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Should you be vaping instead of smoking?

August 1, 2019 • read

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Should you be vaping instead of smoking?

We all know smoking is bad. Cigarettes cause multiple different types of cancers and are responsible for more than seven million deaths a year worldwide. Despite this, almost five million Canadians still smoke. Since the early 2000s, vapes and e-cigarettes (also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems or ENDS), have been touted as a healthier alternative to smoking. A certain giant tobacco company has even pledged to become tobacco-free for the “health” of their consumers (given how addictive e-cigarettes are, we can take that with more than a grain of salt). The big question though, is whether vaping is better than smoking cigarettes? When it comes to smoking vs. vaping, is vaping really safer?

The similarities and differences between vaping and smoking

While you inhale from both vape pens and cigarettes, they work in different ways. When you light the tobacco in a cigarette, it burns. This produces smoke which you can then (but shouldn’t) inhale into your lungs. Vape pens use heating coils instead. This changes their liquid nicotine into vapour without having to burn anything at all. So while you inhale from a vape, you’re not actually smoking it. This doesn’t mean e-cigarettes are any less addictive though. Both vapes and cigarettes contain nicotine, making both highly addictive.

The chemicals in cigarettes vs vapes

Cigarettes contain hundreds of different ingredients, and we know that at least 69 of them cause cancer. The big draw is that vape pens also contain nicotine, but without many of the other chemicals found in cigarettes. This doesn’t mean, however, that they’re healthy. A recent study found that despite having no tobacco, e-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances. Most of the devices this study tested emitted toxic metals like lead, chromium and manganese. We know that these substances cause lung, liver and brain damage and are also linked to cancer. The study also found that some of the nicotine liquids tested contained arsenic — the active ingredient in rat poison. Other studies have found carcinogens such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acetone. The thing is, different companies use different ingredients in their proprietary formulas. This makes it extremely difficult to know exactly what chemicals are in your particular vape.

What we know for sure, is that nicotine itself has the potential to cause nicotine poisoning. Refilling the nicotine cartridges of e-cigarettes poses the biggest danger for this, as you risk absorbing it through the skin. These liquid nicotine refills often come in cotton candy or other flavours that appeal to children, making them especially vulnerable.

The health risks and benefits of vaping vs smoking cigarettes

No one is suggesting that you take it up, but when it comes down to vaping vs. cigarettes, you may be less likely to get cancer from vaping. That’s because cancer caused by smoking comes from some of the thousands of chemicals found in cigarettes that aren’t in vapes. Public Health England has gone as far as stating that e-cigarettes are 95 percent safer than traditional cigarettes, and actually advocates for using vaping to quit smoking. Despite this, they make clear that they aren’t without risk, and that nicotine is both highly addictive and toxic to developing fetuses. As well, e-cigarettes have only been on the market for a short time which means there are no longitudinal studies on the side-effects of vaping. In layman’s terms, this means we really don’t yet know all the long-term consequences that may be caused by vaping.

Effects of vaping vs smoking on our lungs

The side-effects of smoking are no joke. Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable cancer worldwide. It also causes massive damage to the lungs through illnesses such as: bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and of course, lung cancer. Although the available evidence seems to show that e-cigarettes may be a better alternative to cigarettes, they still involve inhaling foreign and toxic substances into the lungs. According to the American Lung Association this means that they also have the potential to cause cancer and lung disease. 

So keeping in mind that the research is still coming in, here’s what we know for sure: both vaping and smoking are bad for your health. Despite this, the Canadian government supports the practice of quitting smoking with vaping. For those who are having trouble, e-cigarettes may increase your chances of success when quitting smoking. We understand that sometimes it’s hard to live a vice-free life, and we’re always looking for research to help you make safer decisions. What is also clear, however, is that vaping isn’t healthy. There are thousands of different e-cigarette products on the market currently, with regulation that varies widely from country to country. This can make it really hard to know what’s in every one of them. Or what risks you take when you use these products. So while vaping may turn out to be better than smoking, if you don’t already smoke, you should NOT take up vaping.

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