokers indicates that other factors, other than nicotine addiction, may be involved in the expanding use by youth,” Dr. Corban said. “Such factors could be a false widespread belief that vaping is less harmful than smoking and can potentially encourage recreational use among teens and young adults.”

Do you really want to quit smoking?

If you’re toying with e-cigarettes as a means to stop smoking cigarettes, seek professional help instead. And if you’ve already started vaping, work with your health care provider to find a smoking cessation treatment that works for you.

“Quitting all forms of cigarette smoking is of the utmost importance to curb and/or reverse the detrimental health effects and to decrease the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events including heart attacks, serious lung problems, depression and anxiety in not only our adult patients but also in our youth,” Dr. Corban said.

Additional resources:

Pulmonology and Asthma Wellness Heart Health